Anatomy of a Beer Festival Part 14

Part 14: The Heat Is On


The last part of setup is done all day Wednesday and Thursday morning. This includes setting up the bars, the glasses and tokens stand, tombola, membership stand, organising the signage (we use over 100 signs), wristbands, tokens, cask end labels etc, etc.


After a break for lunch on Thursday we usually have an hour or so to make the final preparations and taste each of the beers to make sure they are ready for serving.  Any that aren’t are held back and checked mid evening to see if there’s any change in their condition.  If they are still not ready, a further check is done prior to opening on Friday lunchtime and so on.


It’s very rare that every beer settles on time for the opening of the trade session but since we changed our schedule to get the beers delivered a day earlier, thus allowing an extra 24 hours settling before serving, there’s not usually more than about 6-8 that need longer.  We never intentionally serve a beer that’s not quite ready but there are the odd ones that slip through the net.  However, we are always happy to change it if the customer isn’t happy, which isn’t always the case in some of the pubs I’ve visited.


The trade session is always a nice gentle introduction to proceedings for punters and staff alike.  If we have any new volunteers that haven’t worked at a festival before I try and persuade them to work the trade session.  That way they get a chance to see how things work, maybe give them chance to work in a few different areas to see what they prefer doing and to give them a proper introduction to our other members before things get too hectic.  Bringing someone with no previous experience to work behind the bar on a Friday or Saturday night can be a bit overwhelming.  I know that from first-hand experience at a Derby Summer Festival a few years back although I had worked at our festival before so it wasn’t a total shock!


Once we are open my role switches again to that of Site Manager whilst still also dealing with staffing matters.  I always like to think I will get a bit of time to chat to some familiar faces at the trade session but it never works out.  I always seem to be rushed off my feet with various tasks until around 9pm when I get chance to have a breather and some food.


This is a role I really enjoy as it is varied and often quite challenging.  To give you an idea,there was a 30 minute period at a previous festival when I went from chatting to one of our staff about some of the beers, to doing an announcement on the PA, to tipping one of the beers in the cellar, to mopping up urine in the overflowing mens’ toilets!  It might not be glamorous but it’s never dull!


To fulfil this role you need patience and the ability to deal with problems as they arise as well as a good memory to be able to manage the workload.  Usually a number of issues arise at the same time so prioritising, delegating and following up are all key aspects.  I usually have a notepad with me to jot everything down as sometimes people give me advance warning of a problem that will need dealing with later and at times you almost feel like people are queueing them up for you, a bit like a ticketing system at a deli counter only far less predictable!


I also use the notebook for jotting down notes on the announcements I have to make over the PA system in a sort of compere role.  This started when we were at Midland Railway and had sold out the Saturday evening session when we had the Queen tribute band on.  As we had a very strict fire limit at the venue we needed the large number of customers from the very well attended afternoon session to leave the marquee.  We gave them an hour’s warning and half an hour grace as well but we were still expecting a mutiny.  Fortunately it never came, the suggestion of still allowing them access to the carriage bar seemed to help ease the frustration.  I’m getting used to the booing and heckling now but I still prefer to be out of sight when I make these announcements just in case!


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