PORTLAND -- Beer was in the air this morning at the Northwest Food Service show. Restaurant owners, servers, bartenders and a restaurant critic soaked up advice from Oregon brewers about how restaurants can boost their bottom lines with beer.
Here's the bottom line of the session, in the words of Jim Parker, publican of Oaks Bottom Public House: "Beer's a high-profit item."
Here's some more insight:
'Most people ask their distributors, 'What sells?'' Parker said. "My philosophy has always been to go to my distributor and say, 'What can't you sell? I'm going to make them drink it."
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Parker refuses to sell Oregon flagship beers. It's not because he doesn't enjoy Widmer Hef or BridgePort IPA or Mirror Pond. It's because all the taps in town look alike.
"Beer can be a selling point," Parker said. "It creates excitement. It makes people come back."
Hold regular beer tastings for service staff.
"Servers don't have to get a Ph.d in beer talk," Parker said. "Describe beer like people. I'm a bald, goofy guy. You can figure out its personality one or two sips: Hoppy. Pale. Floral. Dark. Chocolatey. You don't have to become a beer expert."
But, he noted, "If servers are beer experts, tips go up."
Tastings also raise staff morale, said Jamie Floyd, brewer at Ninkasi Brewing Company in Eugene. Floyd, who was a brewpub chef at Steelhead for 10 years, holds beer tastings and food-and-beer pairing sessions for culinary students at the community college in Eugene.
For restaurant owners and managers who want to know more about the beer they buy, contact the brewers, Floyd said.
"You're the customer," he said. "The people you're buying products from owe you an explanation about that product."
Restaurants slap their labels on wine. Floyd recommends putting your name on someone else's brew. He does it for restaurants, and even gives them a price break. It's all about building relationships and cross promotion, Floyd said.
(At this point in my note-taking I drifted away, thinking of the South Sound restaurants with contract-brewed house beers: Rosewood Cafe, Trackside Pizza and Paddy Coyne's.)
Floyd then told the story of how Portland chef Greg Higgins had his staff peel hundreds of pounds squash while collaborating with Hair of the Dog brewery on its squash beer, named Greg.
(At this point in my note-taking I drifted away, thinking of the pint of Greg I'd enjoyed with Higgins' buttermilk donuts with lemon verbena ice cream last night, but more on that later.)
SHOT OF CLASS
Position beer like youposition wine. Make a nice menu. If you use beer in any of your dishes, note that on the menu. Make food-and-beer pairing suggestions.
"It's a lot easier to upsell beer than wine," Floyd said. "A couple of glasses of beer cost as much as a glass of wine. For the working class, that upsell is easier."
Smaller serving sizes, from 8 to 10 ounces, let diners try different beers with different courses.
"It's difficult to get people off the perceived quantity of a pint," Parker said. However, "You can make more money off of a glass than a pint."
Twenty-two-ounce bottles also offer variety over multiple courses. Diners are more inclined to share three $12 bottles of beer than three bottles of $30 wine.
As Parker said: "More variety, bigger profit, customers learn more."
"Brewers are rock stars to beer fans," Parker said. He suggests inviting brewers to your restaurants for tastings and beer dinners.