If you’ve been considering adding craft beer to your restaurant’s menu, the time is now. Nationwide, there’s never been more breweries. Never. In 2015, we surpassed the old record, which was set in 1873 at 4,131. As of 2018, the number of breweries in the U.S. has skyrocketed to 7,450.
In Texas alone, we have 283 breweries and are adding more each year. And, if you’re considering beer, it’s important to think local. Many consumers are gravitating away from drinking large national brands to small, local, craft breweries.
While overall beer sales in 2018 went down by 1%, sales of craft brew still grew 4% by volume. Craft breweries now control 13.2% of the U.S. beer market by volume.
If you’re not yet selling local, craft beer in your restaurant, the customer has spoken — they want it. But, before you buy a kegerator and start selling, there are a few things to consider.
Your Brand, Your Customer, Your Price
First things first: if you want to add beer to your menu, it must fit your brand. If it doesn’t fit your brand, it won’t sell.
If craft beer does fit your brand, then it’s time to think about your customer, their price point, and what types of flavors they like. Craft beer, especially in today’s heyday, comes in all varieties and flavor profiles. Whether you need something dark to compete with meat-heavy dishes, something light to pair with fish, or fruity to go with summery, vegetarian appetizers there are many options available.
And then there’s price. Your customer expects a certain price range when they walk through your door. If you’re a hole-in-the-wall Tex-Mex place serving up greasy tacos for $2 a pop, diners might not be interested in shelling out $8 for a glass of beer.
“It’s the same process as choosing your menu,” says FreeRange Concepts owner Kyle Noonan. “You have to know what your brand identity is and you pick products that align with your brand. Our product mix tells that story of who we are as restauranteurs. You’ve got to know what story you’re trying to tell consumer and pick products that match.”
When adding craft beer to your menu, the key is to make sure it fits your brand, your customer’s tastes, and your price range. Hit that mark and beer will be going down easy.
Style Over Name
While many craft breweries have built a following for their brand, that’s not what’s most important when seeking out the right beer for your restaurant. Instead, look for the right style of beer.
If your restaurant is trying out stocking craft brews for the first time, start with the basics. According to KC Hensley, a long-time beer and hospitality-industry veteran, you should “have a local option to cater to everybody’s palate. You need a local light, amber, IPA, and dark beer.” If you can cover those bases, you’ve got a place to start.
By featuring the basic styles of beer, you’ll be playing to a range of preferences, tastes, and food pairings. It also gives you some data for making better-informed decisions when it’s time to order more beer. Once you know what sold the best, you can consider adding more craft beers with similar flavor profiles.
The best part about stocking the basic flavor profiles of light, amber, bitter, and dark is that if there’s any trouble with getting the specific beer your stocking, you can simply replace it with something different but of the same style. When prepping a menu, just like with food, flexibility is key. If an ingredient isn’t available, you simply replace it with a different brand or something similar. The same goes for beer.
Local, Local, Local
One of the major trends in craft beer right now is local. Whether you’re catering to neighborhood patrons or see a lot of visitors, drinkers want to taste what’s made in your neck of the woods.
“It’s not just those who live in that market,” says Kyle Noonan. “It’s people who come into that market and are visiting. If I go to Colorado, I’m more likely to try one of their beers. The consumer has spoken, the consumer wants local.”
Seek out your neighborhood craft brewer, something from within your city or county, and at the very least, stock your shelves with something from the Lone Star State.
Serve it Up
While choosing what beer you want to stock is important, as a restaurant owner you also must consider the additional costs that go with stocking and serving beer.
Things to think about:
- What glassware will you use to serve it up?
- Do you need extra cold storage for bottled beer?
- If you’re serving up draft beer, do you have the space for kegerators?
- What additional labor costs will you have for serving beer and washing glasses?
While physical space and staffing are important considerations when adding a new menu item, the cost of glassware is a must-consider. Most places invest in the indestructible, all-purpose, beer-holder that is the pint glass. While cost-effective, this glass is famous for being the worst way to serve up beer.
When you’re choosing a local craft brewery to work with and stock their beer in your restaurant, ask them how best to serve their beer. For some beers, there’s a best way and a wrong way. If you’ll need to invest in glassware, consider that cost as part of your decision.
Keep An Eye On Trends
While you might not need to know what’s on trend for beer, be sure you’re asking the breweries who approach you to carry their beer what trends they’re seeing. If you find a trend that you think fits your brand and your customers would be interested in it, go for it.
We asked our experts what trends they’re seeing and this is what they told us.
A trend that many people seek out is to drink seasonally. “Something craft breweries do well versus the non-craft breweries is they have seasonal products,” says Kyle Noonan. “They have fall IPA or winter Stout or summer lager. Customers not only go local but seasonal.”
While many beer drinkers crave seasonality with their beer, we’re also seeing a broader trend towards lighter, fruitier-tasting beers, according to KC Hensley.
“They want refreshing, fruit flavors, whether it’s an IPA, sour, or version of a lager. Everyone wants fruit characteristics, especially in Texas as it gets closer to summer and gets warmer and warmer.”
While Laughing, KC describes offering people a lime Gose. “They say, ‘that’s weird, but that’s good. I could drink this all day!’”
Just as many diners are looking for healthy alternatives to some foods, they’re also becoming aware of the health risks of drinking alcohol and the dense number of calories in beer. Instead of skipping out on drinking altogether, people are looking for healthier alternatives.
“I think what you’re going to start seeing is a movement towards healthy drinking,” says Kyle Noonan. “In other words, not necessarily non-alcoholic, but someone who is worried about their overall health, cocktails with a lot less sugar, local breweries are going to start getting into low calorie and low carb brews. There are only a handful low-cal beers right now., but you still want to go out, have a few drinks, but you don’t want to consume all the calories, carbs, or sugar.”
Many drinkers are becoming conscious of how much alcohol they drink, says KC. “People are being more aware of their ABV. They’re trying to ration their alcohol intake by being aware of how strong the beer is that they’re drinking. Hop-heads and people who want a flavor attack in their mouth also want to spend the day out on the patio drinking, so they’re leaning towards session IPAs and such.” By drinking beer with lower alcohol content, beer-lovers can consume more beer without getting drunk.
Depending on your customers, there might be another trend that might pique their interest: sustainability. You can now find sustainably-brewed, no-waste beers. Examples include everything from a beer made from grey water to a brewery that makes beer from day-old bread and other food waste.
The numbers say it all. Drinkers like craft beer. If you’re considering adding beer to your restaurant, there’s a lot to consider when it comes to what type of beer to stock. But, when comparing the numbers on big brands and craft brews, the answer is simple: craft beer all the way. Drinkers are craving beer made right nearby.
But, before you begin bringing in the glassware and kegerator, the most important question to answer is whether or not craft beer fits your brand. The beer you bring in has to fit your brand or it simply won’t sell. Do it right though, and customers will love it.