There’s no denying that Americans love beer, and what they are really loving right now are craft and import beers. In 2016’s $107.6 billion beer market, craft beer sales grew 6.2 percent and import beer sales grew 6.8 percent, according to a report from the Brewers Association. With imported beer’s growth now outpacing craft beer’s, it only makes sense to take advantage of the trend. Hosting a themed dinner night that pairs ethnic food with its respective beer can attract guests hungry for new experiences, new foods, and new beers.
Choose a theme
If you run a restaurant that’s a natural fit for imported beers—such as Mexican, Japanese, German, etc.—half the work is already done. Choose a theme that makes sense with the restaurant’s brand, but also allows for a menu that features several country-specific courses that pair with that country’s imported beer.
“For the most part, depending on the type of food the restaurant specializes in, beers from Belgium, Germany and the U.K. are the easiest beers to pair and sell,” says Morgan Herzog, owner of The Beer Junction, a Seattle-based beer bar and bottle shop where Belgian and German imports are most popular. “A wide variety of imports from all these countries are readily available in most parts of the United States, and they pair well with food from their respective countries,” he says.
Ember & Vine Woodfire Oven and Social Bar, located inside the DoubleTree by Hilton in Mars, Pennsylvania, planned a European beer dinner in February, pairing five courses of imported beer at a ticket price of $60 per person with menu items such as spätzle paired with the Bavarian Ayinger Brauweisse, gravlax paired with the Belgian Orval Trappist ale, and prime rib and Yorkshire pudding paired with Sam Smith’s Oatmeal Stout brewed in North Yorkshire, United Kingdom.
“We’ve done several craft brewery dinners but wanted to try a format that featured multiple labels instead of from the same brewery,” says Harry W. Siebert, director of restaurant operations for Ember & Vine. “I thought it would be interesting to add a geographical and multi-cultural component; the response has been great.”
At Mura, a sushi restaurant and bar in Raleigh, North Carolina, bar manager Greg Keeley says the restaurant’s Japanese beer dinner last October sold out the 70 tickets on offer. “We hosted a seven-course meal and offered five beers,” Keeley says of the Hitachino Nest Beer Dinner. Tickets were $75 and included pairings such as a dish of panko-fried smoked oysters, wasabi hollandaise, pickled cucumber-daikon salad, and red onion dust paired with Hitachino Nest Red Rice ale from Kiuchi Brewery in Japan.
Planning makes perfect
With a theme set, it is time to talk with the chef and beer distributor. “I’d suggest working with a local distributor that you already have a professional relationship with to assist with the marketing and planning phase,” Siebert says.
Keeley says the same, adding, “It is absolutely critical to find a responsive, excited, and engaging partner.” Keeley’s distributor, who was just as enthusiastic about the event as he was, helped in providing unique glassware for the dinner and planning the dinner’s menu by offering pairing advice. “We worked with our executive kitchen team to formulate a meal that would be both satisfying and unique,” Keeley says. “From there, we sat with our brewery partners to ensure the beer pairings were not only smart, but well-executed.”
Siebert advises operators to keep course numbers and guest counts in check. “Keep the guest count under 50 so that it still has an intimate appeal and have enough staff to deliver each course in a timely fashion.” Beer dinners can lead to a lot of food and drink consumption, so Siebert says it’s important to keep the timing at a decent pace. “I feel that four to five courses is perfect,” he says. “That will give value, but not overload your guests. Portion size needs to be that of a small plate, so that, by the third course, people are still awake. The pour size should be about 5 ounces. This will also keep the crowd engaged and not over-served by the last course.”
Scoring a ‘sold out’
The final step is selling tickets to the beer dinner. For an event ultimately about social engagement, this is where social media comes in handy. “If someone ‘likes’ the ad, then someone on property should reach out and try to get the reservation booked,” Siebert says. “It’s important to fill the seats because most people attending these events are in it for the social interaction. If you’re lacking reservations, fill the seats with clients or friends and family. These [dinners] are not usually huge profit makers, but more of an opportunity to gain exposure for your restaurant.”