The different types of food service at a brewery

In the last post I postured a few reasons why every craft brewery should have some sort of food service. Breweries are destinations; we travel far to visit breweries. Patrons like to hear the stories behind the beers; we want to hang out and learn about the beer and the people who made it. We’re going to be there a while, so we’re going to get hungry. And food is an important part of building community, something almost every company wants nowadays. Here are the different options for a brewery to serve food alongside their beer.

Brewing is a craft

To start off, let’s just get this out of the way. Quality beer demands quality food.

The term “craft beer” has become so commonplace, that it’s almost such a cliché to the point that we forget what it means.

craft [kraft]

1. a special skill, art, or dexterity. 2. an occupation or avocation requiring special skills, especially manual ones, including carpentry, sewing, pottery, etc. 3. the members of a skilled trade

(Webster’s New World College Dictionary)

The beer industry has an official definition of a craft brewery:

  • Produces no more than 6 million barrels per year
  • Owned at least 75% by a craft brewer (not a larger, corporate alcoholic beverage producer)
  • Most of the beer produced is made from traditional or innovative beer-making ingredients (no malted beverages, no beer made by cheap “adjuncts”)

The common person also has a definition. Craft beer is a product. It’s a beverage. It’s made by a small, independently owned company. It’s hand-made with heart and care. It tastes great. There’s a story behind it.

Bottom line: craft beer is high quality. The food you serve with craft beer must also be high quality.

So here are the main options:

  1. Taproom – The absolute minimum level of service would be to provide tours of the brewery, and have a taproom where fans and regulars can come to enjoy a pint or try the latest releases.
  2. Food trucks – A consistent schedule of food trucks would be an acceptable option for an operation that can’t take attention from the brewery. Some customers like the variety that this option provides.
  3. Onsite food preparation – This is best. From there it’s a fine line to cross over to being a restaurant that makes beer rather than a brewery that serves food.

Just a taproom

A lot of craft breweries are getting by fantastically with only a taproom. No food at all. Not even bagged chips.

Brewery taprooms are different from winery tasting rooms. In a tasting room, you get 1.5 to 3 ounces of several different wines. In taproom, you can buy a flight of 4 or 5 beers (5 to 6 ounces each), or you could buy a pint. Although there are some pleasant exceptions, a winery tasting room is more about exhibiting the product with hopes that you’ll buy a bottle. Whereas, a brewery taproom is more about enjoying the beverage on site.

It’s kind of like a bar for a more discerning crowd. The guests are there just for alcoholic beverages and company. I’m going out on a limb and just saying it: This could be a passing fad.

It’s a pretty limited offering. Typically these are very small craft breweries, so the offerings are limited to the beers that they made in the past week or two, plus maybe some new releases that have been aging on oak a while. It’s a good thing that this sort of affair doesn’t have the same beers week after week, it’d get boring really fast. Another limb: The market might get bored, too.

For now, this new school seems to be working for many small breweries with seemingly no intentions for packaging their beer to a wider audience. But any brewery that’s not serving food had better work at graduating, or sooner or later all of the students will drop out.

A regular schedule of food trucks

It’s good that small breweries are focused on what they’re good at. I get it. They do it because they’re stoked about beer. If they were stoked about food, they would have opened a restaurant.

And running a brewery is hard work and it takes a lot of time.

For a small brewery that can’t add a restaurant to what they’re already doing, a regular schedule of food trucks might be a great way to go.

I’m no fan of food trucks. I’ll admit that my view is biased by the stereotypical food truck fare of yore, wherein anyone partaking was gambling with their health if not their life.

Things have changed. Food trucks are safer. A lot of people like food trucks. A lot of craft beer drinkers like food trucks.

Portland has long been touted as the vanguard of craft beer renaissance. The city is also known for food trucks.

San Diego has been claiming the title of “Craft Beer Capital” for a few years. Is it any coincidence that they also have a robust and growing food truck scene? Google it.

San Diego’s Top Brewers by Bruce Glassman. (affiliate link)

In San Diego, craft beer and food trucks go so tightly hand-in-hand, that recent regulations that limit the operations of food trucks, has hurt craft breweries there. Think about that.

On-site food preparation is best

You’ve graduated past the taproom. You have a regular schedule of food trucks in your parking lot every night. You’re packaging your beer for distribution and you can’t keep it on the shelf. Your brand is highly recognized and sought after. People are traveling from half-a-state away. (Three states away, if you’re in New England.) You’re finally planning a bigger brewery. It’s gonna have a kitchen.

Ok, sometimes my imagination gets away with me. I mean oftentimes it does.

Anyway, even an operation much smaller than this could benefit from on-site food preparation service.

When your brand is unique, recognized, and respected, you want to make sure that the accompanying food is equally respectable. The only way to be certain that the food offerings are worthy of being served beside your beer, is to make it yourself.

Go for it! Just remember why you started. Don’t become a restaurant that makes beer. Keep being a brewery that makes food.

Unless you operate a brewpub. Well, then…

Other options for brewery food

There could be any variation of the above, or even some other options.

For example, a small brewery not too far from my home started off contracting with another eatery. Alas, it didn’t work out long. About a year after they opened, the relationship was severed. The pizza cart or the hot dog cart started coming some nights. Now the brewery is doing their own on-site food preparation.

Moral of the story: Get creative, stick with it, if it doesn’t work try something else. But always match the high-quality of your beer with high-quality food.

Do you know of another model of food service for a brewery? Please share it with us in the comments below.


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    Drinks beer, quit his job, planning to start a brewery. I try to write every week about something in my life relating to my pursuit to start a brewery. Topics include: entrepreneurship, beer, leadership, and productivity.