More and more high-end restaurants are offering enhanced beer menus, putting them on a par with these concepts’ sophisticated wine lists.
Take Morton’s, for example. The white-tablecloth steakhouse offers a range of beers from mainstream domestics and premium varieties, but it also includes vintage brews and ultra-premium crafts, trappists and lambics from around the world, including Lindemans Raspberry Lambic, Fuller’s Vintage Ale, Paulaner Hefe Wiezen, and an Orval Trappist Ale, which the chain calls one of the world’s finest beers.
The Melting Pot restaurants offer craft-beer pairings with its promotional Big Night Out menus, listing a complementary beer for each of meal’s four courses: cheese fondue, salad, entrée fondue and dessert fondue. In a recent America-themed menu, the beer flight was $12 for the four 6-ounce tastes, while the wine-pairing flight was $20 for four 3-ounce pours.
Tess, a fine-dining independent restaurant in Milwaukee, has ceased its regular wine dinners in favor of monthly beer dinners, which pair craft beers, mostly from local brewers, with a five-course meal. The owners cite not only the popularity of crafts but also the fact that beer is less expensive than wine and customers are more comfortable with the cost.
The financials are not just easier for customers to take, as operators benefit them as well. David Commer, a beverage consultant and president of Commer Beverages, says that a main driver for fine-dining restaurants is margins. “It’s an inelegant reason behind the surge in craft beers on these menus,” he says, “but you can get higher markups on them.”
Commer also points to the pairing opportunities, as diners are looking for new flavor experiences and want to experiment. And he notes that offering craft beers from nearby brewers is tied to the locally sourced and higher-quality food movements.
Offering enhanced beer menus may be an opportunity for higher-end restaurants—including chains—to show that they understand local suppliers and customers. And it can be one way that a restaurant lets its customers explore nuanced flavors and pairings.
But for a truly successful beer program, operators should be sure to keep their concept, menu and experience in mind. The brews must complement the food items and be of the same quality level. And staff must be able to discuss the flavor notes, brewing techniques and locality just as well as they can address these characteristics of the wine list.