This Company Sold More Beer by Helping Waitresses Get Home Late at Night

Anthropology can have relevance for the business world—just ask this beer company

Photo: Paul Walker

An anonymous, Europe-based beer business' bar sales were plummeting, the Harvard Business Review reports, but no matter how much market research the company did, it wasn't clear why. To get to the bottom of the problem, the company management did something unusual: they hired a bunch of anthropologists.

Those scientists visited pubs in the U.K. and Finland, approaching the task "as if they were studying an unfamiliar tribe in Borneo," HBR says, and collecting around 150 hours of recordings along with thousands of photos and additional notes. And soon they thought they had identified the problem. Here's HBR with some details: 

Although BeerCo had thought that bar owners valued its promotional materials—coasters, stickers, T-shirts, and so on—in fact those items were at best underused, at worst treated with derision (in one bar, a researcher found them crammed inside a cupboard and labeled “box of crap”). The team also discovered that female servers felt trapped in their jobs and resented having to be flirtatious, an experience they referred to as being “hot pantsed.” What’s more, they knew very little about BeerCo’s products and didn’t want to know any more—and yet they were a primary channel for sales.

To make amends, the company started lavishing more attention on individual bars and, to curry goodwill with the staff, started giving female employees who worked late free cab fare to get home, HBR reports. The result: "Bar sales rebounded." In other words, asking for a little help from anthropologists—who traditionally have received little love from the profits-obsessed business world—made all the difference for the company.

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