Slices and 'suds': A match made in beer wall heaven

| by Elliot Maras
Slices and 'suds': A match made in beer wall heaven

Editor's Note: This story is a version of the third report in a three-part series about self-pour beer systems that first appeared on sister site,

Beer on tap. Beer by the pitcher. Beer wall. What's the difference? Well, according to one California pizza restaurateur, the difference is sales. 

With a beer wall — with a multitude of taps where pizza customers can fill their own mugs — zpizza President Chris Bright said beer sales grow like the frothy head on a good ale. In fact, that wall-long multi-tap apparatus in one of Bright's brands' locations actually ended up being the impetus for the chain's taproom concept launched three years ago that now boasts six locations. 

"It really was the catalyst behind going into a larger space that would draw mostly dine-in guests," Bright said. 

Most of the zpizza 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 that at the more traditional restaurants under Bright's operation, and the selections are adjusted based on sales. 

Customers tap into variety at zpizza

"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, according to Bright who attributes the difference to beer and wine sales. But the alcohol sales also drive the food selections.

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

There was, however, a learning curve for employees with the self-pour system due to important maintenance measures that must be taken, Bright said. 

"There are quite a few moving parts," Bright said. 

For instance, a display screen above the tap tells the customer what beverage is being poured. The beer wall also houses electronic components.

A social experience

Like other restaurant operators interviewed in the second part 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. 

Venditto said it made sense for him to include a beer wall with 28 taps there because the restaurant is close to a university and all those voracious college-age beer drinkers. In fact, beer sales account for 30 percent of his business there.

Venditto said customers also face a bit of a learning curve with self-pour systems like his, since most people really haven't a lot of experience pouring their own beers. 

"The biggest issue is that you run into operator error; people that don't know how to pour their own beer," Venditto said. 

Most beer distributors send crews to clean out their taps every two weeks, Venditto said, adding that he hasn't had any maintenance issues as of yet. 

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 demonstrate how to use the taps for guests.

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

Photo: iStock

Topics: Business Strategy and Profitability, Customer Service / Experience

Elliot Maras
Elliot Maras is the editor of and

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