Beyond Beer Nuts: Planning A Simple Food Program For A Brewery

Beyond Beer Nutz: HospitalityHelpline.com

QUESTION From: Big D, New Jersey:

“I just opened a brewery with three other partners. We’ve been brewing beer for our friends, family and other brave guinne pigs for over 6 years.

Needless to say, it’s been a long and exhausting road to see our dream come true and we couldn’t be happier but customers keep asking when we’ll have more food options. We have been offering bags of chips, warm pretzels and have a rotating schedule of food trucks thursday - saturday.

We all agree that we could be satisfying our brick and mortar customers more but don’t want to be a restaurant or get into the habit of “being everything to everyone”.

The volume of beer we sell at the bar is not as important as the volume of beer we sell at distributors and those are the sales we really want to focus on building.

Can you suggest some good food options that are as easy to serve up as a bag of chips? Don’t want to do frozen pizzas but would be willing to offer something more if we didn’t have to spend time re-training people who really just want to pour beer.

None of us are restaurant guys, we dont have a kitchen and we’re really not interested in changing our space (all hand made bar and tables) to put in a kitchen.

What do you think of partnering with a local restaurant to serve their food in our brewery?

Prost!”

Big D


HH ANSWER:

Let me first say that the volume of beer you sell through distributors is directly related to the volume of beer you pour from your own taps.

In other words, master marketing your own beer in your own space is the best way to build interest / demand and encourage others to carry it.

When I say “master market”, I mean, market it and sell it better than anyone else. I mean “own” your brand, exude your brand and control the experience.

In order to do that, you need to recognize the important role you play as the original home of your product and how vital it is to meet more than one of your guests’ needs…like the need to eat when consuming large quantities of beer.

Whether you’re selling ice cream, donuts and coffee or lobster thermidore...you’re in the hospitality business which means: providing an experience and making people happy by fulfilling their needs...and the more basic needs you fill - the better.

I’m not saying that you have to be all things for all people but the fact that you recognize the importance of incorporating a limited food service program (hot or cold) with your beverage program is a step in the right direction. An appropriate food program can be designed for almost any space and any budget…and your guests will stay longer, spend more & come back more frequently when you integrate one.

The fact that you are considering tying your brand equity to the actions and/or performance of an outside third party (who did not spend the last 6 years perfecting craft beer recipes with you in your basement or ponying up their savings to build your bar or put their house on the line in order to sign your Lease) concerns me greatly. It’s a bad idea.

You’re not just selling great tasting beer (at least I hope it tastes great). You’re selling an experience. You’re selling a lifestyle. You’re selling your values and sharing some history...some food science and maybe even some geography...and every guest inside your four walls needs to get that. Sure you could go the BYOF (Bring Your Own Food) route or continue the revolving door of independent food vendors but tying someone else’s business to your own takes the control out of your hands and exposes your brand to mediocrity.

Offering a food program that is specifically tailored to complement your beer is not only a good idea, it’s also a lot easier than you may believe.

You can do this successfully with minimal space surrendered and a very modest amount of additional staff training.

There are probably countless ways of approaching this.

These are the options I typically present to operators in your position:

  1. Execution of ownership’s vision in a small & efficient footprint with minimal impact to existing build-out and then training the staff on easy, fool-proof prep.

  2. Providing a list of concepts and items I think would enhance the beverage offerings (often coffee, beer and/or wine) and then editing the list with owner(s) input before designing a prep/expo space and training staff on how to execute delivery of signature food items.

  3. Recruiting a chef who will work, as an employee of (independent contractor) or partner with ownership to design or co-design and manage a tiny cook space that works within the existing footprint.

  4. Sampling “Plug & Play” options from companies who not only offer a consistent product and equipment but also branding, to-gos, digital menus and signage for their partners (these options aren’t actually franchises but food cost is up there / typically comes at a premium).

You may or may not be surprised to hear that most outlets aren’t designed as efficiently as possible...and those that actually are need only sacrifice 2-4 seats in order to implement a custom food program that dramatically increases sales, complements / improves your primary product offering and better defines your brand.

Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts (excuse me- “Dunkin”) aren’t the only concepts out there increasing sales and developing their brand identities by expanding offerings with the addition of a well placed turbo chef and/or ventless countertop fryer.

If you haven’t spoken with a restaurant consultant - I’d recommend doing that.

The first conversation rarely costs a dime and a good one should be able to flesh out some options like the ones I mentioned above.

Good Luck and let me know what you guys end up doing.

P.S. I see that you’re in New Jersey. I offer a discounted rate for clients located in resort / destination locations like the shore.