Carolina Ale House Makes Menus Work

Menus provide the single most important marketing tool a bar or restaurant has, and ones that work and show careful thought offer lessons for every operator. Take Carolina Ale House, winner of the 2014 VIBE Vista award for best menu in the chain and multi-concept restaurant category. In order to stand out from the average sports bar, chain execs decided to offer better options that compliment watching sports, like shareable appetizers and handheld items, and to provide customers with a better dining experience that doesn’t interfere with game watching and socializing.

Carolina Ale House

Their menu offers more sophisticated versions of typical sports bar fare and pairs these offerings with 72 draft beers, 99 bottled beers, a $5 wine option and a fresh take on classic cocktails. Part of the Carolina Ale House brand is to localize each unit with local collegiate and local professional sports teams’ décor. To round out this community tie in, the beverage menu also features 30% local and craft beers as well as regional specialty cocktails.

The Carolina Ale House approached their new beverage program with a strong beer sales position but an inconsistent spirit program and an underwhelming wine list. But beer came first: they added an upscale mug option and a 99 bottled beer list, allowing them to add hard-to-find craft beer options. The beer menu lists bottle and draft offerings by style, with detailed information on each offering including ABV and brewery location. Flight options offer four, 4 oz. beers in four different sets, and a beer guide is included to educate guests on the different styles of each beer.

To bolster appeal to female customers, revamping wine and spirits appeal was important; the new menu was built with a $5 red and white house wine and $7 premium options. Listed in white and red categories with House Wines at the top, each wine gets a description and lists both glass and bottle prices with easy, fun illustrations.

The spirit menu is focused on an "American Spirit" position to compliment the all-American concept of an ale house. Classic cocktails were reworked, creative specialty cocktails were developed and to round out the community-rooted brand, regional specialty cocktails were created to celebrate local collegiate teams such as the Tarheel Tart, Howlin’ Wolf, Blue Devil Delight, Tiger Tea and the Gamecock Guzzler, all crafted with fresh mixes and American spirits. For instance, the Carolina Hurricane features Malibu Rum and Myers’s Dark Rum, while the Smoked Chipotle Bloody Mary featuring Hangar One Chipotle Vodka and a chipotle seasoned rim.

Each individual unit used Facebook to communicate specialty drinks as well as limited time offer programs. Other social media platforms, such as Twitter and Instagram, were used to promote contests and special offers. The results? The regional chain increased beverage alcohol revenue by 7 percent, with 43,000 specialty regional cocktail sold, 22 oz. mug sales exceeding 416,000 and 250,000 in total beer bottle sales since the start of program. Customer satisfaction ratings improved six percent over the previous year’s average score. Most important, overall revenue increased 8.8 percent after the new menu was introduced.

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