My colleague Kyle Cattani sent me a link to a Yahoo! Sports story about a proposed solution to a persistent operations problem at many sporting facilities: Long beer lines! (The Death Of The Beer Line, Jan 18). The trick is to pour beer faster — I mean a lot faster. Check out how quickly these guys are pumping out brews.
The secret here is the cup.
The key is the use of a cup that features a hole at the bottom and small, circular magnet that rests over it. When placed on the system, the magnet is lifted up by the pressure-driven beer. The cup fills up until the weight of the liquid pushes the magnet back down over the hole. The cup can then be lifted off and the beer consumed as normal.
What traditionally takes a single worker concentrating on the pour — which still produces spillage and waste to produce the proper foam head — is now hands-free, fast and almost perfectly efficient.
Springer said stadiums that have used the system have gone from using eight beer pourers for every two cashiers to having one beer pourer for every eight cashiers.
This is an intriguing technology. Stadium queues are a real challenge. Demand is highly spiky. Fans don’t want to miss any action so arrival are concentrated between innings or quarters or at half time. If technology is labor intensive (say, a traditional beer tap), then staffing to handle the peak means a lot of idle time and low utilization. Alternatively, one has to accept longer waits. This system (produced by GrinOn Industries and officially called “Bottom’s Up Draft Beer Dispensing System”) solves the problem by greatly increasing the productivity of a beer pourer.
Now, I can hear you saying, what’s the catch? Why hasn’t this spread to every stadium in America? It turns out that the cup is also the catch.
The only extra cost is the cups. A generic beer cup runs about 10 cents, according to Carter. The GrinOn cups are about 45 cents. However, by imprinting the magnet with a custom logo — something commemorating an event or team and featuring an advertisement — the expense can be subsidized.“I can defer the cost of my cup if I have an advertiser,” Carter said. Springer said some other venues are actually making money on the cups due to advertising, which winds up on fridges for years.
I did some quick numbers on this. Advertising seems crucial to making this system viable. Consider Wrigley Field. In 2010, the Chicago Cubs drew just under 38,000 fans per game. Suppose that each fan bought one beer from a concession stand. (I know what you’re thinking “If I had to watch the 2010 Cubs, I would need more than one brew per game.” But note that I am counting concession stand sales. Cubs fans also buy from roving beer vendors.) A 35 cent premium on 38,000 cups would raise costs by $13,300 per game. If concession stand workers earn $10 per hour and work four hours every game day, Wrigley would need 332 fewer concession stand workers. That means losing 14 workers at each of the Friendly Confines’ 23 concession stands. I’m not sure the average concessions stand has 14 workers to lose. Even if the per cup premium drops to 10 cents, they would still need to shed 4 workers per stand.
So one of two things has to happen for this system to be viable. You either convince an advertiser that the bottom of a beer cup is the perfect place to plug their brand. Or you sell more beer. Now one might wonder if the Cubs really need to sell more beer. (Recall the immortal words of Lee Elia, “Eighty-five percent of the world is working. The other fifteen percent come out here.”) Further, beer sales at concession stands might well come at the expense of sales by vendors wandering the aisles. I suspect that those folks work cheap (from the Cubs’ point of view) because they most of their money from tips. Thus, while I expect that the margin on Old Style is pretty high, I am not sure that sales would actually increase enough to cover the cost of the cups.
Still, it’s a hell of a thing to watch.