Increasing the profitability of draught beer

By Roger Mittag

For as long as I can remember, beer has been ‘just’ beer. It has been refreshingly easy to drink and for the longest time, most beers tasted the same. The harsh reality is that most draught beer purveyors simply didn’t give it a second thought. Sure, we all need draught beer but it’s pretty simple – just open the tap and pour. However, times have changed and so has the ability to become profitable.

Matt Rolfe from Barmetrix recently told me that the average amount of waste in draught beer is approximately 12 per cent. The industry standard should be three per cent and this is by and large due to spillage. There are so many small things that you can do to increase profitability and each one of these things is important to reducing costs and increasing the bottom line.

Reducing costs

The easiest way to reduce costs is to limit the amount paid out to the government. Licensees are required to pay tax on the revenues earned from selling beer. The taxes due are representative of the amount of liquid inside the keg. However, the amount actually sold is far from the amount in the keg. Consider for example, that each time you clean your lines, you are wasting the beer that is trapped inside the beer lines. While this seems like a small amount, it can add up substantially. For example, a bar with 50 feet of draught lines and 10 draught brands is wasting approximately 25 ounces every time the lines get cleaned. Assuming that the cleaning schedule is every three to four weeks (which is standard), the amount of beer that is not saleable amounts to 24 glasses per year per draught line. Make sure you speak to your accountant to determine the proper method of recording this loss. Your draught line supplier can help you to understand how much volume of beer is in your draught lines.

The Draught System

It’s sad to say but most of the draught systems in Canada are not built to be efficient. A perfectly functioning draught system should allow the beer to be poured at two ounces per second. This should apply to each and every brand on tap (except Guinness and other nitro beers). In order for this to happen, the draught system has to be built correctly. You will need to ensure the following:

  • Your primary source of gas needs to have the pressure set as high as possible. This ensures the entire system will get a sufficient amount of pressure when it gets busy.
  • You should have one secondary regulator (in the cooler) per brand. This allows for subtle fluctuations in internal gas volumes (as set by each brewer) and will also create the ability to independently control each beer if necessary. Furthermore, it allows for change to the draught beer line-up with any hiccups.
  • A FOB should also be hooked up to each line. This nice little device shuts the system down when the keg is empty (saving you more waste when beer turns to foam) and allows a very simple flip of inventory. You need to ensure your staff is well versed in re-loading the FOB.
  • The dispense gas used is critical. For the past 20 to 30 years, everyone has been guided toward using Beer Gas (70 per cent N and 30 per cent C02). This gas is great in some circumstances but it has been recognized recently as the leading culprit of flat beer. Considering that flat beer is quite often returned by the guest, this is another key way of cutting costs and increasing profitability.

Train your staff

Once your draught system is up to standard, you can now proceed to the human role in the process. Bartenders and servers should be trained on the proper way to pour and serve beer to ensure profitability. They should also be encouraged to notify management when the draught system is not functioning properly. Here are a few things to be aware of:

  • Frozen or chilled glass often results in excessive foaming. The bartender then pours some out and tops the beer back up. You could be losing anywhere from three to six ounces per glass.
  • Beer that is pouring too slowly results in another loss because the foam at the top of the glass is diminished.
  • The proper amount of foam at the top of a beer is approximately two to three ounces per glass ( it does not matter the size of the glass).
  • Beer that sits at the service bar waiting for a server to take it often loses its foam head. This results in two profit losers.
    • The server stirs the beer to create foam – end result is a flat beer that can be returned (net loss – one full glass of beer)
    • The bartender tops the beer up – end result is an over-carbonated beer that has added two to three ounces of beer, reducing the margin. The secondary problem is a gassy, full guest who doesn’t want to order another beer


The old standard in the industry was to have three price segments: Mainstream, Premium and Import. Price segmentation has gone the way of the dinosaur! It’s more important now to create a price list that is reflective of a margin strategy. That means, that you should create a specific margin you’d like to achieve and apply it right across the board to each and every beer.

In order to do this, you will need to understand exactly how much beer is in each glass. This is easily accomplished with a few vital tips.

  1. Buy a graduated cylinder that shows both Imperial ounces and metric.
  2. Pour water into each glass that you use. If you are using branded glassware, each glass could be different in its volume measurement. It’s critical to go right to the brim so that you can see what the glass volume is.
  3. Establish the amount of foam you want. In many cases, there will be a pour line on the back of the glass. Make sure it is at least two ounces below the brim.
  4. Foam on beer will collapse to 25 per cent of the volume. That means that 2 ounces of foam will actually become .5 ounces of beer – which means your actual volume of beer (for creating margin) is 18.5 ounces in a 20 ounce glass.
  5. Stop referring to a glass of beer as a ‘Pint’. An Imperial pint is 20 fluid ounces and in most cases, you are serving less than the required 20 ounces.

Draught beer can and should be incredibly profitable, and making these changes will help your establishment realize those profits.

About the author:

Roger Mittag is the founder of Thirst For Knowledge Inc., a beer consulting and education business dedicated to enhancing the beer industry. He can be reached at rmittag@thirstforknowledge.ca or at 289-314-5852.

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