American craft beer retail sales grew by 15% in 2011 over 2010 and now for the first time has over a 5% share of the total U.S. beer market. (That’s over a 9% share if you subtract the truly non-beer, flavored malt beverages from the total.) Wow!
What is even more impressive about the above numbers is, according to Paul Gatza, director of the Brewers Association, “The overall beer market experienced a 1.32 percent decrease in 2011.” Yet craft beer was on fire.
“It’s becoming increasingly clear that with the variety of styles and flavors to choose from, Americans are developing a strong taste for high quality, small-batch beer from independent brewers,” Gatza said.
What does this growth mean to restaurateurs
So what does craft beer’s meteoric rise mean to America’s better restaurants? It means if you do not already offer a bunch of craft beers, you’d better get them now. There is no quicker way to increase profits from your beer sales than to fully embrace this fast-growing high end of the U.S. beer market. To ignore them or not get yourself educated in American craft beer is to take a quick road to restaurant irrelevancy.
Why then do so many of America’s better casual- and fine-dining restaurants still have such pitiful beer offerings compared to the quality of their wine offerings? That is a question hard to answer.
But no surer sign exists of an out-of-date restaurant concept than a restaurant with a nice wine list but no craft beer list.
For example, I recently dined at a very well-known, highly regarded restaurant at a major resort that is a good example of this point. The restaurant features a California dining concept and accordingly has an extensive wine list containing mostly California winery offerings. Of the dozens offered by-the-glass, most were in the $15 to $16 per glass range. Dozens more wines were offered only by-the-bottle. The list had great variety and one could tell much care had been taken to include a broad selection from better vineyards.
In contrast, the restaurant had no beer list nor did it even print its beer offerings anywhere on the food and beverage menus I was given. I had to ask the server what beers they carried. Of the seven she listed, five were highly advertised pedestrian beers from the international mega-breweries. Only two were from California craft brewers, Anchor Steam and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.
I guess I should have been be pleased that they offered two California crafts, but instead I was pissed. When I thought of the many incredible California beers that were available right in their market and how their selection of beers showed absolutely no appreciation for that, I realized that this was a restaurant that really didn’t get it. Beer was an afterthought. Their concept is so incredibly out of date, that I certainly would not dine there again.
Maybe restaurants like this are living off their past. If they are, they are surely in for a major decline—unless they change their ways (including their beers).
I don’t need to tell anyone that the restaurant business today is hyper competitive. Customers with the cash to spend on better dining are a fickle lot. They chase after the latest, greatest thing. Even many really good restaurants struggle to keep a market and make money.
For a restaurant today, if you aren’t changing, you’re dying. That does not only apply to the food and wine menus, but also to the beer offerings.
The Brewers Association reports that as of February 2012 the count of operating domestic breweries topped 2,000, with 250 new breweries opened in 2011 alone. Additionally, the association has reported that over 900 more breweries are in the planning stages.
Surely with the many thousands of distinctive artisan beers offered by the roughly 2,000 American craft breweries, a restaurant today could find more than two of them good enough to grace its beer menu.
How can a restaurateur who creates such nice cuisine and offers such wonderful wines fail so miserably at selling craft beer? That is a rhetorical question, because this tragedy is played out daily, again and again, at many better restaurants all across the country.
More than higher profit drives craft beer sales
Let the explosive growth at the high quality end of the beer market be a wake up call to restaurants that have not already developed a craft beer sales program. Even if a restaurant does not want the extra profit that craft beer sales bring, it should consider the added benefits craft beer provides the restaurant’s patrons.
- Craft beers have more complex and more varied tastes that are more deeply appreciated by discerning customers who frequent restaurants offering stylish cuisine and higher priced menus.
- The very wide variety of tastes and flavors offered in craft beer allow it to more successfully pair with a broader array of food flavors and styles; this gives customers a more complete and enjoyable dining experience.
- Customers who love exploring new tastes in cuisine also love experimenting with craft beer; they crave the new specialties and seasonal styles being created by today’s craft brewers.
- With more customers now wanting to know where their food and beverage come from, and often preferring local, boutique craft beers give them a pedigree that actually comes from specific places (including local) that are an integral part of their stories.
Are you ready to make the leap
For a restaurant to successfully jump into craft beer is not quite as simple as adding a couple of popular beers, though it need not be much harder. It is best if the beers offered complement the restaurant’s overall concept and style. Select specific craft beers that pair well with popular items on the food menu. Develop a strategy for your overall beer menu. Provide training that equips your wait staff to help guide customers to beers appropriate for their tastes or the entrees ordered.
One doesn’t need to have 100 different beers to have a high quality craft beer list. A dozen carefully selected labels can make a strong quality statement and separate a restaurant from its competition. A dozen carefully selected beers can also attract the attention of even the most knowledgeable craft beer enthusiasts. There’s no time like today to get started.
CrafBeerRestaurant.com can help
CraftBeerRestaurant.com has many free resources and ideas that can help a restaurant elevate its beer menu and sales program to award-winning status. Take a look around our website and don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions we might help you with.
Here’s to making your restaurant a craft beer restaurant. Cheers.