Designing Pubs + Design Thinking = Design of a New Digital Product
Growing up, I had originally wanted to be an architect, so when I was asked to help establish a new taphouse, including the interior design, I agreed to take on the relatively small — but interesting — project.
The project was nebulous; the only thing that had been decided was a name — Tap & Growler — which was meant to capitalize on the growler craze that was beginning in Oregon. But we knew the fad would eventually fade away, so we wanted to create a warm, inviting atmosphere where patrons would want to stay for a pint and then take beer to go. We wanted people to think of Tap & Growler as more of a third place than a convenience store, so we chose a location with a lot of foot traffic but not a lot of parking.
We began our work by researching the history of the growler. We learned that they came into fashion during Prohibition, when people would carry a series of pails out to the job site for workers to enjoy a pint (or a full pail?). We also discovered that the building we were moving into had originally been a distribution dock for a brewery. We put all the pieces of our discovery together and began building a brand — and a space — that would all be aligned to tell a story.
I could probably geek out for an hour, explaining all of the details inside the space and why every decision was made. We found wood beams from the original Pabst Blue Ribbon factory and built all of the furniture from them. We built a long community table to encourage friendly encounters. We built light fixtures with USB outlets to encourage longer visits. We designed the bar face to have a metal pattern cut at the same angle as the original pail, and we fastened it with salvaged railroad nails because the taphouse was right along the train tracks.
Every detail was designed to be warm and inviting, but also to be completely aligned with the Tap & Growler brand. You may not be able to identify all of these details when visiting Tap & Growler, like the railroad nails, but you can feel that everything is working together to invite you to stay a while, enjoy a pint.
The final design challenge that we had to overcome was the need for a displayed menu. Since Tap & Growler is a counter service tap house with 81 taps, we needed to come up with a system that could adapt very quickly. Chalkboards can be really cool, but they’re often messy and take a lot of time. We looked at TVs, but they felt like they clashed with the warm and nostalgic atmosphere that we were trying to establish. So, we came up with our own system. We designed a projected menu that was pulled from an online database that could be updated in real time. On an average night at Tap & Growler, six kegs are kicked and replaced with something new. The projected menu is automatically refreshed using the system that we built to both solve a logistical problem and align aesthetically with the brand.
A couple of years later, these same owners wanted to open a second establishment called Beergarden, which was also a counter service tap house. At Beergarden, we faced the same need for a menu, which we easily copied and pasted (with some slight modifications). However, Beergarden is a taphouse surrounded by a handful of food carts, a dynamic that presented a handful of new problems and opportunities we had not previously solved.
Once we got Beergarden up and running, we stopped to observe what was going well at both establishments, and what could use some improvements. We spent as much time looking at the details of what made for a good business as we spent on the details inside these establishments — because even the most beautiful taphouse isn’t going to be in business long if it isn’t running efficiently. So, we looked at the front of house and back of house, and found that in addition to the problem we had solved with the menu, there were other opportunities to make the businesses stronger.
We found that lines were a pretty big deal. People would leave their credit cards overnight and come back the next day if the line was too long — or worse, they’d open the front door and look at the line before deciding whether to come in. Plus, people were more inclined to order another round if there wasn’t a line, so we vowed to come up with ways to cut the lines from the patrons’ experience. We tried out some re-ordering apps that delivered subsequent rounds right to patrons’ tables, but none of them was a perfect fit.
At Beergarden, families would come in and, inevitably, everyone wanted to order from a different food cart, and each order necessitated its own card swipe — not to mention the drink tab inside. We knew that there was an opportunity to streamline this experience.
And finally, on the management side, there were a growing number of inefficiencies. For example, staff were having to input each item three times — in Excel for pricing and inventory, in the POS, and again in the table re-ordering app. We needed the back of house process to flow smoothly without running up extra time on the clock.
A couple of years later, when we had a chance to open a third location called PublicHouse, we decided to take the lessons and opportunities we had learned at the first two and respond by building our own app — an app that would combine the solutions that we had already implemented, as well as give us the chance to solve remaining problems.
So, from a small project designing a simple, analog space, we have responded to a series of opportunities over five years by creating a new digital platform that we call Porter.
Porter is now in beta testing and we’re currently implementing the app at all three locations — Tap & Growler, Beergarden, and PublicHouse. We will also be beta testing Porter at a handful of other counter service restaurants and one coffee shop to see if we have missed anything that other non-beer-focused establishments will need. We plan to begin selling the service to restaurants, taphouses, and coffee shops everywhere in 2020.
As we celebrate each milestone in Porter’s development, we’re keenly aware that each goal hit also marks the beginning of a new cycle of observation, testing, and responding with an app that just continues to get smarter and more useful for our customers. We will continue to respond to opportunities for better service, respond to opportunities for data and analytics waiting to be explored, and respond to opportunities for personalization that will make Porter feel like a personal assistant for those in the food business.