How to Build a Craft Beer Menu that SellsA curated brew menu keeps tabs high and customers coming back.
If you think wine and cocktails are the only place to make big bucks in your restaurant, we have two words for you: craft beer.
The craft beer industry is more popular than ever, with small and independent craft brewers comprising 12.2 percent of the overall beer volume share, up from 5.7 percent in 2011.
“Craft beer deserves an equal presence as wine and cocktails on a menu,” said Dawn Schulz, owner of Prison City Pub and Brewery in Auburn, New York. “It also pairs better with food.”
Here’s how to develop a craft beer menu that will attract customers and keep them coming back for more.
Focus on signature styles
Rather than focusing on particular brands, build a menu rooted in a few signature styles, advised Michael Przybyl, beverage manager at David’s Club Bar & Grill, Spencer’s and other dining and drinking establishments at The Hilton Orlando.
“You’ve got to have an IPA, an India pale ale,” said Przybyl.
“If you don’t have an IPA, it’s not really a craft beer menu.”
Schulz echoed Przybyl’s passion for IPAs and added that restaurant owners should round out their menus with a traditional pale ale. Both Przybyl and Schulz said great craft beer menus also include a wheat beer or saison, a lighter brew like a pilsner or lager and an amber or red ale.
When it comes to wheat beers, Przybyl recommended including a Hefeweizen. “International guests especially will recognize and order a good Hefeweizen.”
To recap, you need:
- An IPA
- A traditional pale ale
- A wheat beer or saison
- A pilsner or lager
- An amber or red ale
Keep up to date with trending styles. Lately, Schulz has noticed a surge in the popularity of sour Belgian beers, so she’s started adding them to her menus.
Balance national brands with local brews
Adding local brews to the menu offers a few advantages, said Przybyl. Not only do they give out-of-towners a chance to taste a community-specific flavor, but they also create opportunities for additional sales, marketing and advertising.
“For New Year’s Eve, we did a tap takeover. All 12 of our taps came from a local brewery, which helped get people to come visit the restaurant from the brewery,” said Przybyl. “It’s really important to have that connection to the community.”
Local beers add flair to your menu, but national brands give less adventurous customers a certain level of comfort with your craft beer menu. It’s important to include both types on your menu, said Przybyl.
“A few years ago, I noticed domestic beers required for sale by Hilton were selling better than our local beers. We had too many local beers on the menu,” said Przybyl. The taps at David’s Club Bar & Grill now feature up to four local beers, along with craft beers distributed nationwide.
When choosing national craft beers, look for brands customers are likely familiar with. Przybyl and Schulz recommended Dogfish Head Brewery and Founders Brewing Co.
“Talk to your distributor,” said Schulz. “Distributors all have large craft beer divisions and knowledgeable staff who can give information on where to start.”
Create a simple, informative beer menu
Once you’ve nailed down your beer lineup, creating the right physical menu will help push sales.
“At first I gave a description of the beer, then I gradually shifted to a more simple list,” said Przybyl. “People don’t want to read a big list of descriptions.”
The key information to list for each beer is the beer name, the style and the alcohol by volume (ABV) percentage. “The ABV of craft beer varies widely, and people need to know what they’re getting,” said Schulz.
Highlighting the location of the brewery may help increase sales of that beer.
“People associate with the location. They may have just came from Miami or have family in Delray Beach,” said Przybyl. If customers can connect with the destination, they will be more inclined to sample that beer.
BeerMenus.com is a great resource for designing craft beer menus, said Schulz.
“You enter the beers you’re selling and [BeerMenus.com] will populate a description according to what the brewery has put out there for publication,” said Schulz. “It [the menu] will then go out on your website and Facebook page. You can also print it for your restaurant.”
Involve your staff
Customers will rely on your staff for tasting notes, descriptions and recommendations of the craft beer on your menu. To train staff, Przybyl invites community brewers to give servers the inside scoop on their beer.
“The brewer comes in and describes how they make the beer. During training with the brewer, everyone stops what they’re doing and looks at him like the president,” said Przybyl. The brewer explains everything that went into the beer and what inspired it, along with food pairing options and selling points.
“When you have that kind of support to train staff, they’re more willing to push beers on tap,” he added.
Przybyl and Schulz recommended doing plenty of of tastings with staff to ensure deep familiarity with the brews they’re selling. “Servers have to be able to describe it to guests,” said Przybyl.
Don’t just educate your staff about what they’re selling— also solicit input from your bartenders and servers on what customers are looking for. “One person on my team requested to add a dark beer to the summer menu,” said Przybyl. “He wanted a local one, so we added a nice beer called Milk Stout from South Florida. Now we go through a keg or two a week.”
Rotate in new brews frequently
Regularly refresh your menu with new craft beers to keep customers coming back. How often you update the menu will depend on the style of your establishment. Most casual dining restaurants opt for seasonal updates.
“Now we’re going for fall-oriented beers,” said Przybyl. He’s adding pumpkin beers and Oktoberfest brews to the menu at David’s.
Don’t get overwhelmed with updates. While frequent rotations keep things interesting, they’re less important than having exceptional craft beers available all year long.