A Well-Trained Staff
Note: Some images in this blog were taken prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
At Cape May Brewing Company, we know that a knowledgeable, informed, and well-trained staff in the Tasting Room is as important to your experience as the beer itself.
That’s why our staff goes through two very important training programs: TIPS and Cicerone.
We got together this week with Tasting Room General Manager Chris Costello and Tasting Room Manager Jake Hauser to find out more about these two essential programs and how they affect your experience.
TIPS is part of the training to work in the Tasting Room. Whether you’re a Greeter or Beertender or Barback or Brewtique Associate, your first day is spent behind a computer learning everything you need to know about safe alcohol service.
“It teaches you some of the tell-tale signs so that we’re not overserving someone,” Chris says, “and to set you up to know what to expect from a customer.”
So, if you stop by the Tasting Room with your significant other on a random Wednesday, a graduate of the TIPS program will know that, in all likelihood, you’re going to sit at a table, have a few beers, and be generally well-behaved. (Right?!?)
On the other hand, if you come in with a group of people on a Saturday night and tell us that it’s your birthday, a conscientious graduate of the program may say to themselves, “You know, I might want to keep my eye on this person to make sure that they have a great time without endangering themselves or any of our other guests.”
The course also teaches our staff how to handle certain situations.
“For example, if someone comes in who’s obviously been overserved somewhere else,” Jake tells us, “it teaches you how to get their friends to help you out, or offer them some water, or some food, or something.”
Because, as we know (but has somehow escaped the attention of the New Jersey state legislature), food absorbs alcohol, helping to sober up someone who may have had one too many — one of the many reasons breweries in New Jersey should be allowed to serve food.
But that’s another subject entirely.
In addition, the TIPS program teaches our greeters how to differentiate a real ID from anywhere in the country from a fake ID. As a brewery in a resort town, that skill comes in very handy.
And it’s not training in a vacuum; Chris says that the Tasting Room staff uses this information on a regular basis, but over the summer, it’s a near-daily occurrence.
“It gets more extreme during the season,” Jake says, “but it’s something we use every day.”
Chris remembers one particular incident two summers ago.
“This guy was in the Flight Line, kept cutting in front of everyone, clearly intoxicated,” he recalls, “so we made the decision to cut him off.”
Now, we know that’s an extreme thing to do to someone. Trust us, it gives us no joy. We want people to visit us and enjoy themselves, but our first priority is to keep our visitors safe.
Regardless, this visitor needed some additional oversight, compounded by the fact that, once he was cut off inside, he went out to the bar in the Beer Garden to get served.
“He didn’t think that we’d catch that, as well,” Chris remembers. “It’s memorable to me because he said to me, ‘Some people are fuckin’ cool, and some people just aren’t. And you aren’t cool.’”
As you might imagine, Chris was devastated by this revelation.
“But, he came back two days later, completely sober, had a beer, and said hi to me,” Chris laughs. “So, I bought him a beer. I said, ‘You know, you came back sober, I’m happy you came back, now you can drink here.”
“Did he think you were cool after that?” Jake asks.
“I don’t know if I was cool yet,” Chris says. “I gained a couple of cool points, but I still had a ways to go.”
Ultimately, ensuring that every member of the Tasting Room team goes through this training ensures that we keep our fans and visitors safe.
“The whole point of TIPS is to ensure that people are drinking responsibly,” Chris says. “If we can prevent someone from getting behind the wheel of a vehicle that shouldn’t be, there’s that six degrees of separation: Did we just save someone’s life on the road? We want people to have a good time, and the TIPS course is there to set the baseline where everybody can have a good time: our visitors, and we can have a safe time, as well.”
“It makes you a master of beer,” Chris says.
“It’s beer knowledge,” Jake adds.
There are four levels to the Cicerone course, and most of the folks in the Tasting Room who’ve gone through the course tap out after the first level.
The first level begins with fundamentals: proper glassware, a proper pour, and proper handling of beer. As you progress beyond the first level, things get extremely technical, difficult, and expensive — it costs over $2,000 to become a fourth-level Cicerone.
We currently have four first-level Cicerones on staff: Guest Guru Mary Braccili, Beertenders Rich Schmidt and Danielle Brasch, and Jake, and we incorporate much of what’s covered in the first-level course into the training of new staff.
“I came in here not knowing much about craft beer at all,” Jake says. “I knew what I liked and could talk about it, but the course really helped me understand the different styles of beer, how to describe them, how to recognize them, and so on.”
In addition, the course covers the three-tier system of breweries, distributors, and retailers that rules the consumption of beer throughout the country, as well as proper glassware, how to serve beer, special serving situations, how the draft system works, and so forth.
“It pretty much covers all of the little things you need to know about serving beer,” Chris says.
Mary, one of our top-notch tour guides, explains that the Cicerone training filled gaps in her knowledge that she didn’t know she had.
“You might be well versed in IPAs, for example, but have never heard of a Wee Heavy,” she explains, referring to a little-known style that might better be known as a Scotch Ale. “Cicerone enhances and completes your knowledge base, which enables you to better communicate about beer. We love talking about beer and our visitors love talking about beer, and going through the Cicerone course gave me a wealth of knowledge to draw upon.”
“It’s important for us to be able to give the proper descriptors of our own products,” he says. “People come in with a million questions, and being Cicerone certified has helped me answer a lot of those questions.”
For example, not all of our visitors are fully conversant in craft beer. A lot of folks who come through know what they like, understand the styles, etc., but, as we are in a tourist location, sometimes we get people who are simply looking for an interesting place to spend a rainy day in July.
“A lot of people will ask if they can get a light beer,” Jake says, “but they’re usually not exactly sure what they mean by that. A light beer can be light in body, or it can be a pale lager or a pilsner, or they could be looking for something light in color.”
In such a situation, it’s our beertender’s jobs to try to understand what the visitor means, so they’ll begin asking questions of the visitor.
“I think, most of the time, people are looking for a beer that’s light in color,” he says.
Which, of course, can be completely deceiving. Devil’s Reach is one of the lightest colored beers we have, but very few people out there would consider our Belgian beast “light”.
In such a situation, Jake will usually suggest a Cape May White.
“It’s light in color, it’s got a lighter body, and it’s got a lighter flavor to it,” he says.
Chris says that we’re at a point where most people understand that, when it comes to the variety of styles and complexity of flavors, beer is a lot more like wine than it once was.
“Before the craft beer scene took off,” he says, “you had a lager, an ale, an IPA, and a porter/stout, but people are coming to realize that there’s so much more that goes into it than just what’s on the label.”
And the Cicerone training helps our Tasting Room staff communicate to our fans and visitors what those differences are.
Be sure to stop down to the Tasting Room, Beer Garden, and Brewtanical Garden and reap the benefits of our staff’s training!