Craft beer, like wine, can be intimidating. Similar to wine, craft beer has its own jargon… and craft beer menus typically assume that the reader is knowledgeable about a range of beer-centric acronyms: IBU (International Bittering Units), ABV (Alcohol by Volume), IPA (India Pale Ale), ESB (Extra Special Bitter), etc. Not only are the acronyms hard, beer classifications can be confusing to the uninitiated… again, much like wine. Do you remember a time before you knew the difference between a pilsner, a kölsch, a doppelbock, a maibock, and a saison? Today we’re going back to the basics, so that you can make craft beer less intimidating for your customers. Here are the three questions your servers should ask to make sure that your guests love their craft beer. (Want more tips? Check out the wine version of this guide.)
1. “What’s your favorite beer?”
This question tests your customer’s knowledge on the topic of beer. If your guest answers, “Um, I don’t know what I like really,” your server should probably offer a fast and simple explanation of the different types of craft beer available. They should talk about the lighter beers in terms of sweetness and bitterness (please stop your servers from saying “maltiness” or “hoppiness” to these customers; the jargon won’t mean anything to them), and they should talk about how heavier, darker beers tend to be more filling.
If a customer answers this question by mentioning a domestic, make sure your servers can compare craft beers to domestics, feature by feature—and without a sneer. Beer snobbery may make your server feel superior, but it sure ain’t going to sell more beers.
If your customer says, “I’m usually more of a kölsch guy, but I’m feeling the chill outside and think I’ll go for an imperial stout instead,” your server will know that they are free to use whatever jargon they wish when describing the beers on the menu.
Tip: There’s a range of answers to this question, and you may want to conduct an in-depth beer tasting with your staff so that they can make their own comparisons and come up with their own descriptions. If, at the tasting, each server makes detailed notes about the beers, they can use that as a memorization cheat sheet to assist in making great beer suggestions.
2. “Do you plan to hang out a while?”
This may seem like a strange question at first, but this can actually give your server a great basis for recommendations. If your guests mention that they plan to watch the game, or that they’re meeting friends at your restaurant, your server will want to start off by recommending “session” beers, which have a low alcohol volume. This way, they’ll be able to drink more before they feel it, which will keep their night fun and laid back.
If, on the other hand, your customer answers that they have to rush from here to get to a concert or just get back home to relieve the babysitter, they can have their choice of beers. When guests indicate that they’re in a rush and that they’ll be driving somewhere, your server will want to make sure that guests know when they’re ordering a potent imperial so that they can make the right choice for their alcohol tolerance.
Tip: This question will also help your server determine upsell and cross-sell opportunities for food orders. If your guests plan to stay a while, they can be tempted by delicious extras. If they’re in a rush, your server can deliver great customer service by requesting that the kitchen make their food fast—or by simply informing the table if there are any meals that take a long time to cook.
3. “What are you in the mood for?”
After your servers know what your customers like and how long they plan to stick around, they should ask what each customer is in the mood for. Sometimes your more knowledgeable guests will offer this information on their own, like the Kölsch Guy example above. However, if your guests are unsure about their craft beer tastes, this question will help your servers to assist guests in navigating the menu. (It may also cut down on large “taster” orders, which take up a lot of time.)
In answer to this question, customers may state that they want a type of beer (stout, IPA), or they may answer that they want a specific taste. If they want “sweet,” your server should recommend something on the maltier side, perhaps even something fruity or flavored. If they want something “light,” your server will want to offer session beers with subtle flavors… and make sure it’s not hoppy. If the customer wants something “bitter,” your server will know that the guest is a hop fanatic, and if they want something “thick” or “heavy,” your server should recommend the stout. (If your customer says “sour,” this will help to explain what they want.)
Tip: This can be also be a good question for your server to segue into beer pairing recommendations.
Make beer a pleasure for all
Kim Jordan, the co-founder and CEO of New Belgium Brewing Company said it best: “We don’t want to get to a point where if you are someone who doesn’t know enough [about craft beer], you’re somehow not worthy. I think that would be a real mistake because beer is the ancient beverage of friendship.It’s important that we all don’t lose sight of that.”
The craft beer industry has really taken off in the past ten years, and its popularity may make your servers think that everyone knows about craft beer. The truth is that even avid beer drinkers may not know how to navigate confusing, jargon-filled craft beer menus. With the right questions and clear explanations, your servers can make each guest’s craft beer experience a success.
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