Monday, October 3, 2011

10 ways to make the GABF even better

10 Ways to make the GABF even betterFor tens of thousands of beer enthusiasts, the Great American Beer Festival is the ultimate beer fest. It has the most breweries and most beers in one place than you'll ever see in your life. The GABF takes months of preparation, thousands of volunteers, sacrifice and time from all of the brewers, and not to mention the cooperation and self control of 50,000+ attendees.

There are so many positive things to say about the Great American Beer Festival that one could write a short e-book about it. However, no matter how great or well organized a beer festival is, there is always room to improve it somewhere. Here, are some suggestions on how to improve America's biggest annual beer festival.

10 Ways to make the GABF even better!

#1 - Don't Let Brewery Reps Over Pour - Of hundreds of brewery reps that I saw pouring beers, I noticed a vast majority of them pouring 2oz or more of their beers. In some cases they would fill up an entire tasting glass. The rules that volunteers are supposed to follow don't seem to be followed by the breweries themselves. And since many breweries run out of beer early on in the sessions, enforcing the 1oz pour policy by everyone would help. 1oz means 1oz. And yes, it can be difficult to pour an exact ounce and everyone is always asking for a bit more, but if everyone pours the same way there will be more beer for everyone who wants a taste.

#2 - Bring more of the popular beers - I realize that many small breweries don't have a lot of funds to spend on a festival like this, but when you see booth after booth of certain beers running out early in the sessions, then you have to wonder why they didn't bring more. The beers that are poured at the GABF should have enough in quantity to last all 4 sessions. Sure, there are some rare beers brought in with just 1 keg and that's fine, but for their mainstream beers there should be an ample supply. Breweries, if you can't keep it in stock - perhaps don't bring it.

#3 - Don't Let Volunteers Drink While on Duty - Having been a volunteer myself for several years, I realize how difficult it is being tempted by all that beer and not drinking too much of it myself. All too often, I've seen volunteers drinking steadily while on duty and several of them in worse shape than the people they are serving. One year, a female volunteer who poured beer next to me had lost most of her inhibitions and was actually allowing certain male patrons to openly place their hands on her chest while dancing for them. Let's keep it professional people. How about a no drinking policy while on duty? When volunteers are on break they should be able to enjoy. But to cut back on over imbibing by volunteers, limit their drinking while they are pouring. That should also help them stick to the 1oz pour limit more easily.

#4 Wider Aisles - I realize that the GABF organizing committee has done a great job in limiting the number of attendees for each session, yet I still am seeing a lot of people having difficulty getting around in certain aisles. With over 12,000 people at each session it can be slow going (perhaps by design) to get to your next favorite destination. Sure, having the crowd slows down consumption, but it also increases frustration. Either limit volunteer traffic by restricting break times and keeping them behind the tables, or get additional space for the aisles. Perhaps it's time to build a bigger venue? Update: in 2012 they moved the awards ceremony to another theater and freed up more room for beer booths. That helped a bit but aisles were still crowded.

#5 Better Food Vendors - I realize that venues have a captive audience and they feel they can get away with sticking visitors with "ballpark" pricing, but come on, $10 for a small sandwich? A $7 personal pizza was OK, but other vendors seem to gouge patrons and their food wasn't all that great. How about the GABF spring for more free food booths. Since we shell out over $70 for a ticket these days how about throwing in a bit more food with that cost? The FREE pretzels and cheese were great and there were very long lines to get into the food sampling area. As a volunteer, I ended up sneaking in a sack dinner from a local restaurant just to avoid the lack of reasonably priced food at the vendors. Sadly, with security measures these days, that option isn't available anymore. Update: in 2012 the little pizzas were $8 to $9 each. The secret is to tie as much food to a string and hang it around your neck as possible apparently.

#6 - Cut The Noise - Sure, 12,000 people in a big echoing room are going to make a lot of noise. But add to that the addition of a Karaoke stage and music coming from the awards stage, not to mention the bagpipe parades and you've got an environment where you almost have to shout to be heard. As a volunteer pouring one of up to 6 different beers at a station, it was extremely difficult to hear what selection people wanted. We need some noise baffling acoustics added to the ceiling area to help reduce the noise levels. I almost felt the need to wear earplugs. Anyone get a decibel reading in that hall?

Update: In 2012 they took out the Karaoke and moved the awards into a separate theater. That helped cut the noise factor!

#7 - More Places to put Trash - While I commend the GABF team for putting out the Green stations for trash, there simply wasn't enough of them around. The aisles and booth areas get trashed big time. Even the areas behind the tables didn't have enough trash barrels to put everything into. People who drink are notoriously sloppy when it comes to keeping a place clean. If you make more trash stations available this might help, then again, there isn't enough room now to fit all the people comfortably.

#8 - Better Availability of Water - I like the fact that there are water stations scattered all over the convention hall. People really need to drink a lot of water during a beer festival, however, there wasn't enough stations to quickly get some water when you need it. Unfortunately for volunteers who are working, they don't have any drinkable water around them to help keep them hydrated. Sure, there are rinse pitchers for the glasses, but you really don't want to trust that for safe drinking water. I saw some attendees dump out beers into the water pitchers by mistake. Yuck! Consider having bottled water in stock under the tables at the booths. If a volunteer sees a drunk attendee they could offer them some water instead. Costly? Yes, but needed.

#9 - Better Locations for Outdoor Food Trucks - perhaps I just didn't see them, but while standing outside waiting to get in, I didn't see an easy way for people in line to grab a last minute bite to eat. Supposedly there were going to be food trucks stationed outside the festival this year. I didn't see them. I saw 1 or 2 small snack carts near the lines, but not the big food trucks. Make more food available directly outside the event on the sidewalks so that some of the already drunk attendees(from pre-parties) can sober up a bit before they go in and drink more. Coffee trucks too.

#10 - Keep Ticket Prices Reasonable - In 2011, the GABF sold out within the first week. In 2012, they all sold out in 45 minutes! For most of those tickets, for non-AHA members, they had to be purchased through Ticketmaster. In 2011, Ticketmaster added up to $10.70 in service charges, convenience and handling fees to jack up the price to over $70 for a ticket. In 2013, prices with fees will hit over $80 a pop. This is becoming a crock. Getting Ticketmaster out of the loop might help - their stiff fees and problematic online ticket sales are hurting the overall experience. Sure, using another vendor may slow things down a bit, but if you can keep the price down to $65 or less, cut the fees and find a way to give people more than just 1 hour to try to get a ticket then it would make buyers feel a whole lot better.

Update: Tickets sold out in 45 minutes in 2012 and Members Only ticket sales were buggy. The selling situation seems to be getting worse plus TicketDisaster goofed up the Members Only ticket sales too. Expect the same record sell-out in less than an hour in 2013. The more popular an event becomes, the more chaotic things seem to get.

Perhaps it's time to expand the GABF another day. Would you like to see either a Wednesday night session or a Sunday afternoon session added?

Related articles:
- 2011 GABF opening night photos.
- Colorado takes 39 medals in the 2011 GABF.
- Behind the scenes at the Great American Beer Festival. (2008)
- Final 2011 GABF tastings and recommendations.

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