Red Robin is known for its burgers, its family-friendly atmosphere and its often creative approach to mixology. But the casual restaurant brand—with 528 locations in 43 states and Canada—wants to be more of a beer destination.
That’s why the $1.3 billion chain has updated its beverage menu to more prominently feature macro beer brands, national craft and local microbrews. A sleeker and less colorful logo adds “And Brews” to the tagline Red Robin Gourmet Burgers to get the point across.
Why the shift? For one thing, the chain’s signature menu item—the burger—is a perfect match with beer, especially all of the different styles of brews and brands available today.
As far as the overall strategy, “It’s about balance,” says president Denny Marie Post. “We want to meet the needs of more people and attract more customers of different demographics.”
Specifically, Red Robin wants to appeal to grown-ups, those likely to enjoy an adult beverage or two with their meal. While the chain will remain a family-friendly restaurant, Post says, the adults-only segment of diners is more recession-proof than others. Families tend to tighten household budgets during economic downswings, and one of the first expenses families eliminate is eating out, she notes.
Red Robin locations nationwide rolled out a “12 And 12” initiative at the end of 2015. The goal is for each restaurant to increase its draft brews from eight to at least 12 lines, as well as at least 12 total canned and bottled beers.
Post said that the number 12 is important: Red Robin’s research has found that offering a number of drafts or cans/bottles beyond 12 options results in diminishing returns. Sales remain about the same while product waste increases. “Twelve is the sweet spot for our brand,” Post says.
Red Robin locations have to balance the selection between the big, national beer brands with craft and local offerings. “Our beer mix is a 50% mandate on national brands, and 50% restaurant-level decisions,” says Katie Burkle, Red Robin’s beverage development manager.
Mandatory macro at this time includes Coors Light, Bud Light, Guinness, Corona Extra, Stella Artois, Heineken, Michelob Ultra and Miller Lite. Based on regional preferences, restaurants have some flexibility in whether these should be carried on draft or in bottles.
“And for craft, we do provide style recommendations so that locations can get the most out of their draft lines,” Burkle says. One recommendation is to include seasonal styles, such as shandies and ciders come summer, and darker, heavier beers in winter.
Burkle also requests that franchise beer selections reflect consumer trends. “And that means IPAs, IPAs, IPAs,” she says with a laugh.
That’s not easy, considering the IPA category has fractured as craft expands into new and different takes. For instance, fruit IPAs have become popular, she says, so have the extremely bitter double IPAs.
Pairing hoppy IPAs can be a bit complicated as well, Burkle says. “IPAs, especially the stronger ones, can blow away your taste buds. You need to match [strong IPAs] with a really spicy burger.” (For more on IPAs, see page 47.)
Truth or Pair
Speaking of pairings, Red Robin’s menus now include suggested beer pairings for many of the burgers, such as a Guinness Stout (price varies by location) with a Bleu Ribbon Burger ($9.99). The creamy nitro beer is a natural partner for the tangy steak sauce and crumbled blue cheese that tops this burger, according to the menu.
The Peppercorn Burger ($10.39), with applewood-smoked bacon, melted pepper-jack cheese and A1 peppercorn spread, calls for something lighter and refreshing, such as Sam Adams Lager, the menu points out.
Another pairing is the Banzai Burger ($9.69), with a Blue Moon. The teriyaki-marinated burger is topped with grilled pineapple, which picks up the citrusy flavor of the Blue Moon Belgian White beer.
Just as some wine experts advocate matching the weight of the dish to the weight of the wine, “I always say, match the strength of the beer to the strength of the burger,” Burkle adds. “We want to have the best possible customer experience for burgers and brews.”
For example, Burkle suggests the Burnin’ Love Burger ($10.49) with a Samuel Adam’s Rebel IPA. With 45 IBUs, the beer intensifies the salsa fried jalapeño coins atop the burger while adding sweetness to the jalapeño cornmeal bun.
Red Robin has experimented with different ways to incorporate beer into its food menu, such as adding brews to sauces and glazes, Burkle says. For instance, it created the Überburger last year as a limited-time, Oktoberfest-themed offering. Topped with candied bacon, grilled bratwurst and Samuel Adams-Oktoberfest-glazed onions, drizzled with Merkts beer cheese on a toasted pretzel bun and beer mustard, the Überburger was a natural pairing with the Sam Adams Oktoberfest seasonal brew.