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The craft brewery game has rocketed onto the scene over the past decade. It was once a small industry catering to devoted fans and hop heads. It’s now a scene with multiple breweries in every major city all specializing in new brews.
How are you supposed to craft brewery menu ideas that stand out?
Tapping some newfound innovation is easier said than done for any bar or restaurant — especially true in the somewhat niche, entirely over-crowded brewery space.
You can make it happen though. You’ve got the entire culinary world and history of brewing at your fingertips for ideating menu items. You can draw from all types of cuisine for beer and food ingredients.
Just make sure that, along with fitting your brewery brand, your menu balances profitability and popularity. Here are some brewery menu ideas that can help you crack up some success.
Engineer your brewery menu to balance popularity with profitability
Your various brewery menu ideas should balance offering something unique and delicious with priming your bottom line.
This balance is obtainable for all brewery concepts — whether serving just beer in-house, in-house and take away, layering on food, or offering additional beverages.
Here are three high-level ideas to help you mash together popularity and profitability throughout your brewery menu items:
1. Master the basics
Your beer has to be delicious. Your food has to be delicious. Your brewery experience should always be on point. These are the basics you have to get right.
For the beer, many breweries have a stable of three to five beers that are always on tap. These should be workhorses for both popularity and profitability. Popularity because these are more or less permanent, dedicated taps. Profitability because how often these beers will be ordered can pad your overall margin and support more adventurous, costly brews.
2. Build customizations into your menu
It’s critical that you’re able to squeeze extra margin out of your menu items. Customizations, such as modifiers and add-ons, are a great tool for this. If you’re controlling the food at your brewery, think strategically about low-cost sides and modifiers that customers will want to add onto existing menu items.
It’s not quite as straightforward for your beers but still perfectly applicable. A couple of options may include offering pitchers, half-pours, and especially flights. You could also consider growlers and crowlers as modifiers, assuming you can support beer to-go.
3. Calculate your costs
Whether you’re keeping it classic with straightforward lagers or adding all the hops you can pack, costing your beers is essential. This includes all the ingredients that go into your final product — even the cans and bottles if you’re doing to-go.
Your ability to achieve accurate costing depends on how consistently and accurately you record your ingredient prices. This process starts with processing your supplier invoices, which is where your ingredient costs live. Restaurant invoice automation platforms, such as xtraCHEF by Toast, digitize your invoices and capture critical pricing details from your invoices.
If you want to open a food business that’s part prepared dishes, part grocery store, with the occasional sandwich and maybe some coffee, this is the roadmap for you.
Effective brewery menu examples
Partner up with local purveyors
If you’re looking to expand your customer base, consider partnering with some adjacent purveyors. You could market which distillery or winery the barrels came from for an upcoming barrel-aged beer. Or you could look to condition a special release with coffee, chocolate, or any other number of ingredients. This opens you up to a new community and audiences.
Hill Farmstead in Greensboro Bend, VT released a barrel-aged stout notedly conditioned with coffee from Coffee Collective.
Scarcity can make things interesting
Scarcity and exclusivity can be a great ally for your brewery menu. Whether it’s artificial scarcity or dictated by growing seasons and other yearly patterns, you can drum up interest in an annual or semi-annual brewery menu item release.
Once a year, Jester King Craft Brewery, in Austin, TX, throws their customer base into a tizzy with the release of their raspberry sour, Atrial Rubicite.
Nail your food so to not distract from the brew
Not all breweries need to offer food. That’s totally up to you as a business and should not be taken lightly. There’s a ton that goes into serving delicious food every day. It’s an entirely separate business from running a brewery. So if you are going to jump in and serve food from a kitchen at your brewery, make sure it’s delicious and desirable.
TailGate Brewery in Nashville, TN dishes out a delicious menu of bar food classics that all pair well with a few pints.
Bring in a food truck (or two) to pair with your brews
If you opt out of managing food in-house, you can always bring in a local truck or restaurant to serve your beer drinkers. Just like with purveyors, this can be a great way to extend your reach to a new audience. And there’s little to no risk to you as the brewery. Find an agreement that work for all parties, give it a shot, and reap the benefits or reassess if necessary.
St. Elmo Brewing Co in Austin, TX has Spicy Boyz Fried Chicken dishing out a delectable menu from their food trailer permanently placed in the St. Elmo beer garden.
Think outside the brew
Breweries are going to attract beer drinkers at face value. And perhaps there’s room to tap into non-beer drinkers by simply offering a few different adult beverages. Shandies are an obvious choice. Hard seltzers are still well in their moment. Wine is a classic for a reason. And spritzes are a great way to level up your standard table wines.
Alvaro Brewing in Sacramento, CA serves a bubbly blueberry spritz as one of many accommodations for non-beer drinkers.
Make it easy for folks to take you with them
You’re in a unique position as a brewery. It’s not necessarily a single transaction like a restaurant or bar. You’re able to sell beers for consumption on site as well as off site. Take advantage of this with strategically placed coolers so your customers can easily grab a six-pack or some speciality cans and bottles on the way out.
Caldera Brewing in Ashland, OR keeps a cooler stocked with six-packs for customers looking to take beer away.
Make it your own
Just like any other eating or drinking establishment, your brewery has the potential to be a neighborhood watering hole. Add to that the added benefit of manufacturing special beers that drives local and regional customers, and you can have a formula for success.
Your brewery menu obviously plays a huge role in your success. Make sure your managing costs, nailing your brand, and hitting on all the food, beverage, and events that keep your customers coming back week in and week out.