The Art and Science of Beer Vending Part 1

The Art and Science of Beer Vending Part 1

There's hardly a game that goes by at Wrigley Field where I don't hear something like, "Hey, you've got a dream job. You get to spend all your time outdoors during the only five months it's actually warm in Chicago, and on top of that you see Cubs home games for free!"

My response of course is, "Yeah, I do have a great job, but I probably see less actual playing time at Wrigley Field than your average Cubs fan." You see, most of the time, any beer vendor who knows his craft will concentrate on the fans much more than on the game. You might get a glance or two at the scoreboard or maybe a moment of peace during a Ramirez home run, but not too much more than that. As much as I love the Cubs (and I do, please don't ask about '03), when I'm in the park I'm on the clock, and that means business. Instead of checking out Dempster's slider or pondering how much tofu Prince Fielder eats, I'm thinking about the fans--those in need of Style--and for that, you have to keep your eye on the ball, or in this case, the fan. Out of the 40-some-thousand fans that show up at the Field on a good day, I see about 10,000 happy faces, and that doesn't always include those of Alfonso Soriano or Marlon Byrd.

In my opinion, beer vending at its best is equal parts art and science, and when done right, it's a beautiful thing. A good vendor must be a master of both his surroundings and his own mind, a task worthy of any expert martial artist or highly trained professional.

First off, you gotta learn how to navigate the territory. Wrigley Field was built in 1914, and back then they didn't think much about things such as fire codes, plastic beer bins, or obesity. If you've been a fan who's gotten up to go to the bathroom between innings, then you know that the traffic in aisles at Wrigley can be similar to that of Clark and Addison at the end of the game. With two lanes of traffic in 3 ft of space, it's not uncommon to rubbing elbows, knees, and toes with downtown businessmen, international tourists, that family from Iowa with four kids, some guy who thinks now is a good time to be carrying four giant Pepsi and a grande nachos in a plastic baseball helmet, and of course the late arrivals standing around looking for their seats bottom of the 3rd. Generally, you manage to squeeze by, but imagine trying to do that while pouring two beers from a thirty pound tub hanging off your neck. Needless to say, it takes a little Style and (Mark?) grace.

As in life, beer vending is also all about timing. You have two and half hours to sell as much beer as safely and responsibly as you can, so every moment counts. Since beer vending involves a lot of repetitious action, figuring out ways to save a little time on each action--pouring, passing, ID checking--can add up to big time savings by the end of the game. A good vendor has a system for everything down to the way he stacks his cups.

Another important element of timing is knowing when someone is ready for a fresh one. The obvious "empty beer cup" is the classic signal, but not always an accurate one. A better way to know when a person wants a drink is to know that person, um, personally. I spend a lot of time talking to fans and building relationships, and once I know somebody, then I just follow the beer vendor intuition I've carefully honed from years of pounding up and down the aisles. How do I know that the work party from the marketing department at Dewey, Cheatum, and Howe up in 239 needs a refill while my season ticket holders in over in 233 need about another half inning? I don't know, I just do.

The greatest battle that I face at Wrigley, however, is not against the crowd and it's not against the clock. The greatest battle is the one fought between my love for the Cubs and my natural instincts for survival. On one hand I want to watch the next pitch, on the other I need to pay my rent. If I was vending thirty years ago (and some of the vendors at Wrigley have been there about a decade longer than that), I would have probably had to quit or else get fired for not selling any beer, but luckily, because we live in modern times, I've found a way to resolve this classic dilemma. Every day before leaving the house, I just turn on my Tivo to record the game; that way, after a long day of keeping other people in Style I can enjoy kicking back and watching all the highlights I missed while also getting the chance to look out for myself on TV (kinda like my own personal Wheres Waldo: Wrigley Field Edition). This lets me focus on working the game when I'm working, and enjoying the details of the game at my leisure while satisfying my own healthy sense of narcissism. Thank god for modern technology.

Well, I could probably write many more volumes on this subject, so let's just call it a work in progress. For this week, that's all I got. Til the next round............ Stay in Style my friends.

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