Free beer runs dry at Busch

Busch Gardens’ Anheuser-Busch Hospitality Center served its last free sample of beer Sunday, with the nine remaining Anheuser-Busch theme parks to follow suit in the coming weeks.

Patrons of legal age were permitted to sample two  beers about 8 ounces apiece. In a statement about the decision, Busch Entertainment Corp. defended its decision to cut the 50-year-old tradition of free samples because it will “expand the facilities’ appeal across age groups.”

Kristina Bongiorno, a mass communications major, said she is upset about the decision to cater to families and believes it will alienate the park’s core clientele.

“Disney is family-oriented. We don’t need every park to be family-oriented,” she said.

Changes to the alcohol policy come two months after Anheuser-Busch’s $52 billion acquisition by Belgian beer company InBev. Though employment in the hospitality centers will not be affected by the changes, employees of legal drinking age are no longer entitled to two free cases of beer each month.

Becca Bides, director of public affairs for Busch Entertainment Corp., said the company made the decision based on a long-term business plan for the park.

According to an article in the St. Petersburg Times, InBev is considering selling all of the Anheuser-Busch theme parks to recover some of the billions spent acquiring the company.

With beer sampling gone, Bongiorno said she foresees more changes and questioned whether InBev would take away the trademark Clydesdale horses.

However, an e-mail from Busch Entertainment states that the Budweiser Clydesdales will remain on display in the parks’ Clydesdale Hamlets.

Bides said reactions to the changes have varied.

“We have had a handful of complaints — however, we have also heard from guests who are looking forward to the format,” she said.

Though it ultimately depends on personal preference, Bongiorno said she thinks Tampa Bay area college students will be less inclined to visit Busch Gardens.

The Hospitality Center at the Tampa Busch Gardens will close briefly to be converted into a restaurant with a new café-style menu, Bides said. Alcohol will remain available for purchase at the park.