Signature beers create unique entry points into a restaurant for all types of guests, from regulars and craft brew connoisseurs to travelers and locals seeking one-of-a-kind experiences. Because these signature sips can only be enjoyed at specific locations, they funnel traffic, awareness, and profits while helping restaurants stay fresh and promote the best available locally. By leveraging partnerships and collaborations with breweries, operators can brew up signature beers that draw diners.
“When you partner with a local brewery, it’s another hook to bring people through the doors and [get them to] spend more money. … It’s a reason for someone to come in and enjoy their overall experience, then segue into other offerings we have at the restaurant,” says Keith Benjamin, cofounder and senior operating partner of Charleston, South Carolina’s Uptown Hospitality Group. “Travelers come to Charleston looking for the best food and the best beer, and when we bring that phenomenal local beer into our establishments with our own label, brewed locally, there’s really nothing like it.”
Uptown Hospitality worked with fellow Charleston business Brewlab to create three signature beers that were tailored to fit each concept’s vibe and menu. Uptown Social’s “cavernous tavern feel” had IPA vibes, Share House was very “social butterfly” as a coastal cantina, which meant a Mexican lager, and Bodega’s New York ambiance meant crafting a wheat beer.
Signature beers crafted through F&B community relationships offer exclusive and rare drinks and dishes for diners as well as marketing and traffic options for brewers and owners.
“[It’s] an opportunity to have something no one else has and no one else can have, so it’s a really good selling point where, at least at our spot, we’re like the TCBY of beer,” says Stetson Strifler, beverage manager at Austin, Texas–based Easy Tiger. “It generates that buzz and definitely helps with foot traffic.”
The beer garden/bakery saw an extra 25 guests the week it posted on Untappd (a beer social media platform) that its signature beers would be on draft. But gathering those surplus guests comes from building relationships within the brewing, bar, and taproom communities.
“Mostly these brewers are my friends,” Strifler says. “I know many of these guys and we have a special relationship because we worked together and saw each other all the time and drank beer when we got done.”
Partnership processes also begin with asking the right questions. Ask the guest, what do you want and need, and if your guests want something special or want to feel more special because they can only get that beer from you, consider moving forward, says Craig Barber, CEO of O’Charley’s and 99 Restaurants.
Barber adds that operators should ask themselves a number of questions: what kinds of beers diners like; who the local breweries are and how they can help; what the framework of the brand and menu looks like; and how restaurants can create that emotional connection through their beverage offerings.
All these, he says, invite consumers to spend their hard-earned dollars at your restaurant over others.
“We have great food, but now we have a signature beer: Underground Chuck’s, a signature offering that separates us and puts us in a different category,” Barber says. Underground Chuck’s is a light lager, created by Fat Bottom Brewing in O’Charley’s headquarters of Nashville, Tennessee. Its neutral palate complements the brand’s menu, which is filled with all-American eats like chicken tender nachos, ribs, and salmon.
Operators should check with breweries to see if they can handle the proper volume and flavors for your concept, says Cristina Suarez, beverage director at Kush Hospitality in Miami. Across its restaurant system, Kush goes through four to five kegs each week, and Suarez says maintaining inventory and using locally grown ingredients that are available year-round are essential to creating “that experience and good connection to your guest.”
Tropical-noted beers with year-round available fruits propelled Kush to partner with many rotating breweries and feature the best of what’s local in its Kaptain Kush series, Suarez says.
The lineup has included a strawberry IPA and guava pale ale with MIA Brewery (inspired by its guava jelly burger), pineapple hibiscus pale ale with Tripping Animals Brewing, and mango pale ale with Tank Brewery. The team has also worked on a signature coconut cream ale with Beat Culture, a tangerine lactose-treated blonde ale with Unbranded, and a hazy citrus IPA with Gulfstream.
Easy Tiger’s 36 taps have 24 on rotation that house hundreds of different beers. Nevertheless, two signature brews get love year after year: a helles lager called Easy with St. Elmo Brewing Company, and Shere Khan, a salted pecan stout, with Real Ale Brewing Company.
“It’s 99.9 percent their doing and we’re piggybacking since they can get label approval, licensing, facilities, and they make everything and the recipes,” Strifler says of Easy Tiger’s brewery collaborations.
Although some restaurants opt to do their own in-house brewing, the time and financial commitment of such an undertaking can be a serious deterrent for many operators. Plus, in these partnerships, the breweries handle equipment, licensing, and label approval, while also interfacing with state alcoholic beverage agencies.
That’s not to say restaurants don’t do their share of the hustle. “You’ve got to agree to how much they’re going to make and how much you’re going to buy … and that you can sell it,” Strifler says. “[Do] whatever you need to do marketing-wise or price point–wise. You don’t want to lose that relationship, so whatever you say you’re going to do, do it.”
Ultimately, securing collaborations can yield better profit margins, Barber says. Both restaurants and breweries are creating opportunities for more return visits and growing their respective customer base. Suarez echoes this sentiment.
“We’re collaborating with them, they’re making a cool beer for us, and we’re kind of scratching each other’s back,” she says. “They’re making it exclusively for us, so when our guests come in and they really love that beer, we’re like, ‘You can only get it here.’”