Having a detailed beverage menu is a requisite in operating a successful bar or restaurant. Stuart Melia, Vice President of Beverage Operations at CraftWorks Restaurants & Breweries, Inc., headquartered in Louisville, Colo., and Chattanooga, Tenn., understands this, which is why Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurants, Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery, Old Chicago, as well as CraftWorks’ seven specialty concepts offer nuanced alcohol-free drinks that not only are tastefully crafted but tasty, as well.
At CraftWorks, which has over 200 locations across the United States, items are made from scratch, so having housemade lemonades and sodas, especially the housemade root beer, is a main focus for each restaurant concept. Yet, it’s also about making innovative drinks with those housemade ingredients. “We don’t want them to have a water that doesn’t leave a lasting impression,” Melia says. That’s why all root beer is made in-house, as well as the lemonade, which is freshly squeezed, and mixed with simple syrup. Something like the Blackberry Mint Cooler, served at ChopHouse & Brewery is one of those drinks, made with fresh blackberry, mint, lime and soda.
This is a philosophy that has helped create a profitable alcohol-free program. Melia, however, takes time to make sure alcohol-free drinks have as good of a profit margin or better than those of fountain sodas.
This is credited to a team that creates drinks “craveable enough to drive customers" and produce a “wow” factor — drinks that Melia says have “emotions around them.”
“You can go to a vending machine to get a soda or a water. We want to offer someone something memorable that they’ll come back for it.”
Ranging from $2.75 to $4.50, alcohol-free options like the Watermelon Lemonade, made with fresh watermelon, housemade lemonade and Monin’s watermelon syrup, served at Rock Bottom and Gordon Biersch, is one of those drinks that people continue to order.
“We want to use fresh products at every opportunity that we have, but we enhance the flavor with using premium syrups like Monin,” Melia explains. “It enables us to use fresh fruit but consistently make a great drink no matter where you are.”
Sure, it’s about the ingredients, but it’s also successful because of Melia’s marketing strategy. “Pictures are powerful,” Melia insists, noting that all alcohol-free drinks are showcased on their core and limited-time menus, but it’s also comes down to server training. “We address the buzzwords that the servers are to use; many of those center around ‘housemade,’ ‘from scratch’ and ‘fresh.’”
“To have a killer alcohol-free beverage that people know you for is exciting,” he says. “You become known for that and it's part of the decision-making process,” for guests when they’re looking for a place for lunch or dinner. Plus, as Melia says, a killer alcohol-free program also means you’re reaching a larger audience, so taking the time and process to develop a great alcohol-free drink is as important as creating a signature cocktail.
With Old Chicago now offering more innovative options, Melia and the CraftWorks team are creating key opportunities to grow sales with premium alcohol-free menus both from a profitability and memorable guest experience standpoint at all the varied restaurant concepts.
“What you get from us, you can’t get anywhere else: an innovative approach to alcohol-free beverages, made-from-scratch ingredients — that’s what we’re proud of.”
And with profitable program, a passionate team and powerful marketing, there are certainly a lot of things for which CraftWorks can take pride.