Finding the Right Brewpub Location

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Today’s a little bit of a controversial topic in that we are going to discuss, or at least I am going to discuss why I believe that food is still important with beer. One of the things that we’ve seen over the last handful of years in the craft beer movement is the increased use by breweries and tap rooms of utilizing and relying on food trucks or partner restaurant supporting brewery operations versus having a more full traditional menu in-house for their brewery.

Now the fact is there’s a lot of really big pros with respect to utilizing food trucks, restaurants, and partnership restaurants in a craft brewery. In fact for us, we had really considered scaling back our food menu at first in turning to utilizing the food trucks or partnering up with another restaurant. In fact I think most breweries that are in planning think exactly the same thing. How can I do food without having to do food?

Now again, there are pros of avoiding having a restaurant in-house, and among those is first off that comes to mind is it’s a great opportunity to offer your guests many different cuisines over the course of a week. You can have a food truck that serves Hawaiian food one day and then the next day they go to maybe Vietnamese food, Mexican, so on and so forth. You have a lot of different options and it keeps your brand fresh. It keeps the palettes fresh of the people who come to your brewery.

The diversity in what is offered on a menu that you get from food trucks is very helpful in the area of keeping things fresh in the minds of people. Plus the food trucks help with advertising your location because they take some of the responsibility of marketing who you are and that you’re there and to come out and have your beer and their food, and so that’s a big pro there. You’re able to keep your menu fresh without a whole lot of effort.

Another thing that’s a big advantage is that it helps keep costs down and limits the range of expertise that is needed for success for your brewery. Marketing becomes a lot more simplified because you’re just really working hard on selling the beer and somebody else is working hard on selling their food, those being the food trucks. Then typically as I’ve seen with a lot of breweries that utilize food trucks or partner with another restaurant, is that they use events to draw in guests at times outside of normal popular hours of a brewery. Those are all really powerful and good things to have in terms of a restaurant.

I believe personally that the cons of utilizing food trucks or partnering with another restaurant way overwhelms in my mind the pros. The number one and most key element of this is that, to be perfectly blunt, beer sells food and food sells beer. You really need to have both of those to maximize your sales because people generally are going to drink more when they have some food that they’re also able to put into their stomachs. Unless you can have a food truck there all the time or at least most of the time, or you have your partnership restaurant that is always there and always open during the same hours as you are, you’re not always going to have the food there. Right away you’re probably limiting a little bit of your profitability just from that.

Another big con, and this is one that really bothers me because it has an impact on your branding if this happens to you, is that what happens when a food truck doesn’t show up or provides poor service to your customers? Well, in short, it means that people are leaving disappointed. Even if they are like, “Ah, it’s not a big deal. It’s fine,” they’re still not happy with the fact that you didn’t provide the service that they were looking for.

Now in terms of Augustino, our craft brewery is going to have food, and so the disappointment that a guest of ours might have is something that we can answer, that we have control over. When you have food trucks you have a lot less control over the quality of service that they provide, which is a big reason why we’ve already said that we’re not going to rely on food trucks and that we’re going to take on the additional effort to provide an excellent menu that you can rely on every day.

Another big thing that has hit a number of our local breweries, especially the ones that have just opened locally here, is what about the kiddos? Those kids who are under 21 cannot go into, at least in most cases, it’s certainly the case here in Wichita, it’s the case in a lot of locations, if you’ve got kids and you’re not serving food, it’s very unlikely that you can legally have them in your establishment.

Now maybe you hate kids and you don’t want them there, and that’s fine. That’s your choice, and if that’s your direction as a brewery, I say go for it. However, one of the considerations that we had from the start was that we’re going to make sure that we are not alienating parents with kids, that we are creating an environment where they can come in and they have a good time just like the parents are having a good time.

Now there’s one brewery here in town that does that in particular, and then there are others that unfortunately because they don’t have the food, and I’ve seen this happen twice in the last month, month and a half, where I’ve shown up to the first hour or so of a new brewery being open and multiple times people being turned away because they had kids or because they were looking for food with their beer. It’s a really important consideration before you decide to take the path of doing just the beer, that you may be actually turning off a number of customers because of that.

Is it a majority of the people who would show up to a craft brewery? Absolutely not, but it is a percentage, and when you’re counting the pennies, nickels, and dimes, it’s something to really give a lot of thought to. By not having the food, the good news is you reduce the expenses. The bad news is you reduce the cash flow too.

Food on a menu can double or more than double a cover in terms of what somebody’s spending. That makes up and keeps a lot of cash flowing through your business. That’s the reason why we’re having craft food, why we’re having craft beer, why we’re having craft coffee on our menu at Augustino is because in part we want to increase the level of cash flow into the business because, as everybody says, cash is king. It is king for us, it’s king for any brewery that’s thinking about opening.

Another thing to consider as a con is what happens when your beers that you make don’t pair well with the cuisine of the food trucks that are available to come to your location? I’ve seen cases where the type of food that is showing up with the food truck to a brewery just is awful next to a beer. I think part of that is because a lot of places, a lot of brewery operators, they’re very, very good at the beer but they’re not very good at understanding how the beer pairs with the food because they’re so honed in on that beer. That’s great to be honed in on that beer, but the fact is when you’re opening up a business like this, you want to open it up and really get the full experience and think about the full experience for the customer.

Finally and maybe even most importantly, what happens if you’re partnering up with a restaurant and they go out of business? If that happens then you may go out of business too or you’ll have your business hurt because of something that you have no control over. These are all things to consider when you’re thinking about avoiding food in your brewpub operation. Thanks a lot for listening and we’ll be back with more in the future.

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