Mmm… beer

Redcat_Engage.inddA dedicated beer list can do wonders for your business. Ben Canaider shows you how to built the perfect beer list.

The worst thing in the world is a scared customer. If they are scared then they tend to put in orders like: “I’ll just get a glass of the house chardonnay, thanks…” or “Can we just get the antipasto—to share…” (I could go on here about the complete lack of vocabularic imagination shown by customers when ordering—all that ‘get’ stuff—but I won’t…). If they are scared they tend to spend very little amounts of money. And restaurants need customers to spend very big amounts of money. The worst scared customer is the one who scans the beer taps and orders the bog-standard draught. Or dismisses the drinks list with a peremptory wave of the hand and says “just a VB thanks darl/mate…” But just as wine lists and their clever construction and use have added to the healthier bottom line of many eating establishments, so too can a beer list contribute in a positive fiscal way to your business. Beers ain’t beers.

Before we consider how a dedicated and well-built beer list can be put together, we need to understand why such a thing can exist in the first place.

Over the past 15 years beer has undergone a massive, almost generational change in Australia. From being very parochial and tribal beer drinkers, committed unquestionably to the beers of our state or, as in Tasmania’s case, the beers of the north or the south of the state (and never the twain shall meet), we’ve become more informed and curious beer connoisseurs. The beer market has reflected this.

The standard, sessional beer base—things like VB, XXXX and Tooheys Red—has remained at a stable sales level, but it hasn’t really grown. The growth has been in the premium beer market, and of late, the imported beer market. One theory is that people now want to drink less (even if they, in practise, don’t) and they want to drink better. And by better we mean more expensive. Whether you get what you pay for in the world of premium beer is another matter, of course…

Premium and imported beers also lend to their end users (as the beer companies call their customers) the cachet and kudos of the beer they are sipping. Just in the way that Melbourne Bitter drinkers think they are more grown up than VB drinkers, so too do Heineken drinkers imagine they have more sophisticated and mature tastes than Beck’s guzzlers. Restaurant and bar owners don’t need to care about the psychology and sociology of this condition, of course; they just need to understand that VB is going over the bar for $4.50, while Heineken is making the same trip at $6.50-plus. Making people trade up to a premium beer is one of the roles of the beer list, which is why such a list needs to be treated with some care and intelligence. Yes, so now it is time to build the perfect beer list.

Treating beer like wine isn’t a bad way to do this. And it should be a dedicated beer list. You might run it on the opening pages of the wine list or put it in a folder all on its own, but the format shouldn’t stray too far from the wine list concept.

One approach within this confine is to set out a range of beers in terms of their weight and drinkability. Just as the lighter white wines might come first on the wine list, before getting to the heavier, solid reds, the more gentle lagers would be listed before stouts. Of course, a regional approach could also be interesting, with beers from many and varied beer-producing countries listed, but the expense of putting together and maintaining such a list would be prohibitive. And that’s why I like the former option. It means you can still include a few international beers, but you’re not over-capitalising in the list.

Including such information in the beer list, like country of origin or style of beer, can also help the customer feel like they are learning something without being told. It is a very implicit and clever way of making people feel informed and knowledgeable. General notes under each section of the beer list can also help trade people up. For instance, under the general sub-heading ‘Pilsners’, a line or two about what pilsners actually are would help, for example, “A style of lager originally from Bohemia (now in the Czech Republic), with a stronger hop aroma and flavour, and a very dry finish”. Similarly brief notes might even accompany each beer. It all depends how posh you want to make it. You could even include some beer-food matching suggestions…

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