By Jessica Brill
The foodservice industry has spent the last few years in recovery mode amid supply chain disruption, inflation, and labour shortages, but some restaurants have found a way to thrive through it all. By focusing on relationships from the top down, prioritizing staff, and strengthening partner relationships, Beertown continues to grow, providing guests with exceptional experiences.
“Those were certainly trying days, but through it all, there was hope and opportunity and that’s what we tried to stay focused on,” says Jody Palubiski, CEO of Beertown, referring to the challenges faced during the pandemic. “We moved forward with integrity, doing all we could to continue forging ahead.”
Then and now
The concept of Beertown was born during the Great Recession. Despite the challenges the industry was facing in those days, the Charcoal Group, established in 2003, had already built a loyal following in the Kitchener-Waterloo area – and it was time to diversify. After researching the market and identifying the biggest emerging trends in hospitality, they set out to become the leader in the craft beer dining revolution, opening the first Beertown in Cambridge in 2012.
“In those early days, filling 30 taps in that first Beertown was a tough task. Now, though, there are over 400 breweries in the province, and we work hard to curate a fantastic, diverse offering while also helping smaller breweries reach the public and grow their businesses,” says Palubiski.
As hospitality continued to evolve, it became about quality over quantity. The idea of getting people together to experience two really well-crafted products is what Beertown is all about, and that is where they found their niche.
Today’s consumers are looking for more from their restaurants and it’s a race for operators to stand out, to provide that exceptional dining experience, and to earn a loyal clientele who will keep coming back. “We approach hospitality in an ‘old school way’ where getting to know your guests and making sure they know that they are valued and appreciated is our top priority,” says Palubiski.
The foodservice industry is ever-evolving, and there has been a shift in recent years, with operators embracing a back-to-basics approach towards service and hospitality practices. Beertown has doubled down on this philosophy, recognizing that there are plenty of other restaurants to choose from, and showing their gratitude when customers make Beertown their destination of choice. “It seems simple, but true hospitality doesn’t call for bells and whistles,” Palubiski confirms.
The challenges and the triumphs
Studies show that one-third of Canadian restaurants are still operating at a loss, with only 17 per cent reporting that they are breaking even, so what’s the secret to Beertown’s continuing success?
As many operators continue to struggle with post-pandemic recovery, Beertown’s perseverance and compassion stand out as they move forward with a “people first” approach. According to Palubiski, Beertown’s “vision, mission, and values have evolved, but they have always remained the same at their core and we used those as tools. We adopted the mantra ‘do what we say we’re going to do’ and we followed through, from our teams to our partners, even when it wasn’t easy.”
Like many businesses, the company focused on keeping as many people employed as possible during those challenging times, as they worked to ensure physical, financial, and emotional safety for their teams. And as the rules changed and municipalities allowed patios to open up, the company did everything they could to offer more space for guests and get staff working again.
But putting people first isn’t just about scheduling, and for many restaurants, communication was critical as the foodservice industry navigated through unprecedented times. Staying in touch, providing support, and continuing to build strong relationships and passionate teams was the Beertown way. “We called every single team member every week to check in, got some mental health training for our management so as they were making those calls, we could get a sense of where everybody was. We were trying to track flags to be able to support our teams with an expanded benefit program and all the support we could give,” says Palubiski.
Beertown also worked hard to maintain and strengthen relationships with partners and suppliers, promising to pay as promptly as possible, while working on ways to accommodate everyone. That same approach was taken with landlords, and as they followed through on their promises to their partners, respect and loyalty were cemented.
Due to that established trust and those strong relationships, Beertown was able to minimize staffing shortages and even avoid many of the supply chain issues that plagued other businesses. “We were all part of the same team. We had held hands through it all,” explains Palubiski.
As an independent company with partners and a long history in hospitality, it’s true that Beertown was well-financed, without some of the same pressures or hurdles that many other operators faced. But as Jody explains perfectly, “You can have death by a thousand cuts, but you can also have success by a thousand solutions, so if you look at all angles and are doing the right things, good things will happen over time.”
The guest experience
As restaurants compete in today’s fierce economy, they work to set themselves apart, create worthwhile experiences, and to attract guests who will return as loyal patrons. There are many ways to tackle these goals, from increased value to better customer service to improved efficiency, and beyond. Along with these practices, Beertown’s extensive menu helps deliver that memorable experience and leave a lasting impression.
As part of their mission to make guests feel appreciated, Beertown has created a diverse and unique menu with something for everyone, including an impressive array of plant-based and gluten-friendly options. These chef-initiated recipes are helping the restaurant stand out with menus showing guests that they are valued, that their choices are supported, and that they have a place at the restaurant.
As dining habits shift and consumer values change, connection is the common thread. Consumers are seeking to build relationships with the businesses they frequent, becoming part of the family at their favourite restaurants.
Putting people first means looking for opportunities to exceed guest expectations, to really listen to their feedback, and to let them know how much they are truly valued. Celebrating team successes and creating a community with your guests and your staff is how winning culture is created.
At Beertown, success is celebrated with recognition for moments of truth each week. “These moments with guests are so moving, from getting to celebrate something joyous together to help bring a little light to someone going through a tough time,” Palubiski says. “We really celebrate those moments.”
Striving to find those opportunities is another way that this company is leading the charge at elevating the customer experience and encouraging team members to go the extra mile. As an example, Palubiski tells a story of a couple recently visiting the restaurant on their way back from the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, after getting turned around at the border and missing their anniversary trip. Restaurant staff, upon hearing about their disappointment, went out and purchased mini-Bourbon bottles, printed out tasting notes, and included a restaurant gift card to thank them for choosing to celebrate with Beertown. “It’s moments like these that matter; it’s the idea that it’s worth the effort, the time, or the cost to create something special for someone,” Palubiski says.
It’s hospitality at its core, moving the industry forward with passion and compassion. As Beertown continues to grow and thrive during the next five years, with signed leases in London, Whitby, and several other locations, they will continue their quest to put people first – and at the end of the day, that’s what hospitality is all about.