Sharpen Your Beer Menu to Boost Sales and Satisfaction

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Julia Herz of the Brewers Association aims to aid chain beverage buyers in breaking out of their comfort zones at the VIBE Conference.

Chain restaurants for many years depended on the steady popularity of the monolithic mid-century American brews, with a limited selection of top-selling imports. Those days are long gone. As the top selling domestic beers lose share and volume year after year, chain operators today can no longer simply pick the best sellers if they want to build sales and attract regular customers.

A varied beer menu is essential, says Julia Herz, the Craft Beer Program director at the Brewers Association, publisher of CraftBeer.com, and a spokesperson for the Brewers Association.

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Chain operators can mandate some beer brands and also give local outlets the ability to choose others, but which beers to pick can change regionally and also depending on the type and style of the operation.

“This talk for chain buyers will provide some introspection and takeaways that they hopefully can use to bring their beer lists to a further and better place,” Herz says. With the beer marketplace evolving rapidly—not only as styles develop and emerge, but also as brand demand changes regionally—it’s very important that beer buyers not look at their beer list as static, says Herz. Frequent (at least annual) reviews of what is working, what is emerging, and what styles and brands might fit the list are needed in order to advance the goal of being a better beer provider and a destination for beer.

In preparation for her “A Beer List that Puts Your Chain on the Beer Map” presentation at the VIBE Conference, Herz consulted extensively with various stakeholders in the beer world: forward-looking chain buyers, innovative distributors and brewers (as well as chain consultants), and employed data and trend information available to her through the Brewers Association.

One concept she’ll share is the importance of talking about the variety of flavors of beer, or the flavor six-pack as she calls it. “I talk about the six groupings of flavor, like malty and roasty, or hoppy and bitter, or sour and funky. Often if you can look at your beers and think of them this way it allows an operator to move on from only buying based on sales. Thinking about these beer flavors can help you reset the deck and give you options you might not have considered before,” says Herz. Many operators focus mostly on American lager and IPA, and rarely venture into the variety beyond that. Herz points out that beer should be approached as a rainbow of options rather than multiple brands of the same style.

The proper service of a variety of beers is also important, as are options for different glassware, which has become acceptable for wine, spirits and cocktails but often lags when it comes to beer. “Investment in a variety of beer glassware can exponentially expand a beer program. Beer service is very important and operators can lean on their brewery and distribution partners for advice there as well as on the latest data, service and techniques on how best to serve beer.”

Herz, in her past VIBE presentations, has emphasized the importance of food and beer pairings. She’ll explain why these pairings are of great value to operators at this year’s show as well. “I love to point out we need to shore things up in the pairing arena. Chain buyers need to plug into that the way they work with chefs on food, empower people who are knowledgeable, and invest in pairing. Beer sales are more than double wine sales, and beer with food occasions are starting to trump just tasting occasions. It’s important in long-term success when considering the menu that the beer thought isn’t just sequestered but should be symbiotically part of the food side of the occasion just as wine is.”