Polished casual dining chain Firebirds Wood Fired Grill has introduced a customized local craft beer menu at all 42 locations. Local general managers can now choose what craft beers make sense for their region’s tastes, and change out selections based on the season.
“We don’t mandate craft beer styles, but focus on seasonality,” says Gerald Pulsinelli, vice president of wine and spirits for Charlotte, NC-based Firebirds. “So now we’re seeing a lot of celebration ales, porters stouts.”
The “Discover the Art of Craft” beer menus can change as often as the locations like, but typically it’s with the seasons. Craft beer is bigger in different markets than others, Pulsinelli says.
In many Firebirds locations, beer sales are 50% domestic big brands/imports, 50% craft, but in some markets it’s closer to 60% craft. Charlotte, NC, for instance, has nine different local craft breweries. Firebirds typically carries beers from at least three, including Olde Mecklenburg, Birdsong and NoDa.“We also carry some of the bigger craft players—New Belgium, Boston Beer, Magic Hat,” Pulsinelli adds.
Firebirds, which generates about 25% of its revenue from alcoholic beverages, has been promoting the craft brew offering with special menus in restaurants, says Stephen Loftis, the chain’s vice president of marketing. Servers had had extensive training so they can talk guests about the beer selection with confidence.
Training and staff education are important to the success of a craft beer program, Pulsinelli adds. Firebirds works with partners such as local brewers and distributors, who will come in and do a tasting and go over the particulars of a brew’s color and flavor profile with the staff.
When the first Firebirds opened in 2000, it focused more on wine and cocktails, Pulsinelli says. But the chain has been honing its focus on beer in the past two years to keep up with guest demand, and the Art of Craft menu is part of that.
“We started with six tap handles for beer,” he notes. “Now the average is eight at new locations, and new prototypes will have 10 taps.”