How the Pandemic Helped Zuni Street Fine-Tune Taproom Service & Grow Profits

With about 99% of its beer being served directly over the bar since opening in 2017, Denver’s Zuni Street went into 2020 enjoying what it had started. With better margins across the bar than in distribution, owner Willy Truettner saw no reason to go in the direction of packaging.

Yet when the pandemic hit and the brewery’s taproom was shuttered for two-plus months, adjustments were made.

“We had the crowler machine before,” he told Brewer. “We always had to-go orders…but our crowler became our No. 1 employee. We went from the number of crowlers we’d go through in a year and went through that amount in like, probably two and a half weeks.”

As the taproom came back to opening, the adjustments for the bar staff were huge, but Truettner feels it was a silver lining in helping the brewery sell more beer in the taproom than ever before.

“Instead of ringing up 10s of dollars [per ticket], people are ringing up hundreds of dollars,” he said.

The change was switching from bar service to a table service model. Having someone ask a customer what they would want instead of making them think about standing in a line to get the next beer helped increase sales, Truettner said.

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“We kept the table service model and it’s been great, because instead of having to get up to go get another beer, someone comes around says, ‘Can I get you another one? And you’re gonna get another one from a nice server, as opposed to having to go get up in the line where you might say, ‘If I’m going to get up anyway, let’s go to the next brewery.’

“Adapting that, and keeping that going has helped us see some pretty good growth.”

Truettner said most people are getting one more beer, or they’ll add a crowler to go if a server asks them.

There have been growing pains that needed to be worked out, including adjusting the POS model and having the bartenders become more of a serving staff.

“Although it might be nicer for the guests to have someone bring a beer, it’s a lot easier for the bartenders to just stay behind the bar and pour beers and fling them out that way and not have to go through the crowds or go table-to-table,” Truettner said. “There was definitely some grumbling from some of the longer bartenders who had to start doing table service and but we haven’t had too much transition [of staff].

“Since we’ve done this, and we were able to hire people who had the mindset of this is a serving establishment and you’ll be serving and not bartending. We’ve been able to adapt and everyone’s kind of figured it out and found their place and is happy with it.”

Growing through draft alone, Zuni Street is on the verge of expansion with a second location planned to open in Crested Butte – about 200 miles southwest of Denver — with a 20-barrel facility and plans for canning looming.

“We’re not there yet. We haven’t really thought about it,” Truettner said. “[Not canning] was definitely the goal in the conception, but over the last six months, trying to figure out how to get some more people and packaging is the way to go.

“Now we are just trying to explore what we could do beyond kegs because we’ve kind of just hit a plateau in the taproom. So what else can we do? So we thought about it but we haven’t taken the plunge yet.”

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