As I mentioned in the last Round-Up, last Friday was my girlfriend Irene’s birthday. We celebrated by going to an amazing restaurant that we had heard excellent things about. When we had arrived I was not at all surprised by the lack of a beer menu or even the inclusion of a beer list in the wine menu, that’s pretty par for the course.
I asked my server what beer choices they offered and after the obligatory St. Louis selection he then began listing their craft selection. New Belgium, Boulevard, Schlafly, and a couple of the standard Belgian choices. I was completely deflated. Here I was in one of the best restaurants in St. Louis and these were their choices for beer? It felt like the beer choices were an afterthought and not something chosen to compliment the cuisine.
Bill and I have had the wine/beer debate for quite some time and for the most part I agree with him. Wine still has the perception of being a more upscale drink than beer, which is normally viewed as the beverage of the working man. Wine can be sold for a much higher profit margin, especially when sold by the glass, than beer which makes it more attractive to restaurateurs.
Some of the things in beer’s favor is that it has less of a footprint and therefore requires less storage space than wine. You’re usually only opening one 12oz bottle at a time so there is no need for quality control concerns (unless the beer isn’t selling.) Not to mention that draught beer also provides a mighty mark-up if you have the space and the equipment to do so.
So given some of it’s upsides why is it that restaurateurs and chefs don’t put more effort in choosing the beers that they offer in their restaurant? If you were to visit a world class restaurant and ordered a cup of coffee, would you be unhappy if they served you Folgers? If you ordered a mixed drink would you be OK with them using Popov? Of course not, you expect more out of a restaurant like this. So why is it OK for beer to get the shaft?
I fully understand that (especially in St. Louis) you’re never going to get away from serving beers from the big boys. People love their light lager and when they order a beer, they better have their go-to. I also understand that there is always going to be limited shelf space because of the smaller mark-up that beer has compared to it’s cousin wine. But if you’re going to offer a selection of beer, why can’t the beers that aren’t from the big boys be something that offers your customers some intriguing flavors and aromas that will help to compliment your food? Why should the beer choices be so blasé?
If it’s just a matter of education all you need to do is find a local beer nerd, we’ll be more than happy to talk your ear off about beer and help put together a beer menu to be proud of. If it’s a concern that the beer won’t sell then maybe it’s a matter of educating your staff or even providing a beer menu! There is no reason that you have to have the same old beer choices as everyone else, you just have to take the first step and make it right.
(If you haven’t figure it out by now I’m being very ambiguous about the restaurant we went to on Friday night. I really liked the place and don’t really want to trash it. But this post is really directed at all restaurants who want to hold their food and wine selections to a very high caliber but don’t do the same for beer. )