The sitcom “Cheers” brought the inside of a Boston bar to life for my generation. We grew fond of a diverse collection of clearly flawed but generally lovable characters simply trying to make it through life with a few laughs. We were drawn into the story because that describes most of us as well. The Cheers bar became chosen family for its regulars. It was a habitual place of escape where all who gathered shared a sense of identity, connection and genuine warmth. We loved to watch because, in a way, we saw ourselves as part of that chosen family as well.
Ray Oldenburg is a sociologist who has written extensively on the importance of informal social gathering places. He coined the idea of “Third Places” – pubs, diners, coffee shops or wherever local community gathers informally away from home and work (places One and Two respectively). These “Third Places” are where chosen families are often formed. Third Places offer a refuge and change of pace from home and work environments. They are a place of emotional escape and bonding with like-minded souls also seeking escape from the stress of family and workplace. These are the places where people congregate habitually to relax, be their more idealistic selves, and bond with others on a similar quest. Over time, the stories of these gatherings become legend as they are retold, and the story lines of those involved intertwine.
Craft beer fits into Third Places well because it provides “social lubrication.” Beer is “liquid courage” that can break down inhibitions to connect with strangers. Physiologically, beer can also induce the production of dopamine which leads to an enhanced sense of pleasure. So “Beer goggles” apply to not only seeing others more positively but seeing life in general a bit more pleasurably, at least for the moment. Rituals such as toasts or a round for the house bring people even closer together. There is an enhanced sense of comfort and familiarity. We long for connection. Third Places that serve beer meet that need for many of us quite well.
It Doesn’t Just Happen On Its Own
Creating a place “where everyone knows your name” takes time, talent and intention. Communities like the Cheers bar don’t form overnight. But with talent (the right staff culture and environment) and intention (a conscious internal culture of building outward community), strong communities can be built over time.
I have a favorite taproom not too far from my home (@LivingDreamBrew). I’m not quite a regular there yet (my travel and teaching schedule keep me away). But I feel right at home every time I visit. The beer is always great. Moreover, the staff are always welcoming, and the patrons seem to just be a bit friendlier. Perhaps it’s because dogs are welcome, or maybe it’s the more casual décor, or the presence of Jason the owner behind the bar. Maybe it’s their strong support of community events. Or maybe it’s just because the place attracts great people. I’m not really sure. But I am sure of this: environment and attitude count. The place is set up with larger community tables, so groups often share a table when its busy. Up and down the org chart the staff are welcoming, knowledgeable and friendly even when they’re in the weeds (like my last visit). Staff attitude carries over to influence patron attitude.
We Long For Connection
For all responsible for taprooms, brewpubs, brewery tours or any connection to the public, take note. We need “Third Places” now more than ever. The world is often unforgiving, dangerous and ambiguous. We lack sufficient stability and connection in our lives. Tensions in the home and at work build, and we need a break every now and then. We seek places where we can relax and come together, not stress or be divided.
Third Places, like Cheers, fill a great void in our souls. They are a place of escape and respite where we can reconnect with what is genuinely good about ourselves as a community. We can share our sorrows, celebrate our victories, or just laugh about our day with people we’ve chosen as family.
Is your place a Third Place like Cheers, or on its way to becoming a Cheers? Are you creating a sense of family with your patrons? Or, instead, are you all about your beer? Or, worse, all about yourselves? Is it “What will you have?” or “How’s your day going?” Is your place “Here’s a list of our beers” or “Welcome. I’m glad you’re here.”
Or better yet, “Norm!”
“You want to go where people know,
People are all the same;
You want to go where everybody knows your name.”
-“Cheers” Theme song written by Gary Portnoy & Judy Hart Angelo
Want to be more like Cheers? Let’s talk!
John Mann (@beermktguy)
#craftbeer #marketing #independentbeer #beer
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