Beer and pizza: Self-pour technology adds fizz to the mix

| by Elliot Maras
Beer and pizza: Self-pour technology adds fizz to the mix

Pizza patrons love their beer at Blast& Brew in Rocklin, California. Images courtesy of iPourIt and iStock

Editor's Note: This is part three in a three-part series about self-pour beer systems.

Beer has long been a key offering for pizza establishments. The craft beer revolution hasn't changed this, and self-pour beer systems that make it easier for customers to sample different beers are making pizza parlors all the merrier.

"Pizza and beer go together, it's an experience we've had for decades; it's definitely been a tradition for a long time," said Chris Bright, president of zpizza, a 53-unit pizza chain founded 30 years ago in Irvine, California. Zpizza has migrated to a taproom concept with a self-pour offering.

Beer wall gives rise to a new restaurant concept

A customer pours himself a beer at a zpizza taproom. Photo courtesy of zpizza

The beer wall, which features the iPourIt self-pour system, was the impetus for launching the taproom concept for zpizza three years ago. There are now six zpizza taprooms.

"It really was the catalyst behind going into a larger space that would draw mostly dine-in guests," Bright said. Most of the taprooms, which can be up to 3,000 square feet, have 20 taps, which Bright considers the optimal number, based on volume sold. 

The beers are rotated regularly to maintain variety. Two to four wine taps are generally available, as well. The product variety for the taprooms is comparable to Bright's more traditional restaurants, and the selections are adjusted based on sales.

Self-pour drives sales

"The difference is significant in terms of the amount of beer and wine we sell out of self-pour taps versus customers purchasing bottles," Bright said. Beer and wine served from bottles constitutes less than 2 percent of total restaurant sales, compared with 30 percent for beer and wine served from self-pour taps, he said.

The average ticket for a taproom is just over $20, compared with $15 for traditional locations. Bright attibutes the difference to beer and wine sales. 

"Without alcohol, we wouldn't be driving the food sales," he said. "There's a synergy we derive from having the self-pour wall."

The self-pour learning curve

Employees faced a learning curve with the self-pour system due to important maintenance measures, Bright said. 

"There are quite a few moving parts," Bright said. A display screen above the tap tells the customer what beverage is being poured, and the beer wall houses electronic components.

A social experience

Like other restaurant operators interviewed in part 2 of this series, Bright said the beer wall creates a more social experience for patrons.

"It allows our team of front-of-the-house folks to be really engaged with the overall guest experience," he said. "Our team is able to touch the table and interact with the guest more."

"[The beer wall] becomes a conversational piece on Friday night when people are standing there and pouring their own beer," said Mark Venditto, who opened a Fort Collins, Colorado PizzaRev franchise four months ago. He said it made sense for him to include a beer wall with 28 taps, as the restaurant is close to a university. Beer sales account for 30 percent of his business.

Venditto said that a self-pour system involves a learning curve for customers, as well. "The biggest issue is that you run into operator error; people that don't know how to pour their own beer," Venditto said. It's not a chronic problem, but it does happen, he said.

Most beer distributors send crews to clean out their taps every two weeks, Venditto said. So far, he hasn't had any maintenance issues with the iPourIt self pour-system.

Variety adds value

"It's more about the experience of being able to try different beers," said Justin Klein, manager of a Firestorm Pizza store in Mooresville, North Carolina, which has a 12-tap beer wall featuring iPourIt technology. The restaurant serves mostly local craft beers, along with one hard cider.

"It's easier to control the inventory; you don't have a bartender that could be giving out beers," he said, adding that it is important to give guests a demonstration on using the taps.

Firestorm Pizza will be adding a beer wall to its other store in Winston Salem, Klein said. 

Beer goes with pizza

Slice Pizza & Brew, a restaurant in Birmingham, Alabama, has 16 mostly craft beers on tap, and goes so far as to include beer suggestions on the menu for all of its specialty pizzas. While the restaurant hasn't yet introduced a self-pour system, beer is by far the top selling beverage.

As for the beer-pizza pairings on the menu, "It depends on the type of pizza, what the toppings are, and the type of things that would balance that out on the palates," said bar manager Geoff Bullington. For a spicy pizza, the restaurant recommends a light wheat beer, which has a fruity taste, to help "tame" the spices. It also recommends India pale ale, which has hops that tend to clear the palate of spicy foods.

Bullington's restaurant even uses beer in some of its pizza toppings, many of which are locally sourced and prepared in house.

It's a good bet that more pizza establishments will be investigating in self-pour beer technology, given the highly competitive nature of the business, and the rising popularity of craft beers. In fact, craft beer now represents 12.7 percent of the U.S. beer industry, according to the Brewers Association. 

"It's just a great match," PizzaRev's Mark Venditto said of pizza and beer.


Topics: Customer Experience, Restaurants



Elliot Maras
Elliot Maras is the editor of KioskMarketplace.com and FoodTruckOperator.com.

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