No matter the time of year, locale, or your state of being, there’s a beer for that. And summer is all about celebrating with beer.
Winter beers tend to boast higher alcohol content, heavier flavor profile, and bigger body. But when the temperatures rise, “a lot of people start to move toward pilsners, saisons, gose, and other light-beer styles,” says John Couture, owner of Bier Station in Kansas City, the Midwest’s first craft beer tasting bar/bottle shop.
During the 15 weeks between Memorial Day and Labor Day last year, beer and malt beverage sales topped $11 billion, according to Andrea Riberi, senior vice president at global consumer research firm Nielsen. For restaurants and bars with a strong beer component, summer presents a great opportunity to boost business. Here are five ideas.
1) Embrace the outdoors.
One of the best parts of drinking anything in the summer is doing it in the great outdoor. “If it’s sunny, everyone wants to be outside,” says Renee Rankignacio, director of marketing at McMenamin’s, which operates more than 50 establishments—including pubs, breweries and hotels—in Oregon and Washington.
McMenamin’s locations include patios that incorporate flowers and plants so people will want to linger and order another beer. Many of the patios are adjacent to larger lawn areas that encourage outdoors games for adults and children.
“We try to make our patios amazing spaces for communities to gather,” says Rankignacio. “As night falls, we have outdoor wood-burning fire pits so that people can hang out and meet their neighbors.”
If you don’t have a patio or rooftop deck, there are other ways to try to pull people outside to enjoy the weather.
“We do a lot of outdoor events, like a bike ride sponsored by New Belgium that ends at Bier Station, or getting a Mexican street food truck in for Cinco do Mayo,” Couture says. “We use our parking lot when there are vehicles involved, as well as taking some events both upstairs and downstairs.”
He’s also celebrated dog lovers with a gourmet dog food truck, has quarterly rare bottle raffles (using limited-run bottles from favorite distributors), offered cookie/beer pairings, and once even hosted a Cards Against Humanity tournament in collaboration with Springfield, MO-based Mother’s Brewing.
Smorgasbar is a pop-up food court and bar operating through the summer at Jones Beach in Wantagh, NY. Eric Demby of Brooklyn Flea, the parent to Smorgasbar, says the bar’s landscaped concession area is outfitted with ping-pong tables, badminton, and bocce ball.
The bar at Smorgasbar offers four beers on tap, all priced at $6 and served in compostable cups. These include two local brews (Green Port Harbor Brewing Co. Pale Ale and Southampton Publick House Double White Ale), tying into the trend toward local and craft brews, and two other popular beers that have a strong national draw (such as a Genessee Cream Ale, or Brooklyn-based Six Point Crisp Lager).
Smorgasbar emphasizes the local connections of its beer, even posting signs outside the tent saying simply, “L.I. Beer.” Once people enter the tent, Demby says, they tend to buy beer—and then they come back for more.
2) Make it a family affair.
One way to get more people to enjoy beers in your establishment this summer is to make it family-friendly. “So many professionals love fine things and still want to experience what their single friends do, but they have to bring their kids in tow,” says Jason Burton, owner of Kansas City-based artisan beverage marketing firm The Lab. “That’s something Stone Brewing Co. in San Diego does exceptionally well—they have a welcoming outdoor space that offers privacy and great people watching,” Burton says.
Stone Brewing Co. offers a wide range of table sizes for large and small families, incuding sizeable outdoor space. Staff members are friendly and accommodating to guest requests for items like high chairs.
Similar to McMenamin’s, Stone Brewing Co.’s innovative landscaping makes for plenty of entertainment for big and little folks. Fountains, streams, and bridges wind through the space, which includes a pond with lilypads.
Portland, OR, brewpub Hopworks BikeBar offers a family-friendly experience indoors. The pub includes a toy kitchen, books, blocks, and other interactive toys to amuse children while their parents enjoy a stein of the brewery’s offerings, such as Totally Radler ($4.75).
3) Mix it up with radlers and Randalling.
Speaking of Radlers, the European custom of mixing beer with fruit juice, lemonade or soda is gaining momentum in the U.S. The classic Radler is “an emerging style that people get really excited about,” says Couture. What’s more, a Radler is less than 3% ABV, so it’s “low alcohol, very refreshing, and men and women both like it,” he notes.
Burton concurs. “I’m seeing a change in the industry to lower ABV beers, and I think those work really well in the summer months because you’re consuming more and people are drinking in outdoor social settings.”
Breweries are doing a better job of experimenting with citrus and not just hops in summer beers, Burton notes. The American palate typically enjoys something refreshing with citrus notes, regardless of the region.
Randalling is another new trend that can be easy to try and fun to experiment with, says An Bui, owner of Mekong, a Vietnamese restaurant and craft beer bar in Richmond, VA, that was voted Craftbeer.com’s Best Beer Bar in America. Randalling involves using a device that hooks between the keg and the tap handle; beer is pulled through the chosen ingredients to extract their flavor. “We’ve been working with local breweries to get some nice tart Berliner Weisse so we can play with randalling,” Bui says.
Couture has been experimenting with randalling too, even planting a garden on-premise with a couple varieties of hops and lots of herbs ranging from basil to lemongrass. This past spring, Bier Station did a randalling experiment—a Duvel Belgian golden ale with basil and peppercorns. “The entire keg was gone within a day,” Couture says.
Bui invented his own device for randling, while Couture uses one called a Hop Rocket, which is available on Amazon.com for $143.99. Local brewing stores should be able to offer tips and advice on installation and use. And online forums provide some vigorous discussion threads on the topics of randalling and randalizers.
Not that you need fancy gear for flavor experimentation.At McMenamin’s, customers like to mix their draft beers at will, coming up with wild combinations like the Rubinator, which is a mix of raspberry Ruby Ale and Terminator Stout, Rankignacio says.
“That just naturally happened at our places and people started coming up with their own mixes—we encouraged it,” he notes. “People are having fun with it just like our brewers, who make over 200 recipes of beer every year.”
4) Build a better beer cocktail.
Mixed drinks incorporating beer can be a hit with guests. Burton points out that since cocktails with ice are colder than beer, they can be more refreshing in the summer.
One classic cocktail with a beer-inclusive twist is the Belgian Blood and Sand ($8) at Scotch & Soda in Springfield, MO. It’s made with Scotch, orange, sweet vermouth, and a sour cherry ale. Or there’s the Sunshine Boulevard ($7.50) from frozen cocktail bar Snow & Co. Artful Frozen Cocktails in Kansas City. The cocktail combines beer, orange juice, vodka, and lemon juice.
As with many recipe creations, the sky’s the limit with beer cocktail experimentation. Learning basic cocktail bar techniques, trying out multiple recipes, and substituting one ingredient at a time will bring solid results.
Burton notes that gin and IPAs tend to go well together as a starting point for experimentation. The refreshing herbal and citrus flavor profiles of the two beverages make for great summer drinks. (See the Summer Snifter recipe above.)
Think about how each ingredient mirrors or opposes the nature of the beer used in the cocktail and modify accordingly. You also want to give the cocktail an inviting, fun name and don’t be afraid to tweak it as it’s served.
5). Offer unique summer promotions.
Buffalo Wild Wings tied into the World Cup this summer by offering beers with global reach. Budweiser was the official World Cup sponsor, so Buffalo Wild Wings chose the lager for its domestic beer, while imported beers Corona or Modelo Especial tied into the soccer theme. Heineken was the other selected beer, and its global presence helped spark more discussions on soccer and global culture.
“We definitely choose our promotions to whatever is current or matches the lifestyle of our guests,” says Patrick Kirk, director of beverage innovation for the 840-unit casual dining chain. The beers were featured in Buffalo Wild Wing’s social media coverage and promoted with interactive pieces in the restaurants, on its website, and prominently on the menu.
In general, Kirk says, “we tend to choose lighter beer in the summer, working closely with the brewers and distributors to see what assets they have that we can use in our restaurants. We try not to do all the heavy lifting—our partners help us identify the opportunities.”
Rankignacio agrees. Talk to the people brewing the beers, “and learn from them what makes the beers unique and how can you help sell those flavor profiles.”
McMenamin’s plans to feature different beers at Happy Hour prices ($3.75 for a pint vs. $4.75, and $6.75 vs. $8 for the six-beer brewery taster tray) all day every day in July, which is Oregon Craft Beer Month.
6). Pair to be different.
Unique food pairings are another fun way to encourage beer sales while expanding your customer’s palates. For instance, Bier Station did a spring event with New Belgium’s head brewer that paired sour beer with deviled eggs and smoked trout.
Beer dinners are another way to get customers interested in specific brews or styles. But Burton cautions that beer dinners aren’t as popular in the summer months because there are “too many things for people to choose from for families, with parks and plays and sports and vacations.” Beer-pairing dinners can be successful, he notes, “but the prices are high for consumers, and they’ve been done a few years now, so they’ve lost their coolness and newness.”
No matter the season, “a restaurant beer program won’t be successful unless you have two things: a good personality and a real understanding of craft beer from a consumer standpoint,” Burton says. For example, “people want to see a constant rotation of tap handles, and lots of easy information on the beers. Many guests want to take a minute to gather information on styles, ABV, brewery, etc., without having to hold up the line by asking the bartender.Keep in mind that effective beer promotion isn’t about one or two big things, Burton says, “it’s about lots of little things, active social media and website, good connection with customers, and giving them what they need.”