The rise of craft breweries all over the country has led to a rise in beer festivals! What isn’t great about beer lovers coming together to celebrate innovations in the industry?
While planning a beer festival is similar to organizing any other type of festival, there are a few important factors that event planners need to consider in order to make the event as successful as possible.
Here are some expert tips that will help you plan the ultimate beer festival:
Choose the Right Date and Location
One of the most important things to consider in planning a beer festival is the date and the location.
For starters, you will want to leave yourself a lot of time to plan your event. At a minimum, you will want to give yourself 8-12 weeks to prepare. The more time you have, the more details you can fine-tune and nail down.
Successful events are rarely just thrown together. The more time you have to plan, the more time you have to focus on what will set your festival apart from all the rest!
When selecting your date, be sure to avoid other events or holidays that may also be of interest to your target audience. For example, don’t plan your beer festival for Oktoberfest weekend. Why make your potential attendees choose between two events if you don’t have to?
Venue selection is critical and may impact other parts of your planning. If you are in a northern state and are looking at an outdoor venue, planning a beer festival for November might not be the best idea. Unless, of course, you are planning a festival that features stouts or special winter brews.
To really set your beer festival apart, look for a space that is outside typical event venues. Try to find interesting partnerships that will speak to your audience. Are there large historic sites nearby that can be used, like a fort? Is there an organic farmer nearby that would be willing to donate a field to promote an interesting farm-to-table concept?
While the location and venue should match the vision you have for the festival, it should also accommodate other needs like capacity, accessibility, and parking.
Is there access to public transit at your venue? If not, be sure to account for shuttle buses in your overall budget. Is there grass? Grass can minimize both breakage and slippage should attendees drop their beverage. Is there easy access for vendors? Can they get a truck easily pulled up to an access point? If not, will you have a team available to help with offloading and set up?
Be sure to pick a space that is large enough to not only hold your expected crowd but also meet the needs of attendees and vendors.
If it is at all possible, consider partnering with the local municipality. This type of partnership will not only give you access to a great public venue, but it can also give you access to more advertising channels and potentially more advertising funds.
Consider all Legalities
Each state and municipality has specific laws that you will need to follow. The last thing you want or need is to spend time and money planning a beer festival only to have it shut down because you missed a required detail!
Place a call to the state Alcohol Beverage Control. This will help you get started on all the licenses and permits you will need to sell liquor and food at your event.
Be sure to give yourself time, however. Like most bureaucratic activities, acquiring permits is slow and there may be a significant amount of delay. Get started on this process as soon as you have set your date and secured your venue.
At a minimum, you will want to secure general liability (GL) and liquor liability (LL) insurance. This will protect you should someone get injured at your event or drive drunk. There are a few companies that specialize in event-focused insurance, like Philadelphia Insurance Company and K&K Insurance Group. These companies are a great place to start.
Beyond GL and LL insurance you might want to consider:
- Directors and Officers (D&O) Insurance: if you have a planning or festival board, you may already have D&O coverage but in case you don’t, protecting these individuals from liability may be worth looking into.
- Coverage for Damage to Rented Properties: Sometimes things happen. This type of coverage will protect you from going out of pocket on possible repairs or replacement. The standard limit is around $300,000.
- Coverage for Medical Expenses: Again, things happen. In this case, the standard limit is around $5,000 but some carriers will allow you to negotiate a higher limit.
- Auto Insurance: If you will have vehicles involved in your event, you will want to protect yourself in the case of accidents.
- Umbrella Insurance: If you are unsure about whether or not your general insurance will be enough, an umbrella policy can provide additional coverage and protection.
- Additionally Insured: Ask any company that you rent from, like a tent/canopy company or a port-a-potty company, to add your organization to their policy as an “additional insured.”
Stock up on Ice
Ice will be critical to keeping available alcoholic beverages cold. But ordering ice is a tricky thing. Too much, too soon and you risk a melt. Not enough, people are sipping warm beer. And to make matters even worse, pouring warm beer can lead to excess foam which hurts both the vendors and the guests.
The Brewer’s Association recommends 30-50 pounds of ice for each beer type, every 4 hours. So, 5 vendors, each sampling one type of beer over an 8 hour period means 60-100 pounds of ice for each vendor or 300-500 pounds in total.
Planning your ice amounts requires a conversation with the vendors. Find out early how many beers or adult beverages they are planning to sample and go from there.
To make things easier during the festival itself, consider renting a forklift or some sort of equipment to easily deliver ice to each vendor. This can speed things up and save backbreaking labor during the event itself.
Offer lots of Food Options
While beer may be made from wheat and barley, it does not actually constitute food. Providing food for your guests is both necessary and responsible. You do not want people walking around all day consuming alcohol with no food in their stomachs. Give their taste buds a little something too!
Some brewing companies also serve food in their establishments and they may be able and interested in creating/serving something at your beer festival. Food trucks and other popular local restaurants present great opportunities for you to engage even deeper with the community.
In some cases, inviting these types of vendors will lead to increased interest and increased ticket sales.
Snack foods are great but you’ll want to make sure that there are more substantial options available. If you want your guests to stick around, you need to offer more than a bag of pretzels!
And don’t forget WATER. You need to make sure that water is readily available to guests, particularly at summer festivals. You could sell water, but you should also provide free public drinking water. This would encourage people to bring a reusable container from home that can be filled at watering stations set up throughout the venue.
Discuss Ticket Sales with Brewers
Pulling off a successful beer festival means being in frequent contact with the brewers you have invited. It is important to let them know about ticket sales and expected attendance so they can bring the proper amount of beer. Running out of drinks at a beer festival is not an option!
In general, you will want to overestimate the amount of beer you need.
There is a simple equation available to help you and the brewers determine what they will need:
# of minutes the event is open [round up] X pour size X [≈ 2 to 10] pours per minute = # of ounces of beer each brewery should bring.
Before you calculate this amount, you will need to make a few decisions. Will your beer festival place emphasis on learning about the beer, the brewing company, and their processes? Or, will you try to move people through each station more quickly? Understanding this, combined with tickets sold, will help you determine the number of pours per minute. Use that number, typically somewhere between 2 and 10, to calculate the number of ounces a brewer will need.
Communication with brewers can also help you determine ticket pricing and structure. The brewers may have previous festival experience that can help you create a situation that is better for all parties involved.
For example, do you plan to sell festival tickets at the gate? If so, this could create an increase in beer supply. Letting brewers know that you are enabling day-of purchases can help them better plan for a greater number of guests.
Similarly, make sure to consult vendors about ticket pricing. Will you be charging a flat fee or charging per sample? If together you decide to charge per sample, you will want to set up some sort of voucher or token system. A token system would relieve the beer vendors from charging per pour and all guests have to do is hand over their token and receive a pour.
This method simplifies the payment processes so beer vendors can focus on customer service and pouring the drinks. With proper festival layout, and flexible pricing (like 3 samples for $X, 6 samples for $XX, etc), you will offer ease and value. People will not have to queue for long periods and can actually enjoy the festival experience.
This is especially important for events that are not 21+. Event organizers are liable for everything that happens at their event, so regulating drink pours through a single system will help to reduce the liability. A dedicated payment booth can also check identification and issue wrist bands to ensure that all attendees are of legal drinking age.
Think About Festival Layout
One of the biggest parts of festival planning is figuring out how you are going to set everything up.
From brewers to food vendors, to port-a-potties and first aid tents, it’s important to establish a clear and easy to follow “floor” plan.
For example, set up a booth at the gates where attendees can pick up their tasting glass and purchase tokens if that is how the event is priced.
Are you planning live music? Where will the stage be set up? Are you providing seating for guests?
You will want to make sure that you have plenty of space to keep traffic moving without putting necessities too far away from one another.
The layout will, obviously, be determined by the venue but there are a few things to keep in mind no matter where the festival is taking place.
Be sure that:
- Things are clearly marked: Have proper signage and directional indicators throughout the event space.
- Essentials are spread throughout: Whenever possible, spread your important resources throughout the event space. For large outdoor festivals, set up multiple toilet locations, watering stations, etc. Ensure there is plenty of trash and recycling bins throughout the space.
- Volunteers are easy to find: Assemble a large volunteer team that will be available to help before, during, and after, the festival. You will need them to perform essential services like taking tickets and selling tokens but you should also have designated volunteers covering specific tasks. Have a team dedicated to the brewers, this team will check on ice levels and supplies and work to keep things running smoothly there. Other volunteers should be visible in the crowd to direct traffic and offer assistance when necessary.
Nail the Branding and Advertising
Brand and advertising will spread the word and help to appeal to the right audience.
Begin by designing a branded event webpage. This will be where you can post information about the brewers and vendors who will be participating in your festival and really show people what you are all about. It gives you a chance to display what makes you different from all the other festivals taking place.
Your brand will be what attracts people to your festival and what makes them want to come back, year after year. For some tips on how to grow a brand, check out our event branding guide!
An event page will not only give people vital information about your festival, but it will also give them a way to purchase tickets. You want to make ticket purchases as easy as possible. So, have some hard copies available with each of the brewers and vendors but enable online ticket sales to reach a wider audience.
Social media channels are a great way to brand and market an event. Create a Facebook page and/or a Facebook event page. You can use this platform to drive ticket sales but also to generate excitement and buzz. With Instagram, you can share short teasers or images that will build excitement and anticipation.
While posting on these platforms is free, it is worthwhile to spend money to target your posts toward your specific demographic. This step is likely to produce more conversions and increase your ticket sales.
Get creative. Think closely about your target audience and find an outside-of-the-box way to deliver the type of experience they are craving.
But don’t limit yourself to online marketing. Donate tickets to a local radio station for a giveaway, advertise in appropriate publications like the local newspaper and/or campus newspapers. And posters placed in strategic community locations can be shockingly effective.
Take the time to really put some thought and expertise into your design here. If you need to hire an outside professional to create a logo or eye-catching flyers, do so. Spending a little money upfront can payout down the road.
Planning any type of festival takes a lot of thought and consideration. But the logistics involved with a beer festival can make the task feel even more daunting. Take your time, start planning early, and consider the tips listed above. If you do, you’ll have a popular and successful event on your hands!