BrewDog teaches hospitality new tricks


BrewDog Tower Hill

Piers Brown, CEO at IHM (publisher of Boutique Hotel News), reflects on what hospitality providers can learn from BrewDog. 

Call me sober curious, beer has been an occasional sip from Dad when nobody’s looking (12-15), naughty secret (16-17), guilty accomplice (20’s), slightly dangerous obsession (30’s/40’s), and my not so toxic friend at times turning 50.

I’m perhaps what is termed a promiscuous beer drinker – not somebody who hides their drinks or doesn’t know when to stop, but somebody who likes to chop and change based on the taste bud sensation expected from the foray of choice draught beers thrust upon me at the bar.

I’ve never been one of BrewDog’s most loyal customers – I remember walking into one of their bars for the first time a couple of years back with industry friends following our IHM RECHARGE event in Barcelona to experience what the fuss was all about. I remember the distinctive black letter design displaying the beer menu behind the bar, and the booth-style design layout. Staff were super attentive and patient with me as I ordered and ordered and ordered. I like the odd Hazy Jane four pack from the supermarket, sometimes chortling at some of the PR misdemeanours. But that’s been about it, until now.

I can feel myself getting drawn into a brand where status means nothing.

Yes – the beer tastes great, but there’s a lot more. If you haven’t visited the new BrewDog Waterloo site, you’re missing out. Not on their great beer selection, but on the whole mixed-use experience – I love it. From the moment I walked in on a cold and sleepy Wednesday morning, I was transfixed. Great staff, you’ve got it. Coffee and a quick sandwich, you’ve got it. Decent Wi-Fi, you’ve got it. BrewDog tinnies to take away, you’ve got it. Branded merch like t-shirts and caps, you’ve got it. Beer tasting with cheese, you’ve got it. Tenpin bowling alleys, you’ve got it. Sound proofed booths if you need additional privacy, you’ve got it. Upstairs, there’s modern, funky designed co-working space offered at an affordable £15 per day which includes your space with free coffee all day and a beer at the end. There’s even a podcast room, event space for hire, a secret speakeasy bar, and slide to the ground floor if you dare – you can have it all!

When a brand is aligned with its values and culture, marketing efforts tend to reflect the company and its products. But when conscious marketing activities are misaligned with these cultures and values, the results can appear disastrous. BrewDog’s reputation for scoring own goals deepened recently when it criticised World Cup host Qatar’s human rights record whilst selling products in the country. Just look at cockups such as its pink ‘beer for girls’; the company’s claim that its fruit-flavoured beers contributed to your five-a-day, and an internal backlash after former BrewDog employees decried a ‘toxic’ internal culture.

We are all marketing all the time, whether we like it or not, and authenticity matters more today than ever, or so we’re told. BrewDog’s authenticity is that it makes mistakes – and sometimes consciously. The younger crowd drink it all in forgivingly, perhaps relating to the mistakes they’ve made in life. Haven’t we all made mistakes? Sure, there’s some mileage in the old saying “there’s no such thing as bad publicity”. BrewDog is rarely out of the news, and I’m a fan like many others. I could ask 100 BrewDog customers what they like about the brand and they’d probably all say the beer. But the relationship is deeper than that. The older crowd take their time and I’m getting more curiously drawn in.

A couple of weeks after my Waterloo visit, I’m running behind for a late afternoon Zoom call I’m scheduled to take at a hotel around Tower Bridge. Exiting Monument underground station, I realise I’m not going to get there in time and need Wi-Fi quickly. “Ah, the local Starbucks will have Wi-Fi,” I think to myself. Nope – closed down. Pret A Manger has it but there’s nowhere to sit. You can’t swing a cat inside Black Sheep Coffee, and Greggs? Well, forget it, they don’t have Wi-Fi. Getting desperate, I walk into BrewDog, Tower Hill. I know they offer space to work and have a decent internet connection. I sit at a plush booth, order a cappuccino and have my Zoom call uninterrupted – perfect, I’ll be back.

Talking to Olivia, the recently appointed event manager, I ask what attracted her to join the BrewDog team. She tells me she wanted to work for more of an edgy brand. “I could have joined Hilton but I didn’t want to play safe,” she says.

Is this why today’s hotel brands aren’t attracting the younger talent required? I can’t help thinking there’s not too many hotel brands around, they’re just all too similar.

I really do need to experience a stay at a BrewDog hotel but until then, how about a ride down the BrewDog slide anyone?

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