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Reducing Draft Cost Percentage

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Draft beer is a significant profit center, often yielding profit margins of 85% to 90%. Conventional inventory controls, however, are largely ineffective in stemming the waste and pilferage normally associated with draft beer. Improperly maintained systems, improper pouring practices, poor sanitary conditions and internal theft are primary areas of concern.

  • KEEP THE DRAFT BEER DELIVERY SYSTEM PROPERLY PRESSURIZED — Maintaining a constant and uniform pressure in the draft beer feed lines is crucial. Most American beers have a natural carbonation in the keg of 12-14 pounds per square inch (p.s.i.) at a temperature of 38°F. Additional gauge pressure of 12-14 p.s.i. is required to propel the beer through the lines and dispenser, and prevent the beer from losing its natural carbonation. It requires 1/2 lb. of carbon dioxide (CO2) at 12-14 p.s.i. to dispense a half-barrel of beer at 38°F.

  • KEEP THE DRAFT BEER DELIVERY SYSTEM PROPERLY MAINTAINED — If the carbon dioxide regulator or air pump is set too low, or for some reason the line pressure drops below 12 p.s.i., the natural carbonation in the beer will dissipate and the draft beer will go flat. Conversely, if the internal pressure in the lines exceed 16 to 18 p.s.i. the draft beer will become over-carbonated, often referred to as "wild" beer.

    The beer feed lines and the spigot must be cleaned on a regular basis to prohibit off-tastes or odors from forming and preventing yeast and bacteria buildup. An easy and effective way to ensure that your beer maintains its high quality is to perform regular line cleaning. Beer lines should be cleaned weekly to ensure that the lines are always free of yeast deposits, keeping the beer as fresh as possible. Refrigerated lines from a walk-in cooler should be cleaned every week. Cleaning is a "technical" job that is best performed by a specialist. Beer is a food product. Bacteria will build up rapidly if beer lines are not cleaned on a regular basis and will affect the taste. This is a service typically performed by the draft beer distributor.


  • STORE THE BEER UNDER PROPER CONDITIONS — Every bar with high draft beer sales needs a cool, well-ventilated storage space where the various kegs can be kept next to each other, connected by a common dispense gas main. Because draft beer is not pasteurized it should be stored at a constant 36-38°F (8-10°C). to prevent spoilage. High storage temperatures are the likely cause for beer turning cloudy, sour, or otherwise unpalatable. If storage temperatures drop below 36°F beer may lose its carbonation and go flat.

    The walk-in cooler should be of sufficient size to store a three-day supply of kegs. A simple rule of thumb is to allow for 2.25 square feet in area for each keg. Utilizing racks for greater space efficiency can expand the walk-in's storage capacity.

    Ideally, draft beer should remain unagitated and untapped for 24 to 36 hours after delivery. The First In, First Out (FIFO) inventory system should be implemented to ensure consistent and high-quality product. If more than two kegs are stored at one time, each should be marked with the date of delivery to facilitate rotation. Never allow draft beer to freeze, which will cause the solids to separate from the liquid.

    Draft beer should not be stored near foodstuffs, such as in a restaurant's walk-in cooler. Exposure to food odors, condensation pooling on the keg top, and/or fungal growth can adversely affect the beer within the kegs.


  • SERVE DRAFT BEER AT THE PROPER TEMPERATURE — Draft beer absorbs heat rapidly. If served immediately, beer drawn at 36°F will rise to 38-40° by the time it reaches the patron. The ideal serving temperature for most American and imported lagers is generally considered to be 40°F. Flat beer is often the sign the beer is too cold. On the contrary, wild, foamy beer is an indication that the beer is too warm.

  • TRAIN YOUR STAFF THE PROPER POURING PRACTICES — The dispensing spigot should never come in contact with the beer in the glass. To prevent the foamy head from dissipating quickly, glasses must be absolutely free of any dirt, grease, oil, or soapy film.

    Draft beer should be poured directly into a glass and never allowed to run first. Traditionally, draft beer is served with a head of approximately 3/4 to 1 inch. Tilting the glass and letting the flow of draft beer slope off the inside of the glass will inhibit the amount of head that develops. When the glass is half-full, the beer should be allowed to pour directly into the center of the glass. This technique will produce the appropriate amount of foamy head. Serving draft beer in a frosted or frozen glass will likely result in the foamy head being rapidly dissipated.


  • AVOID LOSSES ATTRIBUTABLE TO INTERNAL THEFT — As a result of being difficult to assess how much beer is in a half-barrel, draft beer is a frequent target of internal theft. Common schemes include free "give-aways," over-pouring, serving two-for-ones and ringing beer sales into the liquor sales key of the cash register to offset previous theft.

  • FOB DETECTORS — If you have ever tended bar you'll recall the operational difficulties caused when a keg of beer empties. Foam begins to spray out of the spigot as the gas pressure drains the last of the beer out of the feed lines. This rush of gas causes "fobbing." Once a new keg is brought on-line, the beer displaces the considerable volume of gas from the line. This takes time and creates further beer waste.

    The installation of a fob detector overcomes the problems. It is a device mounted on the wall of the walk-in cooler connected to a draft beer feed line. When the keg empties, the float in the central chamber of the fob detector cuts off the flow, pouring ceases and gas is prevented from entering the gas line. Once the chamber is recharged with beer, pouring can continue with little or no waste or disruption from gas spraying from the tap. Fob detectors are highly effective at reducing waste and lowering costs. This is especially true in operations with long draft beer feed lines because of the greater volume of beer in the lines that will be saved when the keg empties.


  • MAINTAIN PORTIONING CONTROL — While serving draft beer in pitchers is convenient and often provides a stimulus to sales, it poses two management concerns. Pitchers range in capacity from 32-80 ounces. As a result of volume discounting, purchasing draft beer in a pitcher is a better value for patrons than buying it by the glass. However, they sell at a considerably higher cost (lower profit margin) than by the glass. At the same time, by comparison pitchers make your by-the-glass prices appear unreasonably high. As far as profitability is concerned, it is far more advantageous to sell four glasses of draft than one pitcher of beer.

    The second management concern regarding pitchers of draft beer is that there is no adequate portion control. One person can consume most or all of a pitcher of beer without a bartender or server being in a position to intervene. Serving pitchers is a practice laden with liability.

    Robert Plotkin