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R&IEditorial Archives2004 — May 1 — Beverage

Pitcher Perfect
Draft beers supplement bottles in sales and customer appeal.

Times Square Brewery hires only experienced bartenders and holds weekly training and tasting sessions.

To please all beer lovers, operators should stock draft and bottled brews. Each has an audience and both can co-exist in profitable harmony. At Beer Belly’s in Milwaukee, draft outsells bottled beer two to one, says Owner Ralph DiChristopher, a 27-year veteran of the bar/restaurant business. “For some reason, this city is big on draft, not bottles,’’ he says.

Why tap outsells bottles comes down to appearance, he theorizes. “A draft beer with a strong head in a nice, clean pint looks better than a bottle,” says DiChristopher.

The key to success in beer sales is controlling costs, knowing sales figures, barrel yields and what sells and what doesn’t. Beer, especially draft, requires strict attention to inventory to be profitable.

“Keep counts [of bottles and half-barrels] daily, weekly and monthly,” he advises. His 7-year-old operation runs nine taps and seven choices in bottles. Younger customers, ages 21 to 25, prefer bottles, probably influenced by popular media and ads, he says. Draft beer is offered only in pints to save on glassware storage. On an average day bartenders sell 197 drafts versus 90 bottles.

Improper holding temperatures pose the biggest threat to draft sales. “Beer that’s too warm foams up. Money goes down the drain,’’ says DiChristopher, who keeps his operation’s draft between 36F and 38F.

He maximizes profits on draft brews by knowing the yield from a half-barrel (195 to 205 pints) and watching costs ($60 per half-barrel). With strict controls, he maintains total beverage costs (soda, beer, liquor, wine) at 23%. “I’ve learned the hard way that when you don’t do inventory, you lose money,’’ he says. DiChristopher’s taps and bottles are priced competitively, and he authorizes employees to offer free beers to regulars who spend $20 or more a week. Hospitality is his edge, he says.

Chain reaction
Bennigan’s Irish American Grill & Tavern has a simple policy about taps and bottles: They offer both types of beer. But the company mandates 20 choices in bottles to four taps, or eight taps to 30 bottles.

“It depends on location and size of the unit,’’ says Jim Barnett, director of beverages for parent Metromedia Restaurant Group of Plano, Texas. Beer sales represent 10% of total restaurant sales, and draft beer accounts for 70% of beer sales. “Pricing draft is a challenge,” he says. “We compete with other chains, not independents who can discount beer [whenever they want].’’

At Independence Brew Pub in Philadelphia, beer accounts for 25% of total revenues, with draft 80% of those sales.

Bennigan’s sells draft in two sizes: 16 ounces and 25 ounces. “In pricing tap beer, we try to stay under the $3 mark. We want to be positioned as a premium beer seller yet offer value,’’ says Barnett.

Draft beer is sold in pints and as flights (five 5-ounce glasses) at Times Square Brewery in New York City. “It’s easier to control inventory with a fixed number of bottles, but draft sales have better profit margins,” says Scott Carney, general manager.

He also finds draft more challenging from an operations standpoint. “There are more variables. You lose beer with a dirty line, inconsistent temperature of barrels, a badly tapped barrel or an inexperienced bartender,’’ he says. The operation hires only experienced bartenders and holds weekly training and tasting sessions.

Attention to detail
Everybody’s Pizza, a 27-year-old storefront restaurant in Atlanta, draws locals and regulars with its beer selection and crusty pizzas. The operation’s competitive edge in a neighborhood of 20 bar/restaurants is its variety of imported draft beers. Of 16 draft choices, only four are domestic. Everybody’s also offers 13 choices in bottles, mostly domestic.

“Atlanta customers love domestic beer, that’s what makes our beer menu different,’’ says Brian Thomas, kitchen manager. The operation’s general manager prides himself on being a beer fanatic and a stickler for detail, Thomas says.

House inventory includes six styles of glasses and mugs, and each beer is served in its appropriate glass, with the name of the beer printed on it. Glassware includes both American (16 ounces) and English (20 ounces) pints; classic Pilsner glasses; and a special design for German Weiss bier. Bartenders are responsible for washing all specialty glasses.

There’s a bonus to offering a variety of glasses, Thomas says. Beer companies often supply them free, and customers respond positively to them. With support from distributors, the restaurant on occasion offers two-for-one beer glassware promotions. One recent evening bartenders gave away three cases of Pilsner glasses. “They make the beer look special, which boosts sales,’’ he adds.

On a busy Friday night, beer revenues can amount to $400.

“If you get the servers to talk up the featured beer, you can double sales.”

Gleam Machine

To maintain spotless pints, bartenders at Independence Brew Pub in Philadelphia wash their own glasses at the bar. two three-compartment sinks are outfitted with electric brushes, clean/rinse solutions and disinfectant. Bartenders wash as many as three glasses in eight seconds, which then are allowed to air dry.

“Clean glasses sell beer,’’ says Chief Operations Officer Tom Greene. About 25% of total sales are beer. Draft constitutes 80% of those sales.

Beer Bites

Move over, wings and chips. Improved bar food helps beer sales.

“People linger longer if there’s something good to eat,’’ says Jim Barnett, director of beverages for Bennigan’s Irish American Grill & Tavern, a concept of Metromedia Restaurant Group, Plano, Texas. The company is watching its Texas locations, where a new bar-food menu is in operation.

Business nearly doubles on Fridays when fish fry is offered at Beer Belly’s in Milwaukee. A varied menu and daily specials reach families, locals, seniors and tourists, says Ralph DiChristopher, owner of the 100-seat restaurant. Burgers exist with specials such as baby back ribs, crab legs and prime rib. Food represents 56% of total sales, he says.

When Tom Greene in January took over management of Independence Brew Pub in Philadelphia, the chief operations officer asked customers what they wanted. Quality in beer and food, they responded. Greene pared handcrafted brews to five from eight and expanded the menu to attract diners and beer lovers. He uses fresh filet mignon instead of frozen rib-eye for Philly steak sandwiches. He added entrée salads, a choice of five “gourmet burgers” and five individual pizzas. Since opening in March 2003, total sales have grown by 8%. Annual sales in 2003 were $2.5 million, with about 52% from food. Average check is $17.

When Times Square Brewery in New York City moved to a new location in February, the 7-year-old operation changed its focus from brewpub to brewery restaurant. Tablecloths arrived. So did imported china.

The menu explains the $25 average guest check. It includes three types of fresh oysters, onion soup with sherry, 10-ounce burgers, steak sandwiches on rosemary Focaccia, turkey on sourdough with red-onion jam, and appetizers such as gratin of chopped spinach with toasted pita chips.

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