How Cambria Pairs Brews With Views
A focus on hyper-local beer taps into rooftop revenue.
Many rooftop bars have built their reputations on cocktails complementing the view to heighten the experience for guests. But in recent years, the booming craft beer industry—estimated at approximately $2.6 billion—has elbowed its way into that picture, making local brews an indispensable option for rooftops that are serious about raising revenues.
Those financial figures and continued profit potential of craft beer aren’t lost on Cambria Hotels, where the brand’s beverage focus is on hyper-local brews representative of each property’s surrounding area.
“Craft beer is part of our overarching F&B philosophy at Cambria, whether it’s a rooftop or a first-floor bar and restaurant,” says Rick Hertan, director, upscale brand operations, Choice Hotels. “We offer five craft brews on tap, and having that craft beer upstairs is vitally important to us. If we just had cocktails on our rooftops and craft beer downstairs, it wouldn’t work for the brand.”
Cambria has nearly 40 properties in 24 states, and six of those feature rooftop venues: Chicago; NYC-Chelsea; Washington, D.C.; Philadelphia; Nashville; and Asheville, North Carolina; plus two more in the pipeline for Phoenix and Orlando. “It can be a tough decision based on the market, but we’re seeing owners opt for a rooftop bar and restaurant instead of a rooftop pool these days,” says Hertan.
Another tough decision is which craft beer goes into those five taps at each Cambria, since there are dozens of breweries in every city. To narrow down the choices, Cambria Hotels Beverage Specialist Zach O’Haire follows a detailed strategy that emphasizes operational logistics as well as the style and flavor of each beer selected.
Cambria originally planned to feature three instead of five craft brews on tap, but “three is pretty limiting, especially with new beer produced all the time, plus all the different seasonal products released throughout the year. It would be impossible to represent a city’s craft beer scene with three taps,” O’Haire says. While five is the minimum number of taps required at a Cambria bar, more can be added if the demand is there, such as at Cambria Nashville Downtown, which has 10 taps to accommodate the large craft beer presence in that city.
Perhaps just as important as the taste of a craft beer is a brewery’s ability to distribute it beyond its source location. “First we have to verify availability, because not all breweries have a distribution plan,” O’Haire says. “They may just have a tap house or tasting room and might not actually be packaging their products.”
Beer selected for taps at a Cambria bar will, at a minimum, be from the same state where the hotel is located, and in cities like Nashville or New York where the density of craft brewers is higher, beer is sourced from a closer proximity to the property. “The idea is to show guests we’re being supportive of a product that is created in that locality,” says O’Haire.
Research and Rate
Once distribution and local parameters are verified, O’Haire researches his choices online through sites such as BeerAdvocate, RateBeer, Untappd, “and other resources that not only talk about the brewery but also have a community of beer enthusiasts that are trying these beers and having conversations about the breweries and their histories. From there, I’ll determine which breweries to contact and ask for samples. Then, after tasting the samples, I’ll compare my notes to what the online community is saying about those beers and decide which ones to pursue.”
Keep it Approachable
Once O’Haire determines his short list among beers in a particular city, he then assesses whether they’re accessible enough to appeal to the general public. “Some beers might not make sense to the average person,” he says. “It’s kind of hard to sell certain styles of beer if only one in every 100 people actually likes it.”
Zach Engle, GM of Cambria Nashville, adds that, “success is measured in how often I’m replacing those kegs. We want to make sure we’re supplying products that people buy, so something like a seasonal blackberry beer, for example, may not have the same sales appeal as a flagship pilsner from a local craft brewer.”
Because most Cambria bars have five taps, O’Haire makes sure a spectrum of beer styles is represented, rather than offering five different IPAs, for example. In general, he ensures there is a lighter German-style pilsner or lager on tap; at least one IPA (“far and away the highest-selling category in the market right now,” he says); a Belgian-style beer, like a dubbel, tripel, or quadruple; and a darker English- or Irish-style stout or porter.
“We offer beer flights in all of our hotels, so it’s important to have that range of light to dark, or fruity to floral, to give guests an approachable variety of choices,” O’Haire says.
Even if a particular beer checks all the right boxes in terms of flavor and ease of distribution, it still needs to be purchased at an affordable price to make sense from a business standpoint. “Some beer styles that are labor-intensive or require rare ingredients or yeast strains can be expensive. I have spreadsheets that compare keg size and keg price and then break it down to a percentage cost. You can get hit on your profit margin with certain styles of beer, so on average I try to find beers in the range of 18% to 20% cost,” says O’Haire.
Every Pitcher Tells a Story
Another key consideration before a beer is selected for a Cambria tap is whether a particular brewery has an interesting story that staff can relay to guests to enhance the experience.
“It’s a great way to engage with customers and give them added value beyond just ordering a beer,” says O’Haire. “When we train our staff, we try to highlight three to five talking points that are easy to convey to customers. For example, we can say a particular beer is from just down the street, or that it’s the oldest brewery in the city, or that it’s won a particular award, or that it’s been family-owned for decades. Just tidbits that are easily relayed and don’t get too convoluted for the server to remember or the guest to absorb.”
Cambria Hotels lets guests choose points or pints upon arrival.
One of the peripheral programs connected to Cambria Hotels’ brand-wide craft beer program (see main story) is their offer of a collectible coaster that can be used as a buy-one, get-one option at the hotel bar.
“When a guest checks in, they can select Choice Privilege points added to their account or a coaster, which is local in nature and features visuals related to the property’s location,” explains Rick Hertan, director, upscale brand operations, Choice Hotels. “For example, at our Cambria in Chandler, Arizona, there’s an image of an ostrich on the coaster, because of the city’s history with ostrich farms and its annual ostrich festival.”
Customers who opt for the coaster can use it for any BOGO beverage at the bar (a sticker is placed on the back of the coaster after the offer has been redeemed) and “it’s a nice way to promote our craft beer program and our beverage program overall and create a sense of place for our guests,” Hertan says.
Zack Engle, GM of Cambria Nashville Downtown, adds that at his property, “about 98% of our guests choose the coaster. We’re having a hard time keeping up with demand, and we sometimes have the coasters on backorder because our Choice guests like to collect them from every property. Ours is unique to downtown Nashville, so we have a picture of Broadway, the honky-tonk bars, the famous ‘I Believe in Nashville’ sign, and the Batman building in the background—it’s the AT&T tower with two antennas that look like Batman’s ears. The coaster is also a great social media tool and is posted often by customers.”—MC