Carolina Ale House’s revamped beverage menu—with a dedication to local and craft beers, more wine options, and new mixed drinks—is generating buzz in unexpected venues. The sports-themed restaurant concept garnered a VIBE Vista Best Menu Design award at the 2014 VIBE conference, a forum for top executives of on-premise beverage programs.
The new beverage menu design rolled out in 2013, a part of Carolina Ale House’s efforts to elevate its bar program throughout its 23 locations. The majority of its restaurants are located in North Carolina, where it is headquartered, with additional locations in South Carolina, Georgia, Texas, and Florida. LM Restaurants owns the concept.
The revamped beverage program introduces guests to new beers, including a 30 percent mix of local and craft beers, blended beers, and beer flights, as well as a 22-ounce mug option. Individual stores can choose which local breweries they want include in the draft mix.
In an effort to widen its demographic appeal, in particular to women, Carolina Ale House also reworked its wine and cocktail offerings.
“Because we are mainly an ale house, we were primarily focused on beer,” says Mindy Stroup, LM Restaurants corporate communications manager. “We hadn’t really put an emphasis on wines. We went through a focus group process and developed this new program to provide good-tasting wines at a good value to our guests.”
Wines are sold by the glass at a price point of $5 for house brands and $7 for premium brands.
In addition, Carolina Ale House debuted a cocktail program spotlighting new specialty mixed drinks.
“We wanted to have fun, so the cocktails recognize sports team in the area where the restaurant is located,” Stroup explains. “Here in the the Raleigh area, for example, we have three colleges, so we have the Tarheel Tart for University at North Carolina, the Howlin’ Wolf for North Carolina State, and the Blue Devil Delight for Duke University.
To promote the upgraded beverage program, which coinicides with a menu redesign, bartenders and wait staff participate in an intensive, two-phase training program. “The first phase is educating the bartenders and servers as to the goals of the program,” Stroup says. “We are now in the second phase, which is a server-incentive program. It includes how to promote to guests the larger mug size or the new cocktails.”
To bolster its new program to guests, Carolina Ale House will tap into American Craft Beer week, which runs May 12-18. The concept will extend the celebration for the entire month, using limited-time offers to educate guests about beverage offerings.
“As we roll into summer, it’s the perfect time to talk about beer and cocktail programs,” Stroup says.
By Joann Whitcher