Everyone wants to feel like they’re a part of something special and exclusive. And, especially since the pandemic, people are starved for social connections in fun settings more than ever. (You can only binge Ted Lasso and Seinfeld so many times before your eyes start to glaze over.)
Enter: beer clubs, which offer members rare brews and other perks while drawing in both die-hard craft beer enthusiasts as well as the brew-curious. And for restaurants, the subscription model has long-standing benefits, from recurring revenue and the ability to experiment with small-batch products to receiving advantageous feedback from what’s essentially a focus group made up of fans.
“Our Beer Club members have been so excited by the opportunity to try brand-new beers that aren’t available to the public,” says Heidi Rogers, senior vice president of marketing at BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse. Plus, “members not only enjoy the beer perks, but love bringing their friends and family to share the complimentary pizza and Pizookies.”
BJ’s was originally founded in Southern California in 1978 with a “California twist on deep-dish pizza,” and has grown to more than 200 locations. BJ’s seven breweries craft all beers served at its locations nationwide.
Before BJ’s launched its Beer Club to the broader California market, the team did extensive research and tested the model for eight months in its Sacramento-based restaurants, Rogers notes.
“We wanted to make sure that this was a really great value, so we took into consideration all of the aspects of the guest experience from the main course, to the dessert, and of course the beer, and found a way to add value to each aspect,” she says. “We factored in what our guests’ favorites are as well as convenience which is why we offer in-restaurant and at-home value.” After receiving positive responses from the first Beer Club members and considering the launch a success, BJ’s decided to expand the program to the rest of California. Since then, the brand has made a few changes based on club member feedback.
“We’ve also found that Beer Club members are particularly excited about the experiential part of being in a club, so we’ve hosted regional events for them to meet with brewers and other beer club members to encourage the feeling of community our Beer Club brings,” Rogers says.
Upon initially signing up for the BJ’s Brewhouse Beer Club, members receive an Intro Pack that includes a bottle of Imperial White Ale, a six-pack of any BJ’s Handcrafted Signature Beer, and a Founding Member pint glass.
Each new beer release, which occurs every other month, includes two beer types that are only available to Beer Club members. BJ’s master brewing team has won more than 220 beer awards, and each year, tests more than 150 beers and selects a few to be released nationally. “We’re constantly pushing the limits of beer making in order to craft something worthy of our guests,” Rogers says.
BJ’s Beer Club members are automatically enrolled in the BJ’s Premier Rewards program, which includes unlimited upgrades (16-ounce to 20-ounce beers) in restaurant, one large deep dish or tavern-cut pizza per two-month period, a Pizookie and appetizer per two-month when dining in, and $10 back for every $100 spent.
“Our club members receive all of these perks, as well as a sense of community with other beer enthusiasts,” Rogers says.
Since launching its beer club, BJ’s has experienced increased visits and spend from members in restaurants, who are adopting an omnichannel experience more than ever, Rogers explains. Because of that, BJ’s is considering scaling to other locations based on demand and what is logistically possible.
“As for our brewing and other BJ’s team members, we are able to give our brewers the space to create more niche beers and small-batch products than they otherwise would, and we love interacting with club members when they stop in to pick up their bi-monthly subscription and talk all things beer,” she adds.
In February, Neshaminy Creek Brewing—an award-winning craft brewery, beer garden, and taproom with three locations north of Philadelphia—launched a beer membership program. The slowdown in traffic following COVID and a desire to give back to regulars and get them excited about something new drove the decision to launch The Creek Club, explains Kyle Park, director of sales and marketing at Neshaminy.
“It was just kind of a way, especially after COVID and stuff, [of] trying to make a little bit more of like a tight-knit group of beer people, because it used to be much more of a community-focused thing,” Park says. “And then as craft beer has grown, you kind of lost some of that. So [we’re] just trying to build a little bit of that back.”
For an annual fee of $100, members—capped at 100 people the first year—receive a 10 percent discount on beer, wine, and cocktails at all locations, with a double discount of 20 percent on Tuesdays and Wednesdays (which have traditionally been slower traffic days).
“If it were me, and I knew I got a little bit of an extra discount and I was going out anyway on Tuesday or Wednesday, yeah, I would go there. So that was kind of the thinking behind it,” Park says. “And we have food trucks every night. So that’s your easy night out during the week.”
Additionally, members get an exclusive member glass, a T-shirt, a free birthday beer, invitations to exclusive Creek Club parties, and priority access to limited-release brews and events. After launching the portal to sign up for the Creek Club in January as first-come, first-serve, Neshaminy quickly reached its cap of 100 people—though it may expand to more members in the future.
While Neshaminy is small enough to try out-of-the-box events—like “Dracula Day” in March where customers came dressed as vampires—Park notes restaurants that launch beer clubs can benefit in more ways than one by creating something special for guests to look forward to.
“Now we have this little focus group of people that we know, who know our brand and are familiar with us,” Park says. “We can use them as a resource to be like, hey, come pick up this can of something new, we want feedback on this beer, or what events would you like us to bring back?”
[We’re] cultivating that taproom culture again, after all the chaos of the last few years,” he adds.