How-to Guide to Beer Vending, i.e. Tricks of the Trade
1. Making a Good Pour: As I descend an aisle and see some rookie beer guy handing over a beer with foam pouring down the sides, I often ask them, “How would you feel if you just paid $6.75 for that beer?” Fans deserve a good pour, with just the right amount of foam. They also deserve all 16 ounces, especially considering the outrageous price they are paying. Fortunately, we are given 20 ounce cups, which allows some space for foam, though I have had too many fans try to weasel extra beer out of me, complaining their “cup isn’t full.” I explain to them they are paying for the 16 ounce beer, not the 20 ounce cup and assure them I can stir up their beer with my finger if they want it to foam up to the top of the cup, at which point they usually see the weakness of their argument and desist.
The secret to the perfect pour begins well before the transaction even begins; just like a fine cabarnet, beer needs a little time to breathe. By popping the top of a beer a few minutes before the sale, some of the foam-inducing carbonation settles, making the pour that much easier. As I walk out of the commissary with a fresh case, I usually “pop” about six beers, doing so by wedging the tip of my can-opener under the can’s pop-top and gently inching it up until I can hear the gas start to escape. This way, the beer will settle a bit but will not get warm or flat.
When a fan indicates they want a beer, the vendor must properly open the beer. Since I have already popped the top ever so slightly, I simply slide the tip of my can-opener under the pop tab and open it all the way, using a flick of the wrist. Many fans wonder why I don’t use my fingers to open the can like they do at home. If I was at home with a six-pack, I would also use my fingers, but if I did that with 250 cans a day, my fingernails would fall off. Once I have fully opened the beer, I slide my can-opener over to the other side of the can in order to puncture a hole, which allows air to enter the can as I pour, facilitating a much-faster, less-foamy pour. It may seem like a minor detail, but shaving five seconds off of every pour with this “Double-Spout Technique” allows the beer man much more time to make additional sales.
When actually pouring the beer, the most important thing to remember is tilting the cup so that the beer hits the side of the cup instead of the foam. When I encounter hot-shot fans that want to pour the beer themselves, I usually let them and more times than not they embarrass themselves by pouring the beer directly into the cup, without any tilt. As a result, about half of their beer goes into the cup before the rest gathers as foam at their feet. I instruct them, “This isn’t orange juice. Beer needs care. I am here to help – watch me.” Many beer men have their own personal style of pouring, but my individual approach involves the “Tilted-Cup, Upturned-Can Technique.” This requires placing the empty cup over the beer can and then flipping both so that the beer starts pouring into the bottom of the cup. As the liquid rises, I keep the cup tilted at a 45 degree angle as I slowly pull the can out of the cup, so that the beer is always hitting the side of the cup, which causes less than foam than when it pours directly into the beer itself.
A nice pour not only saves time, it pleases the fan, which will lead to repeat customers, better tips and more sales as the rest of the aisle can see the vendor’s expertise. After all, when people recognize the level of skill involved and tell their buddies, “That guy knows what he’s doing,” more fans will be inclined to request one of their own. Beer vendors: you must recognize that fans appreciate the skill involved in a good pour, so don’t be afraid to call their attention to it or to make fun of a nearby vendor serving foamy beers. After all, our ability to pour a beer is one of the principal ways we can establish our competence. Perfect your pour and the rest will fall into place.
2. Establish a Beer Call: One of the most iconoclastic aspects of the beer vendor is his beer call. For many fans, belting out “Get yer beer here!” is a thrill beyond belief, as everyday I have guys stand up and turn to the crowd to let out their best bellow. Though I love the pomp and circumstance, I must admit that the beer call is not as important as many think. Sure, it’s great to have a distinctive call that customers will recognize and yes it’s definitely an advantage to be able to get the fans laughing but the fact of the matter is that most of the top beer guys do not employ any special beer call at all. Sure, long-time vendors can imitate each other, but the differences are based more on their manner of speech, as opposed to the content of their beer call. There are a few exceptions, such as our singing beer vendor, but though I will admit he’s an incredibly friendly guy, his singing leaves something to be desired. I must admit, my life would not feel empty if I never again heard him sing, “Pretty woman, don’t you want a beer” in sync with the van Halen hit. Most of us simply make it clear they have cold beer, which can be embellished (“Hey, I got really cold beer here!”) or can be simplified (“Beer here!”). One particularly animated veteran vendor shouts, “Beer dude. Yo tengo cerveza” in his raspy voice, which has become an attraction at Sox games. In his case, the beer call does increase his sales, as many fans wait to order beer from him in particular.
Personally, I like to pique people’s palate by yelling, “Who’s Thirsty? They’re ice-cold!” I like to think people’s thirst is capable of thinking for itself, as though their parched throats can somehow force their arms up to signal their readiness for a refill. The truth of the matter is that most of the best vendors have completely non-distinctive beer calls, while some of the most spirited or clever beer calls are possessed by mediocre vendors. More important to the actual beer call is the volume and projection of the vendor’s voice.
3. Find an Aisle: Too many beer vendors simply wander the stands aimlessly, overlooking the importance of locating and capitalizing upon a ripe aisle. In years past, there were many less beer men, so every aisle had thirsty fans waiting for our arrival. But in recent years, the concessionaire companies have increased the number of vendors. Fifteen years ago, there may have been forty vendors working a game whereas today there are more than eighty. Due to the plethora of beer guys, one must choose aisles wisely. First of all, there are certain aisles that are dominated by the same vendors. Though none of us can legally lay claim to a specific aisle, the unwritten truth is that maybe four guys have in fact established themselves as the beer guys de facto. Though it is possible to arrive at said aisles when these vendors are down grabbing more beer, it’s simply not economically advisable to try to sell in these aisles. First of all, many of the fans personally know the established vendor and will wait for his return and secondly, if he is getting more beer, that infers that he has just sold enough beer so as to sell out, implying the aisle may need a few minutes to heat up again. Despite the temptation to enter one of these long inviting aisles such as 203 or 239 at Wrigley or 159 at The Cell, it’s a better policy to resist and move on.
It is always best, when possible, to establish yourself in a given aisle for much of the game. This doesn’t mean you have to camp out there, but as long as people can recognize you coming around on a regular basis, they will be more inclined to make a purchase from you and tip you better as well. Beer drinkers at baseball games usually have a fair amount of integrity, meaning they will make an effort to buy from the same guy, especially of there has been conversation involved. The fans enjoy these little relationships, no matter how meaningless they may be, so it’s in the vendor’s best interests to pick a few aisles and keep returning. Under optimal conditions, there is enough of a demand in one single aisle to keep one beer man busy for the length of the game, but even when business is not brisk enough for the beer guy to sequester himself in that aisle, it is advisable to at least remain close.
At Wrigley, there are three sections of seats: the upper deck seats, the terrace reserved and the field boxes. Each section attracts a different type of fan and its corresponding type of beer sales. The upper deck is divided into the 400 level, which hang right over the field and the higher 500 Level seats. There are a lot of season-ticket holders in the 400s, so it is advisable for upper deck vendors to get to know as many of them as possible as they will wait to buy from their preferred vendors eight times out of ten. The 500 Level has a real mix of fans, but there are often big groups in attendance up here, which in general drink a lot of beer and can get rowdy. Work parties, bachelor parties, college groups, birthday bashes or bachelorette parties (my personal favorite) often make for great sales, especially if a beer man can establish himself as the designated beer provider. As the group drinks more, tips will invariably increase. [Note: if the group in question is wearing matching orange shirts that say Camp Powatomi, give up any hope of afore-mentioned beer sales.]
The ideal aisle is one that has not been visited by a beer guy in a while. We refer to these sections as “dry” or “thirsty.” When I am selling beer in another aisle, I am keeping an eye on the aisles within my sight, scouting out which aisles are in need of a vendor or are being serviced by a bad vendor. I know that even if a bad vendor has just walked through an entire aisle, I can often enter as he leaves and sell half a case. This has to do with our next strategy.
4. Work an Aisle: Just because a vendor has found an aisle doesn’t mean that hands will start popping up all over the place. Too many vendors operate with the notion that fans are intent on looking for vendors. They are mistaken: the fans are intent on watching the game to such an extent they often don’t even notice the vendor right in front of their face. A successful vendor will milk that aisle, saturating it with fresh beers until it is dripping with foam. First, it is necessary to attract the attention of everyone in the aisle. Wait, every single person, you ask? Yes. The only way to boost sales is to be sure that every fan within earshot knows the beer man has arrived. A booming voice and good projection is necessary to make one’s presence felt. But an oral announcement is not enough – a vendor must also visibly present the product as well, which is why I recommend holding an empty can high in the air so that it enters people’s field of vision. Any marketer will confirm that one of the secrets of advertising lies in the connection between people’s visual stimulation and their impulse of making a purchase, especially with an item such as beer. In 2006, Miller Brewery switched the beer vended at US Cellular from cans to bottles. Though fans erroneously assume this was done to make the vendor’s job easier, the real justification is purely financial. In terms of product placement, having 25,000 beer drinkers holding plastic Miller Lite bottles instead of generic plastic cups is a marketer’s wet dream.
Amateur vendors look at an aisle and hope to sell a few cans as they “pass on through.” On the other hand, I advise vendors to approach every aisle as an opportunity to create momentum and sell an entire case. The first step is announcing one’s presence in the aisle, which requires holding up the can, displaying it to the fans on the left and right side so everyone can see it. With a booming yell, I make sure people feel my presence. It is optimal to sell a beer or two at the entrance to each aisle (especially if coming from the bottom) so that people can see the exchange taking place. Another aspect of fan psychology is recognizing the fact that many fans, though they may be towards the bottom of their cup and will order another if faced with the decision, are not actively seeking out a beer vendor. But once they see a beer guy a few rows below them executing an expert pour with a smile on his face, they ask one another, “You ready for another one?” By the time I have ascended to their row, they are ready to initiate a sale. If I had merely cruised through their aisle though, they wouldn’t have even noticed me enough to decide on another brew.