Most restaurants start with the food, adding drinks that complement the menu. The Brass Tap is just the opposite. The upscale craft beer and wine bar, which boasts more than 300 beverage varieties, is adding a limited menu—in large part to crack markets that prohibit liquor-only establishments.

The Brass Tap’s corporate restaurants in Carrollwood and West Palm, Florida, are testing a prototype menu that chief development officer James Walker insists is all about the beer. “Our food program is designed 100 percent to support our beer program. Our priorities are beer and will always be craft beer.”

Based in Tampa, Florida, The Brass Tap was founded in 2007 and specializes in imported and craft beer, wine, and cigars; it currently has eight locations and franchise agreements for 32 additional locations. Depending on the results in the test restaurants, the menu could be extended across the chain’s footprint.

Menu development consisted largely of looking for “beer-friendly” food, even pairing beverage suggestions with each menu item. For example, the Premium Prime Rib Sandwich (with warm brie served on a toasted baguette) is a customer favorite already. Suggested pairings include a Belgian Dubbel, Scotch Ale, or Dry Stout.

The Gourmet Ham-N-Cheese Panini is served with chipotle mustard made with Pale Ale, and suggested pairings are IPA and Pale Ale.

The chain is also taking a page from upscale restaurants when it comes to training servers. “All of our servers and bartenders are trained to provide recommendations specific to the type of beer somebody might like paired with the food item they’re considering ordering,” says Walker. “While we suggest pairings on the menu, servers can go a step further and make a more specific recommendation to a customer who wants something a little off-menu.”

Other menu items include several kinds of pretzel-crust pizzas, Angus Beef burgers (one stuffed with goat cheese), and a hummus appetizer served with a “Peri Peri” sauce—described as a “spicy African bird’s eye chili pepper.” The brand is also serving a limited menu in several airport locations.

The menu itself is easy to execute, one of the obvious requirements for adding food to a beverage-focused concept. “You develop a menu that complements the beer program and then you develop a menu that is easy enough from an execution standpoint that you don’t take the operational focus off executing that premium beer experience,” says Walker.

About a month into operations at the two test restaurants, Walker notes that sales are in line with what the company expected. At the Carrollwood location, about 80 percent of revenue comes from beverage sales and 20 percent from food.

“We’re not adding food necessarily because we feel there’s a need from an economic standpoint,” says Walker. “This could be viewed as a service to customers as well as allowing us to penetrate markets where food is a requirement.” States that bar liquor-only establishments include Virginia and Maryland.

Walker keeps several things in mind when adding food to a location: Not to detract from the core purpose of selling beer, great food, and keeping things operationally simple. “Those are the three things that need to be top of mind as we continue to roll out this program.”

Beverage, Casual Dining, Chain Restaurants, Feature