Creating a brewpub culture

by Sally Colby
Karl Strauss Brewing Company, headquartered in San Diego, CA, just opened their ninth and tenth brewpubs, and Fred Glick, VP of brewpubs for the company, says the company’s success is due to a focus on culture.
“Culture really starts at the top,” said Glick. “There are places that have phenomenal beer and really good food, but if they miss the people element, they won’t be successful. If you don’t engage your employees and they don’t care about the guests, you aren’t going be successful no matter what you do.”
Glick says it’s critical to build a culture in which employees truly care about guests.
“We define culture in simple terms,” he said. “It’s ‘how we do things around here.’ It’s everything from standard operating procedures and training manuals to how to interact with each other.” Glick explains the company’s core ideology includes their mission (what’s the purpose of the company; where are we trying to go), a purpose statement and core company values.
“It’s critical that you define these and write them down,” said Glick. “If you don’t have them, they exist already without you. Your employees will create your culture for you if you don’t define it. If you’re just starting out, engage your employees to be part of the process — you’ll have a lot more buy-in. But don’t just write your company’s core ideology on a poster on the wall. It has to live and breathe in everything you do.”
There are challenges in dealing with Millennials, who are likely to be the age group applying for positions. “They don’t see the world the way all of us see the world,” said Glick. “Millennials expect instant recognition, and they want to be brought up into the company right away. They want to connect to a vision and purpose, so you have to have something they buy into.”
Glick says the goal of Karl Strauss is to be “the most-loved craft brewer in San Diego.”
“We have a soft, fuzzy, warm, lots-of-hugs thing,” he said. “The ‘how’ we do that is our purpose statement, and that’s what people go to work to do every day. It’s critical that people know what the goal is, and for us, it’s making people happy one Karl Strauss beer at a time.”
If management doesn’t connect with what employees do daily, a portion of the “what” is lost. Glick uses the example of what a dishwasher’s job and goal might be — spotless glassware, everything shines in the back of the house. “That might be how I interact with the front of the house staff who are interacting with guests,” he said. “It’s a lot easier for a front-of-the-house employee to see the connection because they’re the ones making people happy.”
Karl Strauss ranks employees on competence and their commitment to the company. “Service is the technical delivery of the product; the competency of the employee,” said Glick. “The hospitality side is whether they care and are they giving great service — are they doing something for someone, do they make a human connection with guests?” Glick says Karl Strauss has seen a jump from 29 percent to 61 percent in a five-star Yelp reviews over the past three years.
“The connection to the guest is where you win or lose,” said Glick. “It isn’t just the beer. Beer is the most important part of your brewery. If you don’t get the beer right, nothing else matters.” The food is important, but the reason people return to certain places is because of how someone made them feel when they were there.
Glick says some employees have high competence level but a very low level of commitment. These employees need to undergo an attitude adjustment or leave.
Those who believe in the company culture but don’t have the training and competency to do the job adequately should be trained, nurtured and developed.
One of the Karl Strauss values, and the one Glick says is most critical in connecting to human beings, is care for each other, our environment and the community.
“Caring for each other is something society needs a little bit more of right now,” he said. “It’s basically ‘do until others’, using magic words; please and thank you when you’re walking through the brewpub, and just being kind to each other.”
Karl Strauss employees participate in community efforts such as cleaning up beaches and hold team-building events, softball tournaments, tailgate parties and charity events. “These are important things to build the teams, but it also connects back to who you are as a company,” said Glick. “It makes everybody feel good about who they work for, and they get to share beers and get to know each other on a different level.”
Another Karl Strauss value is building authentic relationships based on trust and integrity. Glick says a lot of young managers don’t hold employees accountable because “we care about them and don’t want to hurt their feelings”. “Nothing could be further from the truth,” said Glick. “The higher the expectation level on your consistency and level of execution, the better job you’re going to do. You have to be willing to have tough conversations with people. I teach new managers that when they see something that’s wrong, the quicker it’s fixed, the better. Don’t look at it as hurting the employee, look at it as helping them.”
Karl Strauss Brewing Company has had success using a rewards and recognition app which allows one employee to recognize another for something positive the employee is doing. The same concept can be done without technology by using a simple cut-out of a hand to signify a high-five, on which an employee can thank or recognize another employee for something such as help with bussing tables or staying late to help with clean up.
But the important part isn’t the reward — it’s getting employees to recognize other employees doing a good job. “It isn’t just the managers,” said Glick. “It’s critical that it lives at the culture of the hourly level employee so they’re complimenting each other. That’s how you build teamwork.”
Hourly team members at Karl Strauss are certified Cicerone beer servers. “The company pays for the course and servers must pass the test to be servers,” said Glick. “It gives them basic beer chops. We also train them on our beer styles and teach internal classes.”
Three-quarters of Karl Strauss managers have arisen from the hourly ranks. Anyone who wants to interview for management can do so quarterly, and if they’re qualified and show the right character, they become shift supervisors and develop into managers.
“Culture is the most important thing you can possibly do to be successful in this business,” said Glick. “It’s what happens when you aren’t there. When the [general manager] isn’t there and you have a shift supervisor running a busy shift, that’s your culture. You’re only going to be as good as what happens on that shift, and you aren’t going to get that unless there’s buy-in and commitment from your people.”
Karl Strauss employees are encouraged to learn, improve and grow. Once a year, the president sets direction for the company, then the message is shared with all team members. Glick says this helps employees make the connection of going to work with making money for gain. “You owe it to yourself to help them connect the dots and set goals,” he said. “Some people are go-getters and have goals, but the vast majority of your team members are lost little sheep and need some guidance. Everyone should have the ability to develop if they want to.”

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