Creating an exciting environment supported by an enthusiastic, well-trained wait staff often is all it takes to motivate the casual diner to trade up from a domestic premium to a craft or import purchase. In the face of the lousy economy, operators have become very creative.
“They understand that it’s important to provide an elevated experience, particularly when it may be more difficult for people to decide to go out for the evening,” says Steve Ward, vice president of national accounts for Heineken USA. When they do venture out, consumers expect more, he says. Presenting beer in the right glassware can provide the added touch.
Visuals also are effective. Ward speaks of a Dos Equis program that was started on a limited basis with the On the Border Mexican Grill & Cantina chain. “We provided them with a variety of authentic P.O.S. materials from Mexico,” he says. “Items like salt and pepper shakers in seven-ounce Dos Equis bottles, vinyl Dos Equis branded table covers and authentic Mexican cantina point of sale.” It was so successful, they rolled it out system-wide to their more than 160 units.
That helped impress upon customers that On the Boarder offers an authentic Mexican dining experience. “It also opened the door to trading up. Dos Equis is a higher margin imported brand,” Ward continues. “We’ve seen that the right kind of signage that fits in with your proposition works really well.”
The visibility of an effective P.O.S. program can remind the wait staff to suggest the trade-up opportunity to diners. “People might not be as inclined to order a bottle of wine with their meal as they once were,” says Ward. “But a brown ale will accompany a cheese or spicy dish very well. There’s a big opportunity there.”
Indeed, large-format bottles of high-end beer can be positioned as a cost-effective alternative to wine for diners on a budget. A large-format import or craft beer fetches between $20 and $25 a bottle. This is far less than what consumers pay for many wines.
“You’ll go to a restaurant and pay $40 for a crappy bottle of wine, but people will balk at paying $25 for a fantastic 750ml bottle of beer,” adds Dave Alexander, owner of two Washington, D.C. watering holes, The Brickskeller and RFD (Regional Food & Drink). “So you have to crack that nut of quality perception by explaining that you’re getting a great value for your money. The flavor profile of some of these beers is astonishing.”
In the end, it is all about enhancing the experience for the casual diner—even those counting their pennies. “I was talking to some licensees at the recent Cheers conference,” says Beaumont. “Many customers are passing on the wine list because of finances. So instead of that $50 bottle, they’re selling two $7 or $8 glasses.”
This is where innovative operators can lead their customers in another direction by suggesting a large-format, high-end beer. “You just say, ‘Here’s a high-end beer you can get for half the price of that bottle of wine,’” explains Beaumont. “Same quantity and, in many cases, same alcohol content. But it generates higher revenues and higher profits. People are finding that for a lot less than they’d pay for a bottle of wine, they’re having fun discovering.”