Sunday, June 26, 2011

Economics of beer wastage in line cleaning.

First, a few disclaimers: I'm not an accountant. I'm not a publican. I'm not a cellar technician. I'm not a lawyer. There's a whole heap of things that I'm not.

I illustrated the keg returner the other day, the "legitimate" use of such things is advanced as enabling the recovery of those few pints that would be otherwise lost during line cleaning.

The line that carries the beer from the "cellar" to the tap contains an appreciable amount of beer For 3/8in tube it's something like 30mL per metre, I think. (while we're mixing imperial and SI units, that's about 10mL each foot of 6.3mm ID line. More in the wider stuff traditionally used for cask) There's various devices along the way that also hold a bit (chillers, fob detectors, pumps, etc). Typically, this volume would be lost when line-cleaning is undertaken, i.e. as water or cleaning solutions displace it from the system.

A number of gizmos are on the market which offer to save this wasted beer. Some divert it into a little sealed vessel attached to the system, from which it can be reintroduced into the line after cleaning - of course, that little bottle will need cleaning at some time - but this doesn't seem like an entirely bad idea. Some cleverly disconnect the beer supply (keg) near the end of a session, while allowing you to sell what's already in the line. Some (for cask) allow the line contents to run (slowly) back into the container after the session - although this would leave the line dry, which may not be such a good idea. In other systems, the beer leaves the dispense equipment - into a bucket perhaps, and is manually reintroduced to the container - these are the ones that look distinctly dodgy to me. You'd definitely want to be sure that Customs & Excise / Trading Standards / Environmental Health aren't going to pounce on you.

Even ignoring effects on beer quality - although I suspect that they might be significant - and while we're very much in favour of line-cleaning, there's something troubling about this whole thing: If you have a look at any of the marketing material for these devices, they'll always have a "cost saving" example worked out. They always base this on the selling price of the wasted beer. You waste two pints that you could have sold at £3 each, that's 6 quid income lost, per line, per week! Right? See what an earner this gizmo (and the time spent operating/cleaning it) could be!

As I said, I'm not an accountant, but surely you're not saving any more than the shortage cost (principally restocking cost) of the beer? You'll just buy 2 pints more beer from your supplier. I realise beer that's in the cellar (and hooked up) has to carry some share of the overheads - but not as much as beer that's made it into a glass. Surely?

I know that some tenants have an allowance for line-cleaning effectively built in to their business arrangements. In which case recovering that beer really does generate (not very much) extra income - but only by selling (potentially) damaged goods as new. Which really can't be a good idea. Can it?


HardKnott Dave said...

For most pubs there is much, much more wastage in the drip trays. Any pub that want's to save money on product should start with staff training.

Plus staff training makes them better at pulling pints so the product is even better. Full pints, without spillages. Win - win.

I always cringe at bar staff who pull half a pint of froth over the side of the glass, like it doesn't matter. Poor staff training, poor beer presentation, poor business profitability, poor customer service.

Grrrr, I could go on......

StringersBeer said...

You're absolutely right there Dave.

Trying to save a few quid on the weekly clean is missing the point, when, as you suggest, gormless barstaff can waste more beer in each session. Getting and training good staff isn't free of course, but I'm sure it's money better spent than on any gizmo that can only save you a few pints at best. And while fancy cleaning systems may be suitable for some establishments, we all know people who do a cracking job with a couple of buckets.

For that matter, I bet there's a lot of sales lost from having minging toilets.

Good pubs are the ones that (above all) get the basics right.

craig said...

When you mention 2 pints/line as not much if its on 10 lines thats 20 pints/week X 52 weeks=1040 pints/year. Not to mention the 1/2 pint wasted in each line ,when pulling the new beer thru the water filled fob and beer lines. 1/2 pint x 10 lines x 52 weeks =260 pints giving a grand total of 1300 pints lost to the publican per year on just a 2 pint loss

If all the gismo companies use £3/pint as a standard price to show what savings their product can achieve.Surley this makes it easier for the publican to compare what firm shows the best savings and value for money

For example some PUBCOS charge £1.5/pint so on 1300 pints thats £1950 the publican pays for beer thats just poured down the drain in the process of line cleaning. its lost beer to the publican it does not have a re-stock cost.
But i am sure that all publicans buy in beer to make a profit. So if some legal gismo can save them this wasted beer and they can sell it on at £3/ pint thats £3900 extra in their bank, thats why the gismo firms quote the sale price as the savings

I am not a accountant either i am the inventer of one of these gismo firms BEER SHUNT AND SAVE(with health and safety approval) that does virtually eliminate all beer loss when line cleaning.And for £480 for a 10 line unit its not too expensive if it puts back £3900 into the publicans pocket, and in these hard times anything that saves money for the publican cant be all bad.As for a aid to stop staff spilling beer ill put my thinking head on to that

StringersBeer said...

Hi, Craig. Not meaning to dis. your product, which sounds like one of the better systems (with a divert into a little bottle? Which, incidentally, I suspect most people with a bit of nous could knock up, given the time and a handful of fittings).

Interested readers can find more at, but should note that the potential savings seem to be calculated on selling price rather than restocking cost and make no allowance for any extra time spent operating the system. Also that the cost of the system appears to be as supplied rather than including installation.

See, I don't mind having a link in here - I'm all for the facts.This is not an endorsement - for all I know the product is rubbish - or possibly brilliant - the reader will decide

You suggest that using an arbitary value of £3/pint for the recovered beer to calculate savings (rather than the true cost) makes it easier to compare products. Well, perhaps - but what it doesn't do is allow for a fair comparision with not using the system at all which is, of course, what we're mostly interested in.

I'm sure these devices can save some beer. I'm not sure how we can tell if they save enough beer to justify the time and expense, given that savings are typically overestimated in marketing materials, while the costs are underestimated.

Regarding an "aid to stop staff spilling beer". This would be an instance of a technological solution for a cultural problem. As Dave says, we've got the answer for that already: "Any pub that wants to save money on product should start with staff training." That said, once we've got our staff trained, and our lines cleaned, a busy bar with a lot of line length probably would save some money with a good system. How much? We'd need to figure that out ourselves (or consult with a reputable cellar services provider).

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