Running a brewery is hard work. Oftentimes, breweries will ask for volunteers for everything from pouring beer at an event to cleaning equipment. And while volunteering can help you as an aspiring brewer, working in a production environment can be hazardous. So this week, we asked our community of beer enthusiasts and brewery owners in the Fervent Few for their thoughts.
David Purgason: “When I was young, I would have volunteered if anyone let me. I received some good advice from brewery owners who basically said they get what they pay for with free labor. Now that I’m opening a brewery, people often want to help out in any way. ‘I can paint. I’ll just work for beer…’ I want to make sure people feel valued and fairly compensated for their time and effort. Breweries are dangerous places and I don’t want anyone getting hurt, let alone a volunteer who isn’t covered by worker’s comp.”
Caldwell Bishop: “When I first joined here, I asked about volunteering at breweries and what people's thoughts were on it. I'm paraphrasing quite a bit, but essentially it seemed to be something that was frowned upon primarily due to legal complications (What if a volunteer gets hurt?) and that it's potentially unfair for other breweries who pay people for the same services and undercuts the people who perform the volunteered services for a living. I think there was also some discussion of there being a difference between being a random person off the street and someone who has a relationship with the brewery owners.
I thought those were good arguments against using free help. And it might have been touched on at the time, but I also would argue that there's a lot of risk with regards to your brand image if you allow volunteers to be externally-facing. What if a volunteer says something or does something that isn't in line with the image you want to cultivate? There's probably not a whole lot you can do, and they're a volunteer, so what's it matter to them if you let them go?”
Rob Cartwright: “How about using volunteers outside the brewery (pouring at festivals)? It's not exactly technical work, so a decently informed volunteer could certainly handle it. But at the same time, a festival is your chance to introduce yourself to thousands of potential new customers, so you want to put your best foot forward. As a marketing guy, I'd be nervous having my brand represented at something like that by volunteers who don't know the product and/or brand as well as my employees.”
Ryan Wilson (replying to Rob C): “I think festivals are a great place to use volunteers to pour so that the brewer/paid staff is freed up to represent. Certain jurisdictions, however, require food service permits or other credentials to pour legally, so this is not always a viable option.”
Rob Cartwright (replying to Ryan W.): “As a non-brewer, I imagine that festivals are, at least some of the time, a real pain in the arse. Volunteers help to literally lighten that load. But please make sure you have staff there as well to represent. Last summer I visited a new brewery at a fest, asked what style of beers they were serving, and all the person said was, 'I don't know, I really don't drink beer.' Ouch.
Complete side note: at festivals, I've noticed that volunteers are typically much more enthusiastic (perhaps the novelty of being on the other side of the jockey box) and staff much more disinterested (sigh, I have to pour another three ounces of beer that we worked really hard to make for some dude who's just going to crush it and move on the next booth). Perhaps a mix of the two groups—one bringing energy, the other knowledge—is the best option (where allowed by law)."
Maurice Desay: “My perspective is from someone just contemplating how to get myriad tasks associated with starting up a brewery done on a finite budget. Employing people is one of our goals, and for me, if that can be in a rural situation, all the better. In Ireland, the substantial number of people involved in farming is reducing, which means migration toward cities is, in my view, sometimes to the detriment of society.
If we cannot afford to employ someone, will I ask someone to do it for free? Personally, no, or certainly I’ll endeavor not to, anyway. Potentially, that is why I locked the doors of brewery last night when the birds were beginning their dawn chorus and why I knew I needed to be at my desk as normal this morning. I couldn’t expect or ask someone else to do that for free.
When someone offers help as opposed to being asked, is that different? People have helped us immensely already in getting started, and when family or friends offer help, I gladly accept. This, I feel, is a community thing—they are people who want a local business to succeed, they have seen your vision and would like to help see it realized. In those cases, I feel a duty to accept and to then repay the favor when I can. That is what friendship and community is to me.”
Rick Owens: “I started volunteering at Three Taverns Craft Brewery early in 2014 in their tasting room. After a year of volunteering, we were brought on as employees, because we are technically bartenders, but the scheduling is very much on a volunteer basis.
Pouring beer has been a fantastic creative outlet for me. I give tours to guests on the weekends, which allows me to talk about something I’m passionate about and gives me the opportunity to curate an experience for people that are interested in beer. It also gave me the opportunity to meet others who share the same fondness for the beers I like to drink. One of the best parts was that the owner, Brian Purcell, loved to have passionate people working in his brewery, even if it was part time, and was thankful for any time that we were able to spare. Volunteering exposed me to an industry that I care a lot about. Before joining the FF, this is where I bounced my ideas and asked my questions about the industry.
I have made a good group of friends from volunteering at the brewery. We get together fairly often to do bottle shares, grab lunch, or anything, really. Whenever any of us travels, we always mule beer for one another.
Since taking on a new job a year and a half ago, my volunteering has waned and I pour a lot less, if at all. I do maintain the same group of friends and we all still consistently meet up to share beer. My biggest takeaway from volunteering at Three Taverns has been that a small business took me in and gave me a space to share my passion. They didn’t care when how much or how often I worked, just that I was there helping and sharing my fondness for craft beer with customers. For that, I’ll always be thankful.”
Austin L. Ray: “With all due respect to people who volunteer at breweries because it's something fun they want to do and to breweries who accept those volunteers because they need to save money, I look at this practice much like I look at publications that don't pay their writers. The more it happens, the easier it is to not actually pay people to do the work.”
Ian Davis (replying to Austin): “It’s a dangerous environment, especially if it’s a canning line and the liability far outweighs the positive. I look back to the Will Work for Beer pieces that Bryan has been working on and consider how those numbers for wages and salary are impacted by this misuse of volunteers. A volunteer at a beer festival in my personal opinion is far different then at a physical production facility. It can be just as much fun to volunteer and pour beers or back up the brewery staff so long as the volunteers are properly trained around practices and what the beer is.”
Maia Kazaks: “I found a hop farm brewery that I loved, so I asked if they wanted volunteers, and was gratefully put to work on the farm. It doesn't take too much training to learn which plants are weeds and how to wind the young hop shoots around the twine. As others have noted, businesses must minimize their liability and avoid putting volunteers in any dangerous situation, but there are definitely volunteer-friendly applications!
I felt so proud to be a part of the delicious estate-grown beer, get a growler or two each volunteer shift, and share in their staff meals. A respected volunteer makes a great ambassador for the brand—someone who could offer additional insight to customers while waiting in line, or be an extra set of eyes and give a heads up to staff when they see something out of line. The brewing community can be so welcoming, collaborative and exciting. It is a true benefit to be able to expand the experience through dedicated, smart volunteers.”
Rob Scott: “When I was a member of CAMRA, I regularly joined volunteers at the numerous festivals held across the UK. It was good to have a connection of sorts to the beer industry, and great fun to serve, sample, and talk beer. Volunteering by members is an intrinsic and acceptable part of CAMRA festivals, but I don’t think that applies if there’s a regular job to be done and the purpose of the sale is to make a profit rather than promoting a cause. If you’re working every week in a brewery taproom, then there should be training and pay. I think the same is true of the increasing number of commercial festivals: workers should be paid. The principle gets stretched for me if it’s more of a celebration and it’s on this basis that I justify the volunteering I did for Beavertown last year at their extravaganza festival. As volunteers, we generally served alongside representatives from the 80 breweries, and we were well rewarded with festival tickets, beer, and our own after-party at Beavertown. I’m sure that Beavertown has ultimately benefited from the publicity around the success of the festival, but I do think it was more about the gathering than the gain.”
Dave Riddile: “I don’t agree with the idea of having volunteers work at a brewery. On the production/package side, the work always includes a risk of injury should the laborer not be particularly skilled, or an accident may occur, and they deserve compensation/benefits matching that risk. When it comes to taprooms, I believe it is important that guests receive competent service from service industry professionals who are educated in every facet of the brewery, not someone working for beer. In order to have competent, educated staff at a brewery, you need people who are both bought in and incentivized enough to do the best work possible.”
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