Craft beer sales take flight when patrons get friendly, informed servers and enjoy a pleasant tasting-room experience, according to new Cornell research.

Cheers! Craft brewery patrons value tasting room ambience

Creating quality craft beers – through the magic of barley, water, hops and yeast – remains crucial to brewery success. But serving up a pleasant tasting-room experience and hiring friendly, informed servers can bring more profit to a business, according to new Cornell research.

Customer satisfaction can be measured in dollars, the researchers found: Overall customer satisfaction translated into $5.31 more being spent per person. This means that  “highly satisfied” customers in a taproom – one with excellent ambience – spent $36.38 on average, which is substantially higher than the $31.07 spent on average by regular customers.

“Having an excellent financial performance in New York’s craft beer taprooms is important, not only for the sector, but for the economic vitality of every state region,” said senior researcher Miguel Gomez, the Robert G. Tobin Professor in the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, in the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business.

Jie Li, a senior research associate at Dyson, is lead author of “Customer Satisfaction and Sale Performance in New York State Brewery Tasting Rooms,” published March 14 in Agricultural and Resource Economics Review. In addition to Gomez and Li, co-authors include Anna Katharine Mansfield, associate professor of food science in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and associate director of Cornell AgriTech; and Sara M. Wagner from Cornell Cooperative Extension.

New York’s craft beer industry includes nearly 500 breweries, which generated nearly 20,000 jobs and created $3.2 billion in financial impact for the state in 2020. The researchers demonstrated, however, that there is economic room to grow.

Cornell impacting New York State

The team surveyed more than 800 craft brewery patrons across New York and found that highly ranked customer satisfaction factors include a server’s knowledge, friendliness and personal neatness. Beyond a helpful staff, restroom cleanliness was also a key.

“These findings indicate that breweries should focus on aspects such as strengthening staff training, improving beer-tasting execution and enhancing the tasting room atmosphere,” Li said. “All have a positive influence on customer satisfaction and will likely increase sales.”

Mansfield helped assemble this research through her work as director of the Cornell Craft Beverage Institute. Through funding from Empire State Development, the state agency that advances industry trade, Mansfield brought together the researchers and recruited the New York Brewers Association for help.

Before the pandemic, New York craft breweries contributed $5.4 billion to the state’s economy in 2018. Even during the height of the pandemic in 2020, small breweries remained an important industry nationally, generating $62.1 billion for the economy and providing more than 400,000 jobs nationwide, according to the paper.

More than 9,100 small breweries operated in the U.S. in 2021, translating into a 26.8% market share of the nation’s beer industry.

“Improving the quality of craft beer improves the prestige of the region as a whole,” Mansfield said. “But a tasting room is really its own ambience. A brewer can have the production line right, but you need people to answer questions and keep glasses clean. You can make a consumer very satisfied with service, as they feel like they’ve made a personal connection with someone behind the tasting counter. That’s a big deal.”

Gomez said that craft brewing is holistic.

“Beer masters are all passionate about beer; they always think about the quality of the beer,” he said. “Great beer is important, but it’s more than just the product. It’s the whole experience.”

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Abby Kozlowski