Interest in craft beer is skyrocketing among restaurant customers, with sales and trial rising with it, so operators must educate themselves about new beer offerings and trends in order to guide their guests toward their ideal new experiences, NRA Show panelists said.

“With so many craft beers now that have hit the market, and the attention to quality … that’s a lot of things you want your consumers to know and understand,” Patrick Kirk, director of beverage and guest experience for Minneapolis-based Buffalo Wild Wings, said during a session during the International Wine, Spirits & Beer Event. “We realized as we grew our menus and continued to promote crafts in more ways, we needed to find a way for our team members to talk about this with our guests.”

Originally, Buffalo Wild Wings servers were trained to talk about a seasonally offered craft beer’s appearance, aroma, taste, mouth-feel and finish, but that kind of up-selling speech at a table proved difficult for servers to execute, Kirk said. The brand then condensed its education down to a craft beer’s appearance, aroma and taste, but the at-table speech could still run long.

A further truncated presentation when servers greet guests, where a very basic description of a craft beer hits a few highlights, has driven better craft-beer sales, Kirk said. However, that will not necessarily be the case with the 900-unit chain’s proprietary Game Changer craft beer, which will roll out systemwide later this year.

“In this case, we are going to be blitzing our customers with every single aspect of this beer,” Kirk said. “It’s not just another beer we’re adding to our lineup. It’s a beer that we’re putting a major marketing focus behind. … We’re still managing the basics, but we’re hoping that people really get into this and really drive trial of this.”

The more people learn about craft beer, the more discerning they get about the service that goes with it, panelists noted.

“If we don’t do the right things for our customers, those people who want to be into craft beer or are craft beer drinkers will not think we’re taking care of the beer and won’t trust us,” said Drew Larson, beverage director for Hopleaf, an upscale bar in Chicago. “You have to show your customers that you understand craft beer and will bring it to them in a craft sense.”

Practical ways to nail those important details have to do with glassware, Larson added. He advised always offering the appropriate special glasses for different kinds of beers, especially proprietary glasses brewers will develop to build a certain cachet with drinkers. Serving craft beers in incorrectly branded glassware damages credibility very quickly, he said.

Larson also noted that restaurants and other beer purveyors should consider alcohol-by-volume measurements when determining how much to serve. A craft beer with much higher alcohol concentration should be served in smaller applications like 4-ounce goblets, allowing drinkers to sample more beers in an evening as well as avoiding dram shop liability.

The marketing opportunity for building craft beer sales is in social media, where the Millennial demographic group is open to learning more about different beers and influencing older age groups to try new beverages.

“You’re never going to fail if you market to Millennials,” said Dave Dronkers, co-owner of the Barton and Dronkers Consulting Group with another panelist, George Barton. “What’s happening is the Generation X group is tech-savvy as well. They’re not living it every day like the Millennials, but … what you have to be conscious of, whether it’s the older group like 86-year-old mom taking computer lessons at the senior center, is that each group likes different things.”

Contact Mark Brandau at
Follow him on Twitter: @Mark_from_NRN