Photo by Rick Daugherty
When Dan Richer opened his second pizzeria venture, Razza Pizza Artigianale, earlier this year, he had a clear vision in mind. All the ingredients would be locally sourced and everything that could be made in-house would be. His beverage list would get the same care and attention to detail as the food and service. The wines would all come from a region in Italy he visits every year on a pilgrimage. The beers would all be considered craft and come from breweries within the state or a short drive away.
Like good food, craft beer “has substance and soul behind it,” says the Jersey City, New Jersey, owner. “Local and flavorful beer on the menu pushes the wheel forward.”
As America enjoys a golden age of beer, many pizzerias have created enviable beer lists that not only increase customer interest — and therefore, sales — but also garnish a sense of pride for operators and give them a leg up on the competition. Call them artisanal, small batch, or even microbrews, but the truth is that more and more craft beers are popping up on beverage menus as pizzeria owners move away from uninspired beer menus that are as dusty as they are irrelevant.
The foamy line has shifted over the last 30 years and now the Brewers Association, a trade group that represents small, independent and traditional breweries, says that there are more than 2,200 breweries in the country and that the majority of Americans live within at least 10 miles of a brewery. This means fresh, flavorful beers that are suitable for any palate are within reach.
Adding even a few craft beers to existing offerings can add depth to a menu and is easier than you might think. It begins with education.
Many beer distributors now have a craft component and they have spent time and money educating their employees on the rapidly changing landscape. They will share that knowledge with you. First, ask your distributor what is available, spend a little extra time with their sales book, and consult sites like beeradvocate.com and ratebeer.com to see what real customers are saying about a particular brew. Sites like craftbeer.com (which offers a state-by-state brewery locator) and allaboutbeer.com give insight to trends, flavors as well as popular and inspiring breweries.
Another option is to look to your staff. Chances are there is someone working in your kitchen or dining room that has a decent knowledge of beer and could offer suggestions. When you’re ready to get serious about building a better beer menu distributors will often come in for tutorial classes to help your staff with identifying flavors and proper pouring techniques, as well as give guidance on proper storage and effective presentation.
There are many benefits to draft beer, but it does require extra equipment, space, and education. However, draft offers a chance to serve rare or limited release brews, or options from breweries that do not package their beers. This is particularly helpful if you want to serve local.
If draft is not an option — or even if it is — consider bottles and cans. Yes, cans. Once thought of as a lesser vessel, many craft breweries have embraced aluminum because of its ability to keep out the mortal enemies of light and oxygen, as well as it’s lightweight. Bottle options go beyond the 12-ounce. Flavorful beers come in 7-oz, 22-oz, even 750-ml bottles. Some have the traditional caps, but others offer cage and cork, or swing tops. Pizzeria owners and beverage managers alike say that different bottle presentations along with unfamiliar labels often get the attention of other customers, especially if they are made visible while walking through a dining room.
In the past with generic lagers, people knew what they were getting. Pale to golden yellow in color, easy on the flavor and usually without bitterness, lagers are what several generations grew up knowing about beer. No more.
If you’re aiming to start slow, consider adding a Pale Ale that features a spicy hop bite. Or an amber or brown ale, which focus more on sweet and roasty malts. Belgian beers are popular and include witbier, a hazy wheat-heavy brew with spicy notes, and Belgian pale ale, which has more of a malt profile and some fruit notes. There are also the Biere de Garde that has woodsy, cellar-like character that comes with proper aging and offers a dry flavor and finish. Many of these beers are bottle conditioned — meaning yeast is added to the bottle — and regularly pair well with bread dishes. India Pale Ale, especially one made in the U.S., will be more hop aggressive and pair well with bold dishes, like wings or blue cheese.
Like produce, beer is seasonal. With each new month, different beers are released that showcase the best of winter, spring, summer and fall. Adding these beers to your menu to compliment food gets customers engaged.
As you’re making decisions about your beer list keep in mind that so much depends on what malt, hops, and yeast the brewer used. No two are exactly alike.
Pizzeria operators say that taking the time to share facts of the beer — origin, flavors, alcohol content, and pairing suggestions — on a printed menu lead to additional sales with little effort. Give the beer the same care and description that you do your wine or food menu.
“I’ve found that customers that order craft beer and pay a premium are more likely to order specials from the menu and tip better,” says Mike Rangel of Asheville Pizza and Brewing in North Carolina. “If you rotate your beers, they come back more often. What’s not to like about that?”
John Holl is a freelance journalist covering the beer industry. He’s the author of the American Craft Beer Cookbook. Holl lives in New Jersey and regularly lectures and consults on the topic of craft beer.
Photo by Josh Keown
Two decades ago, America was largely intimidated by wine. Snobs drank it. Even worse, they swished it around, spit it into a bucket and then talked about it in unappealing and difficult-to-understand terms like “flinty” or “grassy.” What normal, everyday Joe wanted to drink grass?
Since wine was an unknown and perceived as expensive, it was feared. Forget that it is grape juice at its heart — it was just too, well, sophisticated for the pizza crowd.
Times changed, however, as times always do. A number of factors worked in unison to broaden wine’s appeal: the industry’s marketers, for example, realized the need to make the product more accessible; food-centric shows on television encouraged people to expand their palates and restaurants identified the value in the additional revenue stream.
Fast forward to today and there are tens-of-thousands of pizzerias across the country that menu wine. In fact, our most recent research shows that 38 percent of American pizzerias — more than 26,000 pizza restaurants — serve vino. How can they all be wrong when it comes to wine’s appeal? They can’t, says Taylor McNeely, a pizzeria bar manager in Indianapolis.
"Wine is a profit driver for us,” she says. “We sell a lot of it and it is one of our biggest money-maker items.”
McNeely offers wine by the bottle and by the glass, but also has found success with flights.
“They’re good because it encourages people to try new things. It helps them branch out a little,” she explains. “A customer may come in with a pre-conceived notion that, ‘I don’t like chardonnay or I don’t like big, bold reds. But just because you may not like Chianti does not mean you won’t like another red, like a Barbera or something else. One red might be spicy, while another might be fruity. There are just so many variances from each variety and even within the same variety from different labels. You have to open yourself up to trying new things, and the flights help that out a little bit. You’re not putting all your eggs into one basket, so to speak. You aren’t spending $18 on a bottle or $7 on a glass of something only to discover that you don’t like it. It’s a very non-commital way of learning, of discovering what you might like.”
At Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizzeria in Seattle, a well-established wine program is one of the hallmark’s of the company’s success. Tutta Bella was named our 2010 Independent of the year. Owner Joe Fugere likes to keep offerings fresh and examines the wine list with a critical eye at least twice a year. Typically, the company’s wine offerings experience a facelift every six months. With wine representing close to 20 percent of overall sales at Tutta Bella, Fugere must be on to something.
Jenny Fleece, a longtime spirits manager who is working to open her first pizzeria in Bethesda, Maryland this summer, says she plans to follow a similar strategy.
“I like to turn wines over in late spring, just before summer, and again in late autumn, just before winter,” she says. “Sometimes, like during the hot months, people may gravitate to some lighter, more refreshing whites. They tend to opt for some heavier reds later in the year. While you seek balance, you want to turn the list over when necessary to make sure you’re offering what will sell the best at any given time.”
Often, what sells is largely dependent on the service staff. A knowledgeable crew that has been well-trained on wine and food pairings can make helpful suggestions to customers, translating into better wine sales. It doesn’t take a full-time sommelier, either. Today’s educational opportunities are abundant. Jason Crum, a bartender at Joey’s in Houston, says vendors can be excellent resources.
“Your wine reps are more than just sales people,” he says. “A good one cares about your business, because your success is his success. A good one is knowledgeable about the products he sells and can be a great point of contact when it comes to learning more about wines and how to best pair them with pizza or Italian food.”
Crum says his wine distributor makes it a point to keep him up to date on the latest trends and pairings.
“He comes in periodically and gives the bar staff and wait staff crash courses on the different wine options we carry,” explains Crum. “He talks about the grapes, the region they’re grown in, what the climate and soil is like. He talks about the process and how that relates to what you taste when you lift the glass and the juice hits your taste buds.”
Sometimes, it’s about story telling. The details of the story enrich the customer experience and make the customer-server connection a more meaningful one.
“After you tell the story,” says Crum, “the sale is easier. It’s not a transaction; it’s an experience.”
If you are looking for some good wine and pizza pairings, let us help you get started. While many people think Chianti when they think of Italian food, there’s no reason to paint yourself into a corner. Let’s face it, a bottle of Chianti in a wicker basket next to a plate of spaghetti and meatballs is about as cliché as it gets. Don’t limit your selection to Italian labels. Quality wines from America, France, Australia and South America, to name a few, will get the job done as well.
Take a German Riesling, for instance: its sweetness and mellow attitude makes an excellent accompaniment to a spicy sausage and pepper pizza. If you’re looking for an across-the-board all-star to pair with red-sauce pizza in general, then look to a Barbera. A Moscato can be tapped for desserts, while the properly balanced Red Zinfindel is exquisite with a meatlover’s pie.
“A wine list should express some diversity,” says McNeely. “Variety is the spice of life.”
Jeremy White is Editor-in-Chief at Pizza Today.
There’s been so much buzz about craft beer that it’s time to ask the question: What is craft beer? By the definition of the Brewers Association a craft brewer is small, independent and traditional. Specifically,
Small: Annual production of 6 million barrels of beer or less. Beer production is attributed to a brewer according to the rules of alternating proprietorships. Flavored malt beverages are not considered beer for purposes of this definition.
Independent: Less than 25 percent of the craft brewery is owned or controlled (or equivalent economic interest) by an alcoholic beverage industry member that is not itself a craft brewer.
Traditional: A brewer who has either an all-malt flagship (the beer which represents the greatest volume among that brewer’s brands) or has at least 50 percent of its volume in either all-malt beers or in beers that use adjuncts to enhance rather than lighten flavor.
Well, you might ask, do pizzerias and their customers pay attention to these strict definitions? Some do. But pizzerias want beers that increase traffic, drive revenues and offer good profitability. Consumers want beers that they like. They like the taste and they like the brand. Let someone else argue about whether what they’re selling or drinking is a true craft beer, some might say.
Beers Sold and Consumed as “Craft”
An easy way for retailers and consumers to separate craft beers from others is to identify the crafts as beers that are not “heritage” American light-colored lagers (such as Budweiser and Miller Lite) and not imports. The debate will go on, but from a brewing-industry perspective what will define the future will be the ability of American independent brewers to compete with the multinational brewing groups, notably ABInbev, SABMiller, MolsonCoors, Heineken and Carlsberg.
Even today, many industry-watchers say that the largest craft beer brewers are the multinationals. ABInbev has Shock Top, Wild Blue and Goose Island and controls the distribution of Kona, Widmer, Red Hook and Starr Hill. SABMiller, combined in the U.S. with MolsonCoors, has Blue Moon, Leinenkugel, Henry Weinhard and has an investment in Terrepin. It is likely that the multinationals will continue to bring new beers to the market and blur the lines between their ownership of these brands and the brands of independent brewers.
They want to take advantage of the profit margins that come from higher pricing combined with their lower cost of production, their purchasing power and their access to raw materials. They want to focus attention on their brands and away from those of independent brewers in the minds of both wholesalers and retailers.
Making beers like Blue Moon and Goose Island in very large, automated breweries that produce 10-plus million barrels of beer annually allows the multinationals to spend aggressively on sales and marketing and pocket huge profits on these brands. But independent brewers can compete. Most are not publicly traded companies and therefore do not have to report ever-increasing profits.
Key Strengths of Independent Brewers
Pizza operators would do well to understand the other side of the coin—what smaller independent breweries bring to the table. Two of the most important advantages of independent brewers are:
• Innovation. The smaller brewers, without the need to do high-volume batches, create more flavorful beer styles or versions that appeal to ever-discerning and ever-experimenting consumers.
• Sense of place. Beers from independent breweries become identified with cities and regions, and they tie in with strong consumer demand for locally produced products.
Consumers are expecting innovation and they want to know where their food and beverages come from. That’s why many pizza operators and others in the dining industry are linking their success and profitability to classic and innovative beers from independent brewers. It is not about the number of beers, but the mix—the mix of beer styles and the mix of where the beers originate.
The battle lines are drawn. Today, independent brewers account for around 7 percent of all beer sold in the U.S. Whether that percentage goes up or down in the next decade will be determined in great part by the actions of consumers and those who sell the beverages.
Consumers expect pizza-focused restaurants to create beer programs that reflect their business plans. Often, this means going beyond quality to issues of authenticity and origin. Operators who create interesting and diverse beer programs may stand the best chance by selling both craft pizza and craft beers.
Dan Kopman is a co-founder and active principal of Schlafly Beer, a craft brewing company based in St. Louis, Mo. He will be one of the panelists at Pizza Expo in March on the subject of “Building a Profitable Craft Beer Program.” Schlafly Beer will also be offering samples in the Craft Beer Pavilion at Expo.
For more details on International Pizza Expo 2013, visit www.pizzaexpo.com.
PHOTOS BY JOSH KEOWN
Tradition says that pizza places need to offer soda, pitchers of beer and maybe a couple of wine options. But now, with pizza moving more upscale and customers expecting a wider variety of options, many restaurants have gone the way of full bars –– from a simple and well-stocked corner stand to an ornate wood and chrome space that runs the length of the restaurant.
A well-stocked bar does more than just offer drinks; it complements the dining experience by providing a wider array of choices, more opportunities for interaction and a chance to easily increase sales. “We believe that a well-run, well-stocked bar complements the dining experience,” says Paul Andoni, co-owner of the Shield’s of Troy Franchise in Detroit, Michigan, which started as a bar in the 1940s and eventually developed into a food establishment, using the bar as the basis. “The bar has always been an important part of our operation. Some restaurants look at their bar as an afterthought, but for us it’s an important element to our customers’ experience.”
So, for those lucky enough to have earned their liquor license stripes, how do they go about ensuring their bars have the things they need to succeed? The answer lies in proper planning, positioning and presentation.
Every great bar needs at least the basics to get started. While those vary from restaurant to restaurant and locale to locale, the common necessities include: vodka, gin, rum, tequila, triple sec, a few flavored liquors, mixers such as sodas and juices, and a good selection of beer and wine.
What does “good selection” mean? It means a wide enough variety that you can serve customers what they desire, without offering so much that they get overwhelmed or that stock sits around, lonely and dusty, on the shelf. It’s neither possible nor desirable to carry every liquor, beer and wine ever made. Trying to be all things to all people just means you end up with a bar that feels watered-down. Not to mention that you’ll be stuck with a lot of inventory that doesn’t move.
Instead, find a slant that works for your customers and your area and stick to it. If you are running a beachside serve-up that caters to a young college crowd, then offering a variety of cheaper selections is a good choice. If you are in an area that focuses on local, hand-crafted items, make sure you have a good variety of area wines and microbrews. Or, if you’re a high-end restaurant like Plum Pizzeria and Bar in New York, New York, go with only the best-of-the-best.
“I only stock top-shelf liquors,” says Alex Alexopoulos, Plum’s owner. “I don’t believe in cheap drinks. Even our happy hour has real drinks, with top shelf liquors.” In a place where most of the ingredients are hand-selected and imported from Greece, having low-quality liquors would undercut the atmosphere and the customers’ taste buds. And while Alexopoulos offers a variety of price ranges for all of his liquor, beer and wine, he always does so within his quality parameters, first and foremost. “I believe that if you have good pizza, you have to have a good wine to go with it,” he says. “So I stock excellent wines in a range of prices, from $15 to $150 a bottle.”
You probably already know about the tools you need –– enough wine corks to go around, shakers and strainers, ice scoops and towels –– but one tool that’s most often overlooked is the knowledge and expertise of your servers. “Our staff is really well-trained so they can offer suggestions,” says Alexopoulos. “So if customers are open to suggestions, there is always someone who is very happy to help them find what they will like at a price they can afford.”
Most great bars also clearly have some kind of visual appeal –– gorgeous wood, polished chrome, big-screen TVs. But what you showcase behind your bar can also entice customers to order drinks. Pretty glasses and garnishes are a good start, as are clean and shiny surfaces and sexy looking drinks. But to take it one step beyond, consider dressing up the alcohol itself.
Take, for example, the idea of marinating your own vodka, the way that Joe Abston, owner of Hopjacks Pizza Kitchen and Taproom in Pensacola, Florida, does. “We use fruit to impart flavor into our vodkas,” Abston says. “They’re in big, three-liter jars sitting behind the bar. We keep six different ones at a time, and we rotate them as the seasons change, or as I get bored.”
So far, he’s done a variety of flavors, some normal, some not so much. Pineapple-orange, blueberry, cranberry-plum and a five-pepper spice are some of the most popular. “I’ve also done maple syrup vodka and peanut butter and jelly,” he says. “Most of them are easy for people to see and understand, like watermelon rinds in the summer. But I also try to keep one that challenges people — I ran a bacon vodka for a couple of months.”
While it would be great to offer a magic number of liquors you must have to make your bar successful, in truth it doesn’t work that way. Most owners agree that there’s a lot of trial and error in stocking your bar. The best way to approach it is to listen to the desires of your customers while also matching the variety, quality, cost and taste of your bar offerings with the pizza that comes out of your kitchen. There is no better recipe for a successful bar than that.
Shanna Germain is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon. She loves to write about both food and drink, and her articles have appeared in Cheers, Delicious Living, Imbibe and Oregon Home.
PHOTOS BY JOSH KEOWN
Today’s consumers seek a big bang for their bucks. They also snack more than ever –– enjoying everything from snack wraps to small plates. Operators can capitalize on both of these flash points with enticing happy-hour promotions driven by savvy value strategies. The benefit for the operator is clear. Reaping the profits from increased traffic thrown into the typically slower part of the operational day is an attractive proposition. Pizza Today talked to several folks who boast successful happy hours that are contributing significantly to the bottom line.
ZA’s Pizza Pub in Louisville, Kentucky, offers happy hour every day from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. with daily specials. Each day sees $1.50 Bud Light draft. Monday brings half-price appetizers, which has become the most popular happy-hour promotion. “Big Beer Tuesday” boasts one-dollar off 22-ounce drafts and “Get Well Wednesday” offers patrons $2.75 well drinks. “Offering the promotions is a loss leader for us,” says Jim Rigby, owner and general manager of this 100-seat pizzeria that specializes in traditional Sicilian pizza. “But, it gets people in the door early, and we get to sell a lot to them.
And then about half of them stay for dinner after happy hour. It’s a win-win for us.”
The Highlands, Colorado, location of Pasquini’s Pizzeria was having a tough time filling the quiet period between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. “We’re in a neighborhood, so (there are) not a lot of businesses to support us,” says bar manager Jacqueline Aragon-Combs. So she started a happy-hour promotion to drive traffic and increase sales. On the pizzeria side of the restaurant, the happy hour runs from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. In the adjunct Zio Romolo’s Alley Bar, a space dedicated to grown ups, happy hour runs from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. “The impetus was to get people drinking and eating when we normally didn’t see activity,” she says. The impact on sales during those hours? A 40-percent increase in liquor sales and a 300-percent increase in food sales.
Pasquini’s runs various happy- hour promotions, including all- night happy hour on Mondays, $3 margaritas on Tuesdays and $3 shots of Jameson on Wednesdays. It developed a happy-hour menu, where everything is priced between two and five dollars. Meatball sliders are made with pizza dough formed into buns, sliced meatballs and marinara. Stuffshrooms are mushrooms stuffed with spinach or prosciutto. Cheese and pepperoni slices are available, too. “People end up spending as much as they would without the happy hour prices because they share, and they order more because of the value presented with each special,” says Aragon-Combs. “Happy hour is a great way to surprise and delight your customer.”
To promote and underwrite happy hour, Aragon-Combs recommends working with purveyors. “Recoup the cost on your liquor by parntering with your vendor. Ask them if they can support happy-hour promotions that feature their brands.” Pasquini’s broadcasts its specials on Facebook and through mailings.
Tutta Bella Neopolitan Pizzeria’s newest location in Seattle needed to increase sales. “We opened our fourth location in an emerging neighborhood, and we needed to attract new neighbors,” says R.C. Jennings, wine buyer and general manager of this 120- seat store that boasts authentic pizza napoletana. “Happy hour has become extremely competitive in this economy. We wanted to create one that fit with our culture and our vibe, recreating the happy-hour experience found in Italy.” As part of that vibe, “complimentary nibbles” are served with drinks during happy hour, which runs from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays. Beer gets a complement of candied hazelnuts. Wine, marinated Italian olives. Tutta Bella offers $2 off draft beer and wine and $3 off cocktails during happy hour. It combines a menu pulled from the restaurant, peppered with happy-hour exclusives (which Jennings says will increase this summer). One of the biggest attention-getters is the happy hour offer of $6 margherita pizza ($11 on the regular menu). “We get a lot of buzz with that promotion,” says Jennings.
Tutta Bella (named Pizza Today’s 2010 Independent of the Year) went from no customers in the late afternoon to an average of 50 a day. “Good happy-hour promotions get butts in the seats,” he says. “We have about 50 percent that just come in for cocktails and nibbles, which is great, but the other 50 percent stay for dinner. They can stretch their dollar.” To promote happy hour, Tutta Bella promotes on Facebook, but finds good old-fashioned A-frame sidewalk signs the biggest magnet. u
LATE NIGHT HAPPY HOUR
Urban Crust in Plano, Texas, sits in a residential area, so attracting the after- work crowd wasn’t a good option. “Commuters would miss an afternoon/early evening happy hour here, so we needed to come up with a different strategy,” says executive chef/partner Salvatore Gisellu. “We decided to focus our efforts on bringing in a late-night crowd.” Urban Crust introduced its “Reverse Happy Hour” during the height of the recession in the summer of 2009. It runs weekdays from 10 p.m. until 1 a.m., featuring one- dollar off appetizers and drinks. Urban Crust’s rooftop bar, 32 Degrees, boasts a 30-foot-long ice bar with frozen liquor taps as a selling point.
Appetizers spring from the regular menu, ranging from Tuscan blue-cheese fries and mussels to antipasto plates and fried calamari. “We have lots of regulars now, who come because of happy hour,” says Gisellu. He reports that the 145- seat restaurant’s happy-hour promotion has increased revenue by 10 percent. “Because they get a good deal on the appetizers, they order more than they normally would,” he says. The labor costs of keeping the kitchen open a bit later than before is more than offset by the extra dollars brought in.
Urban Crust markets the happy hour through Constant Contact, table tents and its Facebook page. “We also motivate our staff to spread the word by offering them prize incentives,” says Gisellu. The server tells the customer about happy hour, and if that customer mentions the name of the server during happy hour, he or she gets a free dinner, bottle of wine or gift certificate. “Texting is another great way to broadcast one- night-only deals,” he says. The restaurant asks its staff to text friends, promoting a special, such as 50 cents off of vodka shots. “We’ll do it on a slow night, and it’s amazing how busy we can get from a staff texting promotion! I think it’s because we give it a sense of urgency, ‘Tonight only,’ kind of thing,” he says.
Katie Ayoub is a frequent contributor to Pizza Today. She lives in Toronto, Ontario.
Summertime is the perfect season to introduce Sangria onto your beverage menu. Go Spanish style and offer Happy Hour specials with Sangria and a small plate menu.
Try this simple Sangria recipe:
1 bottle Cabernet Sauvignon
4 ounces rum
2 ounces lime juice
1/2 cup white sugar
To view the entire recipe, click here.
Photos by Josh Keown
Many restaurant operators treat beverages as an afterthought — an oversight that can show up in your bottom line, says restaurant consultant Annette Fazio, owner of York, Maine-based Using Your Noodle in Business.
Maintaining Pricing Accuracy
Looking at sales volume, costs and profit margins can help operators determine if they’ve priced correctly, says consultant Annette Fazio. Monitoring costs is especially critical for pricing accuracy, especially considering fluctuating commodity costs, says Aaron Allen, also a restaurant consultant. Because of the day-to-day fires popping up, operators often neglect to analyze as closely and as deeply as they should, he explains. Allen suggests establishing key performance indicators, monitoring them in real time. Other tips to ensure pricing accuracy include:
- Use the correct glassware, says Allen. Have recipes for everything.
- Calculate in things like refills on coffee, tea and fountain drinks, say both consultants, adding this is something commonly overlooked. Remember, when pricing beverages, people use things like cream, lemon, sweeteners and stirrers.
- It’s challenging to generalize about profit margins, says Allen, since different beverages — alcoholic, juices, water, sodas, bottled, fountain, and so on — all have different profit ranges, he explains. Fazio says for beverages as a whole, profit margins should average 20 to 25 percent. “Although if you’re a really upscale operation you should look at the competition,” she says. “Because even at 20 percent, you could still be charging several dollars less than the competition.”
“They should really take a look at beverages because this is where you can bring in a little more money and can do so without loading up your inventory and creating more work,” she says.
There are several factors restaurant operators should consider when establishing beverage prices, say Fazio and Allen. These are:
- The concept, format and clientele. Are you mainly dine-in, takeout or delivery? Fast casual, QSr or fine dining? Positioning is also important, Allen says. “Some may want to be perceived as higher end, some may want to be more value-added.”
“You have to know what your business is,” says Jeff Miller, who owns two extreme Pizza franchises. Both in Northern California, they do mainly delivery; dine-in comprises about 20 to 25 percent of the business. They serve beer, wine, soda, juices and bottled water. Beer and wine sales account for two percent of their overall sales; nonalcoholic beverages contribute six percent, says Miller, adding that his customer base is a mix of business, family and college students.
“I knew going in that beverages would be less than 10 percent of our overall revenue,” he says. “Our business model is gourmet pizza; we’re not a sports bar.” Then there’s Shorty’s. with two Georgia locations (in Atlanta and Tucker), Shorty’s offers full bars, plus live music and dancing in the Tucker restaurant, says owner Brian wilson. Beer/wine and liquor sales account for 20 percent and seven percent of the total sales respectively at the Tucker restaurant, which is in a suburban area.
The Atlanta restaurant is more urban, wilson says. Beer/wine sales are about 18 percent; liquor is three percent. There, thanks to a more business clientele, wine sales are higher. For both operations, nonalcoholic beverage sales are classified with food; at the Atlanta restaurant, food sales are just under 80 percent.
“This reflects our focus on food,” he explains. “even though we’re close to emery University, kids don’t go to a pizza restaurant to pound beers.”
- The competition. “Competitive analysis is important; we don’t want to charge more than the competition,” says wilson. “See what competitors are charging and don’t charge more; charge less if you can.”
- Compare concepts in the same tier as yours; like to like, says Miller.
- Be thorough, advises Allen. Check type, size, if refills are free and what incidentals and add-ons are provided.
- Consider your marketing and positioning strategy; the experience you’re offering guests, says Allen. If the experience is upscale or unique, you may be able to get away with charging a bit more. And keep your competitors confused; make your own signature drinks, says Fazio, and “you can charge more for these. Plus customers like them and it won’t be as easy for the competition to shop you.”
- Consider your costs. when wilson first opened, he priced on what the market would bear. Now, although he doesn’t want to charge more than the competition, he does factor in costs, raising prices if costs demand it (wilson’s end-of-month beverage costs run 30 to 33 percent).
“In the last couple of years we’ve gone up on our draft beer prices considerably,” he says. “People love craft beers and microbrews, so we’re completely comfortable the market will tolerate it.”
Miller runs his cost of goods at around 28 percent with beverages making up about two percent of that. “If my costs go up by five percent, I’ll evaluate if I can raise my prices,” Miller says. “I scout the competition first. But if they haven’t raised their prices I’d still raise mine if the cost of goods warranted it.”
Allen’s reluctant to generalize about costs, explaining these can vary based on the concept, and what’s being served and how. However, he says that on average, the combined costs of beer, wine and liquor should be around 22 percent; Fazio’s estimate is around 23 percent (including nonalcoholic beverages). Offering nonalcoholic beverage only? Fazio estimates costs should be no more than 18 percent, depending on type (fountain, bottle, juice boxes, etc).
Ultimately, all the above factors considered, pricing remains very individual, says Fazio. “You have to go with what you’re comfortable with and be able to defend it.”
Pamela Mills-Senn is a freelancer specializing in writing on topics of interest to all manner of businesses. She is based in Long Beach, California.
Decision-making for a well-managed bar
BY DENISE GREER, ASSOCIATE EDITOR
PHOTOS BY JOSH KEOWN
& RICK DAUGHERTY
Dram shop laws, underage drinking, over serving, altercation risk, staffing and training: operating a bar within a pizzeria can be a mess of liability. But managed effectively, a bar can enhance your pizzeria and drive traffic with not only alcohol sales but also food sales.
A bar is not something an owner enters into lightly. “Serving alcohol is not just a liability for our servers and the business,” says Keven Kinaschuk, owner of McKinners Pizza Bar in Littleton, Colorado. “It is our civic duty to serve it responsibly so we respect and protect our community. This is our livelihood…protect it.”
When it comes to managing his bar operation, Kinaschuk leads the effort personally at his small shop. “I place all orders, receive, write the checks,” he says. “I put it (stock) away, rotate the old stock with the new stock, and perform the EOM [end of month] inventory count and data entry. I price-check my bottle/keg costs and plug into a price matrix to make sure my liquor cost is working with my menu costs.”
Employees at McKinners handle the day-to-day serving and bartending. Where there is an alcohol product, there’s a threat of an employee swiping a bottle or providing free drinks for themselves or others. It’s important to have procedures in place to limit theft. Liquor is kept in a locked cage at McKinners, removing that temptation. “The only people that can get the key is the bar back and the bartender from their MOD (manager on duty), or I will pull bottles throughout the night.”
Kinaschuk says that he develops a strong relationship with his employees. “I treat them as responsible adults. So, with this, I expect accountability,” he says. But he’s also never far away. “I’m not an absentee owner.”
Training a good staff has become essential for making sure that McKinners follows Colorado’s liquor laws, from maintaining the appropriate hours of bar service to confiscating fake IDs.
Kinaschuk has instituted a solid training program, employee handbook and price list — removing all doubt of company policies. His employees have been certified through either a BARCODE or ServSafe class to give them the tools to help prevent intoxication, drunk driving and underage drinking.
“I train my employees to work as a team, being proactive rather than reactive,” Kinaschuk says. “They need to read guests, communicate and intervene sooner than later on any sign or indicator that relates to alcohol.”
Ultimately, Kinaschuk has the servers and bar staff include him in the decision-making process, but there are times when it’s not possible. “I rarely get angry at a decision they make,” he says. “Sometimes I coach them that there might have been a better way.”
Jeff Constance, COO of St. Louis, Missouri-based Pi Pizzeria, also thinks it’s a good idea to take some of the liability away from a bartender or server to stop serving an intoxicated person.
Pi’s policy does not allow a bartender to cut someone off. “They have to get a manager involved,” he says. “It removes them from the situation because it could be their guest. It allows the manager to make the final decisions. The managers are all trained in our systems of when to make those decisions.”
Missouri allows establishments to give away free drinks and run two-for-one specials, something that many states do not allow. Pi dedicates a small percentage of its bar budget to courtesy drinks. “From a hospitality standpoint, I would rather my bartenders honestly give something away than try to hide it from me,” he says, adding that a manager must approve the offering. “We do that on the front end, so that takes away the idea that they may want to do it for themselves to improve their tips or give something away and take the full tip for it.”
If theft is still too irresistible, Pi locations all have surveillance, making it easy to catch an employee skimming the till, offering up free drinks, or not carding someone who looks under 30, which is the cutoff age to ask for ID at Pi.
While guests see a bar area as a fun place to congregate, it’s serious business for the pizzeria and its employees. An onus on responsibility is fundamental to an operation’s success.
Many states have taken an active role in assisting businesses in developing alcohol policies, procedures and training. Maine has produced “A Guide for Bars & Restaurants Serving Alcohol” to help state businesses comply with state policies and promote best practices from hiring and training staff to alcohol promotion and advertising. While state-to-state rules may vary, the guide suggests considering the following measures:
- Alcohol cannot be given away; this would also cover “buy one, get one” type specials
- Do not use advertising, which contains either subject matter or illustrations, which may induce minors, young people, or high-risk groups, such as college students, to drink excessively.
- Do not plan contests or activities that encourage or contribute to excessive alcohol use.
- Do not use advertising that would be inappropriate or offensive to patrons.
- Do not use advertising that depicts a person in the act of drinking alcohol.
- Do not have specials or contests that require the purchase of alcohol or award alcohol as the prize.
- Check with your state agency to see what resources can help you comply with state liquor laws.
Denise Greer is the associate editor at Pizza Today.
Photo by Rick Daugherty
Q: Is it better to have a full liquor license, a wine and beer only license, or none at all?
A: Years ago when I was traveling a lot, Todd King, a VP for Green Mills in Minnesota, told me to always have a full liquor license if possible. Originally, I came from a fast casual restaurant in which a customer would order at the counter, take a number and we would bring the food out to them. We also had only about 12 beers on tap and a very small selection of wines. Out of my total sales at that restaurant the wine and beer I sold only accounted for about 8 percent of it. My restaurants now are full service establishments with servers, bartenders, mixologists, a full bar and an extensive wine program. Today, alcohol accounts for 28 to 42 percent of my sales, depending on the location. At first I didn’t fully comprehend what Todd King had told me. But after looking back at my first restaurant and seeing my restaurants now, I understand. Having a full liquor license brings you more than just a full-bar atmosphere. It brings perks to your staff and restaurant originally unavailable to you, increases your total sales and marketability and makes you more appealing to the public. If you have the choice of a full liquor license I recommend getting it.
Q: Can your original model adapt and change with the industry?
A: I will never forget my brother’s restaurant, Pyzano’s. There was one oven, no sauté and no fryer. We wanted to increase our menu and include pastas and various appetizers, but we were not able to because we were locked into a location and set kitchen. If we had started out with more than one oven, a stove with burners and a fryer, we could have adapted when the industry began to change. An investment of $20,000 today in a kitchen able to adapt to change could end up being a $100,000 investment down the line. When you first plan your restaurant you want to build around your kitchen and not the other way around. One of the worst things is to build a restaurant with a kitchen that can’t keep up with an increase in volume. The flow of your kitchen is imperative to having a well-run restaurant. You want to build your kitchen for tomorrow and not for today. If you have any dreams of expanding and growing your business you want to make sure your kitchen can keep up. The restaurant industry is constantly changing and evolving and you want to make sure your concept and restaurant can change with it. I recommend starting out with two ovens that can set at two different temperatures so as to be able to accommodate a larger, more expansive menu.
Respecting The Craft
Is a new column featuring World Pizza Champion Tony Gemignani, owner of Tony’s Pizza Napoletana in San Francisco and Pizza Rock in Sacramento. Tony compiles the column with the help of his trusty assistants, Laura Meyer and Thiago Vasconcelos. If you have questions on any kitchen topic ranging from prep to finish, Tony’s your guy. Send questions via Twitter @PizzaToday, Facebook (search: Pizza Today) or e-mail email@example.com and we’ll pass the best ones on to Tony.
The amount of varieties really depends on how passionate you are or want to be about it, as well as the volume of your business. I would not sell them all by the glass unless you have a fairly small list. Otherwise, you'll have some wines spoil after opening.
I know that to say “it depends” seems vague. However, it really does depend on what you are trying to create. Do you want to be known for having an incredible beer selection with beers from all over the world? More importantly, do you have the size restaurant that can support turning over that much beer without it spoiling? If you want a simple beer menu, go with 4 to 6 domestics and 3 or 4 imports. If imports move heavier in your particular area, then reverse the numbers. Check out your closest type competitor by sitting at their bar on a busy night and watching what they are selling.
Mascarpone (mahs-kar-POH-neh) is not actually a cheese (no starter or rennet is used to produce it), but it is always included in the cheese family when the subject of relatives come up. And in the Italian arsenal of cheeses it stands tall. A rich and lush cow’s milk cheese, mascarpone is double or triple cream, which means heavy-duty milk fat (up to 75 percent). The beauty of this cheese lies not only in its richness and incomparable goodness but also in its versatility. As you will note below, I have used mascarpone in a simple application pertaining to a couple of pasta dishes; however, mascarpone is an essential and important ingredient when making tiramisu.
Mascarpone will hold its own in a simple dessert in which fresh berries are folded into it. I like to add some confectioner’s sugar to mascarpone, whip it until it is creamy-smooth, then layer it in a parfait glass with slices of fresh strawberries. Another way I use mascarpone is to swirl a tablespoon (or two) into a tomato sauce for pasta. The mascarpone gives the tomato sauce a luxuriously rich flavor (the idea is that it cuts some of the acidity in the tomatoes).
Domestic brands of mascarpone are every bit as good (and a lot less expensive) as imported brands, so buy locally.
This recipe follows closely that of how tiramisu was made in the beginning (using a custard or zabaione). Also, this was the way I taught students to make it at my cooking school. There are many shortcuts to making this great dessert, but if you take the long way home your customers will be, as the word “tiramisu” implies, lifting you up with praise.
4 extra-large egg yolks
1 whole egg
½ cup sugar
1 tablespoon dry Marsala
8 ounces mascarpone
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons sugar
8 ounces espresso or brewed strong coffee, cooled
24 ladyfingers (savioardi)
Make the zabaione. Put the egg yolks, the whole egg, and the sugar in a double boiler arrangement over simmering water. Whisk the eggs constantly until they thicken into a light custard. Add the Marsala and combine. Whisk a bit more. Turn the zabaione out of the bowl into a pan to cool.
Cream the mascarpone. Set aside. Beat the whipping cream to the soft peak stage. Add the sugar. Beat to the stiff peak stage.
Fold the mascarpone into the whipped cream, then fold that mixture into the cooled zabaione.
Assembly: Use a pan or glass dish that is about 8 inches by 8 inches. Working one by one, dip a ladyfinger into the cooled espresso. A quick dip in and out (the ladyfingers will absorb more of the coffee than you think) works best.
Put a thin layer of the zabaione cream over the bottom of the pan. Fit 12 ladyfingers into the pan (trimming as needed). Layer half of the remaining cream mixture over the ladyfingers.
Fit 12 more ladyfingers into the pan (dipping each into the espresso first). Layer in the rest of the cream mixture and smooth it out.
Screen (sift) the cocoa powder liberally over the top. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and chill overnight (or at least 4 hours). Serve in squares portioned to about two and one-half inches square.
Tiramisu & Chocolate Martini
This tasty dessert goes together in a few simple steps, since the zabaione or custard is left out. The presentation is quite dramatic and the flavor is quite delicious. Use a deep martini glass or any type of deep ice cream glass.
Using the same techniques I described in the Classic Tiramisu recipe, combine the mascarpone with the whipped cream (the stiff peak stage). Just before serving, dip one end of each ladyfinger in the espresso. Space four ladyfingers into a deep martini glass (dipped end down) leaving the center (a crater effect) open.
Spoon the mascarpone mixture into the center of the glass, filling the glass (depending on the size about three-fourths of the way). Shave curls of semi-sweet chocolate over the cream mixture. Serve at once.
Fusilli with Mascarpone and Prosciutto
The silky richness of the mascarpone cheese mingling with the sweetness of the prosciutto is the flavor center of this dish. The mascarpone is dropped over the cooked pasta in tablespoons, and mixed into the pasta just to coat. The complement to this dish is the elegant prosciutto di parma; it stands on its own delicate flavor, so no cooking is necessary.
Yield: 4 servings as a first course (scale up in direct proportion)
3/4 pound fusilli or other spiral-shaped pasta
3 tablespoons butter, melted
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
½ cup mascarpone cheese
¼ pound prosciutto, sliced thin and chopped coarse
freshly ground pepper, to taste
Cook the pasta until it is al dente. Drain thoroughly.
Put the cooked pasta into a sauté pan set over medium-high heat.
Add the butter and stir to combine. Add the Parmesan and stir once more to combine. Add the mascarpone, dropping it in dollops over the pasta. Toss gently just to combine. Add the prosciutto and combine with the pasta.
Portion among four heated pasta bowls. Serve.
You can use this basic idea to create a pasta dish with four cheeses. Once the pasta has been cooked, add it to the sauté pan. Add the butter. Blend in a combination of cheeses (I use ¾ cup of mascarpone, ½ cup crumbled Gorgonzola, ½ cup grated Asiago, and 2 ounces Parmesan).
Cook and stir until the cheeses have blended. You don’t need to use any heavy cream (that’s a dish for another time); the combination of cheeses will carry the dish Portion among four heated pasta bowls. Serve.