How to Plan and Host a Beer Festival
Beer festivals are a great way to introduce craft beer to your area. If you are a brewer, it can be a win-win situation, one where organizers of the event profit from the event itself while local brewers benefit from improved business visibility. Beer festivals are also a way to help people feel comfortable trying types of beers they normally wouldn’t. An attendee could try a beer, have it become their new favorite, and go home and encourage all of their friends to try it. Word of mouth is a powerful driver of customers for businesses. 92% of consumers believe recommendations from friends and family over all forms of advertising. While it can be a fun, and profitable event, it is quite an undertaking to plan your own beer festival. To help you onto the road to success we have compiled a guide to starting a beer festival in your area.
Several logistics are important to consider in the beginning stages of planning your event. The very first being the date. You need to leave yourself plenty of time to plan and organize your event so that it doesn’t seem thrown together. Allow yourself at least 6-8 weeks to plan your event.
The other thing you will want to consider in the very early stages is what will make your event special. What is your focus that will set you apart from the pack? If your focus is going to be on beers with a citrus twist summer might be a better time to hold your event than in the fall when people are craving pumpkin beverages. The Brewmasters Craft Beer Festival in Galveston, Texas is a three day event that focuses on their “Taste It First” series, which debuts a massive line-up of beers that are about to hit the market.
ProTip: Be aware of local events or holidays when trying to select a date. You don’t want to compete with other events for the attention of your target audience.
A crucial part of researching locations is considering the support of the community surrounding the venue. If you are fighting the community with every step you take, the chances of running a successful festival are minimal. For example, a dry town might not be the best place to host your first beer festival.
You also want to choose a spot with plenty of parking options. Nothing is worse than having to fight other drivers over a few precious parking spots when you are trying to get to an event you’ve been looking forward to. It might be beneficial to partner with a local transportation company to get festival goers to and from the event. As a bonus, this helps deter drunk driving after the event.
Something else you want to have plenty of is bathrooms. Especially at a beer festival, you are going to need plenty of bathrooms to keep lines down. If you are looking at a venue with limited bathroom options, consider looking into portable bathroom rentals.
ProTip: Try to look at locations with a decent amount of foot traffic. Interested passersby can be a contributor to ticket sales.
The season and weather is another aspect to take into consideration. Weather can have a big effect on the types of beer you are going to serve, and in turn the types of beer attendees are looking to consume. Not many people are going to want a heavy, dark beer in the dog days of summer.
The types of permits you’ll need to sell alcohol are going to vary at both the local and state levels, but your first call should be to you state’s Alcohol Beverage Control. They can set you on the right path to acquiring all the permits needed for your event. Give yourself plenty of time to apply for these permits, it can be a time consuming process and nobody wants to go to a beer festival where there is no beer.
Right off the bat, you are going to want to acquire general liability and liquor liability insurance. These are the basic levels of insurance that you will need in case someone is injured or chooses to drive drunk after attending your festival. Certain insurance companies specialize in event insurance and could be a good place to start your search; K&K Insurance is one of those companies.
Once the basic insurance requirements are met there are some additional coverages you should consider. Coverages such as:
- Damage to rented premises- the standard limit is usually $300,000
- Medical expenses- Standard limit is around $5,000 but you can sometimes negotiate the limit
- Auto- This protects you from any vehicle accidents involved in your event
- Excess liability/umbrella- If you would like to have additional coverage on your general insurance
Now that you have some of the really big decisions made, you can start focusing on the details of hosting a beer festival. It is important to decide what types of tickets you’ll have. Are they paper? Wristbands? Will you sell them electronically?
Beerfests.com is a site that helps breweries hosting a beer event to sell tickets online. The way they can do that at no cost to the festival, is by charging a small processing fee to the consumer purchasing the ticket. They offer services such as custom event websites, ticket scanners, mobile ticketing, and analytics and reporting on tickets that were sold.
Something else to consider is whether you want to sell tickets at the door of your event. The number of attendees can drastically affect the amount of beer that breweries need to bring and by selling tickets the day of the event you can greatly fluctuate those numbers. Consider discussing your plans with the participating breweries to determine the best process for your event. By making brewers a part of the conversation you can benefit from their knowledge or previous experiences.
Keeping the lines of communication open between you and your brewers is important, especially when it comes to determining your ticket pricing. You have two options, to charge a flat fee on your tickets or to charge by the drink. Some breweries might prefer that festival goers pay by the drink but when this happens it can offer slow the vendor down creating large lines. To solve that problem consider using a voucher system, with vouchers being purchased in an area away from the beer lines.
ProTip: When estimating the amount of beer that you’ll need at the festival, use this equation:
# of minutes the event is open X pour size X [2 to 10] pours per minute*
# of ounces of beer each brewery should bring
Equation courtesy of https://www.brewersassociation.org/
A crucial part of hosting any event is making sure that you get the word out. In today’s day and age, it has never been easier to promote an event utilizing social media. You can get a lot of information to potential attendees, for free. But if you are willing to pay a few dollars, many social media platforms have ads that can target a certain age group, with certain interests, in a very specific location. Email is another great option if you have access to a qualified list of potential attendees.
Another great way to use technology to promote your event is by partnering with a drinking app. By doing this you know that the user is already interested in alcoholic beverages and might be open to trying more. There are several different apps that track beer consumption, but a popular one is brewtrackr.
While technology can aid in the promotion process, it is by no means the only way to go. Don’t forget about other traditional forms of media. Flyers, posters, newspapers and other forms of print distribution have a way of finding themselves in the hands of interested parties.
You could also donate tickets to a local radio station. Doing so could earn you thousands in free advertising dollars. A different beneficial arrangement could be asking the station if they would be willing to advertise and promote your festival for a month in exchange for a booth at your festival. You can save on marketing money while also reaching new audiences in your area. They might even be willing to be your musical entertainment for the night. Two birds, one stone!
Naturally, for any festival you are going to need a lot of supplies to make the whole day go smoothly. In an effort to help you not forget anything we have compiled a checklist to help get you through the day.
Drinking water stations
Entrance gauntlet/line formation
Beer sampler glasses (these are often taken home as a souvenir)
Walkie-talkies: a must if the event is in a place where you aren’t confident of cell coverage
Merchandise that you want to sell
Ice: when trying to determine the amount of ice needed 30 – 50 pounds of ice per beer type for each 4 hour session is recommended by the Brewers Association
ProTip: Just in case you do forget something, have a staff member with a valid license who can run out and get items.
Day of Festival
Everyone wants to make their event the best that it can be. A great way to add to the atmosphere is by bringing in live music to play while your patrons are sampling. Many bands are willing to play in exchange for beer and food (just make sure that all members are of legal drinking age.)
Food is another critical part of any gathering, especially one that involves alcohol. By adding food options to your lineup, you not only attract more attendees but encourage responsible drinking practices. Some localities might even require you to sell food at your event. A great way to do that is by asking food trucks in your area to set up at your venue. This creates a win-win situation not only for you as the organizer, but also for the food truck operators. You get to offer food and they get a venue where they know there will be a crowd searching for a delicious bite to pair with their beer.
If children are able to attend your event, which many localities don’t allow, be sure to have an area designated to them. Just because they can’t drink doesn’t mean they can’t also have a good time. By setting up a small play area you create a safe space for the kids to enjoy while their parents savor their adult beverages. By including the whole family you are sure to open yourself up to a wider range of potential attendees.
Staffing is a crucial aspect of your day of game plan. You need to have staff scanning tickets and checking id’s. Consider having a few staffers designated to answering any questions attendees might have.
ProTip: Remember that beer is the main focus of the event. Don’t get so wrapped up in entertainment that you lose focus of the beer.
Now that your beer festival is finally completed you can take a break and relax right? Well, there are a few loose ends you might want to tie up before you hang up your clipboard. Take one final look at your bills. Make sure that you were charged correctly and everyone was paid on time. Nobody wants that hanging over their head.
Once you get your bills out of the way, take the time to file all proper tax paper work. I know not many people jump out of bed in the morning excited to file tax paperwork, but your future self will thank you for the foresight.
Finally, consider sending out a few thank you notes. It may seem like an old tradition, but that personal touch can leave a lasting impression on breweries, vendors, and staffers or volunteers. If you would like to make your festival a reoccurring event, a small gesture like writing a thank you note can go a long way.
Hosting a beer festival may seem like a lot of work, and it’s. But the improved business visibility and community engagement are worth the prep and planning in the long run. By making sure that you give yourself plenty of time, gather your permits, advertise, and stay focused, you will be well on your way to becoming the next great American beer festival.