Dilemma: You are watching a Rugby World Cup game at a stadium and you fancy a beer, but you don’t want to take your eyes off the action.
Do you get out of your seat and go and find a concession stand somewhere? At this year’s tournament in Japan, you don’t need to.
“I walk around the stadium pouring out beer for customers who want it,” 18-year-old Mio Ishimori, who is working as a beer hawker at the Rugby World Cup, said before Saturday’s quarterfinal between New Zealand and Ireland at Tokyo Stadium. “The customers will lift their hand if they want to buy a beer, and we go over to their seat and pour them one.”
Beer hawkers, generally young women in brightly colored uniforms with caps held in place by pins, are a common sight at Japanese baseball games. They roam the stadium while the game is in progress, looking to sell beer to fans from kegs carried on their backs.
Rugby World Cup organizers decided to adopt the custom and use it at this year’s tournament — the first held in Asia — and it has proven a big hit with overseas fans experiencing the service for the first time.
The beer hawker service is run by Global Hospitality Group, a food and drink catering firm that specializes in big sporting events. GHG has hired over 2,000 workers in Japan for the tournament and brought in 40 managers from around the world.
GHG director Peter Wright says the company aims to sell around 1 million beers via hawkers over the course of the six-week tournament, and had already poured around 550,000 by the time the quarterfinals began Saturday.
“Traditionally a hawker — as opposed to a bar — sells to the person sitting in the seat,” said Wright. “So the person doesn’t have to get up and go away, and they can sit there and enjoy the game and not be disturbed by missing out and standing in queues.
“When we first came to Japan, we went to the baseball and saw it. Rugby World Cup were very, very keen, because they were concerned at not having enough beer. They really wanted to make sure that we never run out of beer and it’s always cold. So the hawking has resolved all those issues, and it takes the queues away. It’s been a win-win for all of us.”
Unlike the hawkers at baseball games, who sell draught beer dispensed through a hose and nozzle into a paper cup, the RWC hawkers carry refrigerated backpacks full of cans of Heineken — the official beer of the tournament — and pour them into paper cups. Each backpack weighs around 18 kg.
Kagari Kudo, a 22-year-old university student, is working as a hawker at Tokyo Stadium during the tournament. She usually does the same at Jingu Stadium for the Tokyo Yakult Swallows’ baseball games, but is still trying to get used to the different ebb and flow of a rugby match.
“In baseball, teams are either batting or they’re fielding, and there are breaks between innings,” she said. “But in rugby, the action is constant so the fans are always watching the game. That makes it more difficult to sell beer than at a baseball game.
“With baseball, the fans are people who go to the stadium regularly. But for the Rugby World Cup, the tickets are expensive and a lot of fans will only go to one game. I try to be friendly and familiar even with the people who are coming here for the first time,” she said.
Kudo says carrying a backpack full of beer can be tough on the shoulders and legs, but that being able to interact with fans makes the job worthwhile. She says the fans visiting from overseas have been very friendly to her, but not all have been impressed by her pouring technique.
“A lot of people tell us to pour the beer so that there isn’t so much foam,” she said. “Japanese people like a 70-30 split between beer and foam. You have to give them 30 percent foam, but the overseas fans say they don’t want any at all.”
Wright says the beer hawkers have proved very popular with overseas fans, and some at Saturday’s quarterfinal in Tokyo were keen to see the system exported to sporting events in their home countries.
“I think once it’s like this now, I’m probably going to expect it every time I go somewhere,” said a fan wearing a South Africa jersey who gave his name only as Spiro. “The convenience of it is great. It’s what you want, not to have to go to one place to find a drink. People are walking around and looking for you.”
Hawkers are paid on commission, and Kudo says she can make more money than she could at most other part-time jobs. Good pay, however, is just one of the things she enjoys about it.
“It’s a fun job to do,” she said. “It gives you an experience that you couldn’t get with any other job.”