Building a Better Beer List

From popular domestics to crafts and imported specialty beers, a beer menu should offer quality and quantity.  From popular domestics to crafts and imported specialty beers, a beer menu should offer quality and quantity.


Consider your respective food, wine and cocktail menus. They are undoubtedly well thought out, meticulously engineered components of your business. After all, they’re your selling tools. Can the same be said for your beer list? If the answer is “no,” you’re missing a huge opportunity.
With wine and cocktails dominating the scene for the last few years, the beer list has been somewhat neglected. Though it may not be the easy sell it once was when a few major brands dominated the scene, beer is nonetheless immensely profitable. A fresh approach at designing a more efficient list may be all it takes to tap into greater profits.

A Balancing Act
With a seemingly infinite number of beers to choose from, crafting the ideal list for your venue can be daunting. According to David Commer, president of Commer Beverage Consulting, one of the biggest traps operators fall into is carrying too many “me too” brands (beers everyone else carries) or carrying everything under the sun with no real focus. He recommends beer selections be “a good mix of top-selling popular brands, including domestic, import, craft/specialty and local/regional offerings. If beer is central to [a bar’s] theme and/or it offers its own brands, build around that, including a selection of niche beers like lambics and beer cocktails.”

Developing a strong relationship with a well-established brewer can offer long-term benefits. Chris Stahlschmidt, manager of draught marketing for Anheuser-Busch, explains: “We interview operators to understand their needs and opportunities. We focus recommendations on training (proper pouring, eliminating waste and maximizing profits), marketing (upgraded beer glassware and towers), innovations, brand selection, profitable package mix (draught and aluminum bottles) and beer systems.” 

Tap Into Trends
Sales reps, brewers and bartenders all have their fingers on the pulse of what’s hot, both locally and nationally, so listen up. “We utilize the on-premise category management department to understand the operator’s needs, uncover insights, provide recommended solutions, communicate proposed plans and track results,” Stahlschmidt remarks. “We invest in a library of data sources and tools to assess the alcohol industry — on-premise, segment, consumer, market and account trends — for better recommendations.”

Also, be responsive to your own crowd — are they into canned beers or moving toward Belgians? Mary Palmer, general manager at Silvertone Bar & Grill in Boston, says Silvertone started carrying Miller Lite because a group of construction workers working on a site nearby drank it. “Although that building project is over, it caught on with other guests, so it remains,” she says. Additionally, “We had a lot of guests asking for cider, so we brought on the Harpoon brand.”