Good Food Deserves Good Beer
By Jim Anderson
There was a time when no food was too fancy for beer. Then along came ostrich meat.
It's a new ballgame out there in the food world, with access to meats, fruits and vegetables that a few years ago we could never enjoy without the aid of a plane ticket. The upscaling of the American palate has been going full tilt ever since that first clog-wearing chef daringly put a sundried tomato next to a pile of cous cous on a dinner plate somewhere deep in the foothills of northern California. And whatever upscaling has happened to food in the last ten years has happened to beer in just the blink of an eye.
So how can you take advantage of all this upscaling?
First of all, you have to realize that beer is just as serious an element in today's gastronomy as, say mushrooms or sherry. Gone are the days when you could, with any seriousness, say, "this dish goes well with beer. " There are simply too many choices available today to pretend that "beer" represents a single flavor.
Second, you must impress this fact upon your servers and other employees. Many folks still gloss over their beer list as if it merely represented the same flavor in fourteen different bottles. You would expect a server to know the difference between a chardonnay and a merlot, why not between a pilsner and an India Pale Ale? And to make things worse, plenty of servers still think that beer is somehow the chump's choice at dinner. An attitude like that can lead to a lost sale or a lost customer -- which can hurt your profits.
Third, you must match your selection to your clientele and food. Just as there's no point in trying to sell high-end beer in a corner tappie, there's no strategy to limiting your beer selection to the usual industrially-brewed stuff in an upscale context. Good food deserves good beer. And if you think you can compete today without a little attention in this department, then you're missing the boat.
Just as everybody had to get over the information hump when products like gaszpacho, orange roughie, broccoli rabe and hummous came on the scene, we have a similar hump to get over in the beer world before we can sell beer effectively. Already you can see it starting to happen in Philadelphia: people are beginning to understand that beers are separated into ale and lager, not light and dark; and that there's more money to be made by selling a Duvel at $5.00 than a Rolling Rock at $2.50.
We all want to give our customers something special at our establishment -- whether it's decor, service, concept, or food. Why not apply that standard to the beer list, as well?
Balance your list by offering a variety of styles, as you would with your wine or liquor list. You offer salads, meats, fowl, and pasta for the different tastes and moods of your customers. Offer them pale ales, fruit beers, wheat beers and stouts for the same reasons. Try taking advantage of the array of beers available in 220z. or 750ml. bottles, which gives parties the opportunity to share, making for a more social and memorable dining experience. And give your customers the same quality of beer choices as you give them with your food.
The decision is yours, so why not give a few new beers a try -- given the low cost of even the world's finest beers, isn't it worth taking a chance on something special?
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