The following is Kruse Company president Nancy Kruse’s response to NRN senior food editor Bret Thorn’s take on beverage pairings.

Well, Bret, the first thing I think is that you should practice a little deep breathing to insulate yourself from the trials of air travel. I agree that it’s no fun, especially with the added indignity of having to fork over a couple of bucks for a beverage.

That said, it strikes me that promoting coffee with cereal or soda with snacks has very little to do with enhancing culinary compatibility. While they may be Perfect Pairings, they don’t exactly challenge the palate or broaden beverage horizons. They’re really kinder, gentler versions of the standard suggestive sell, the one that’s typically verbalized. You know, the familiar, “Do you want a soft drink with that?” query, with a nice financial incentive in Frontier’s case.

That familiar query can be pretty darn grating, especially when it’s loudly and robotically bleated at the customer, which may be part of the problem. Most suggestive selling in mass-market operations is badly done. There’s a fine line between suggesting and badgering, and while this is an old complaint relative to quick-service operations, I don’t think they’re the only culprits. It’s a total turn off. Better training in the fine art of the sell is definitely in order.

It’s not that it can’t be smartly executed. Taco Bell does a nice job of matching specialty beverages with specific food items; you can view the go-togethers on the website. On the full-service side, Fleming’s has long been active in food-and-wine pairings, and the Small Plates, Big Pours menu marries dishes with drinks. Petite syrah accompanies the New Zealand Petite Lamb Chops; Sauvignon Blanc goes with the New Bedford scallops, and so on.

I think this raises a bigger issue, and that’s the surprising lack of synchronicity between the bar and the dining room in most full-service restaurants. Many chains have done an outstanding job with innovative wine and craft beer programs, and they’ve also upped their game with some truly creative cocktails. I’d like to assume that the beverage menu is created at least in part to provide a nice complement to the food menu, but too often the twain don’t meet. The bar and the dining room remain silos, and money is being left on the table. That’s bad news at any time, and it’s much worse when times remain challenging for many restaurateurs.

But I must tell you, Bret, that I’m mightily impressed and not a little envious of your experience at The French Laundry. Lemonade with caviar and black-cherry soda with foie gras? Anywhere else, this would sound like a punch line. In the hands of a master chef like Thomas Keller, it sets an aspirational standard for thoughtfulness, creativity and guest-centricity.

Contact Bret Thorn at bret.thorn@penton.com.

Follow him on Twitter: @foodwriterdiary



Nancy Kruse, president of the Kruse Company, is a menu trends analyst based in Atlanta and a regular contributor to Nation’s Restaurant News. E-mail her at nancykruse@aol.com.