Old Chicago Restaurants Toast Drink Menu Innovation

Quick-response (QR) codes, iPads, icons and projection: These are just some of the menu innovations in test or development by Old Chicago, the casual beer-centric concept within the CraftWorks Restaurants & Breweries Inc. portfolio. Director of Liquid Assets Mark Newman is energizing the beer menu with some decidedly out-of-the-box features and formats at the 100-location chain. More than 100 beers on tap and in the bottle are the calling card of this casual concept based in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Today’s cutting-edge technologies provide the greatest opportunities to drive drink sales and solve some age-old challenges, says Newman. “The menu is the biggest sales tool, short of the individual server. When you have 100-200 restaurants, you find the talent pool is always evolving; they’re moving on even if it’s after a year or 18 months." The challenge is, how do you create and manage a standard consistently?

“We’re finding that technology allows us to provide information to the guest — lots of information — and gives the server different ways to interact with the guest,” he explains. “The other side is that it offers a new experience to the current crowd and is attractive to the new guests we’re trying to bring into the restaurants.”

A QR code that leads guests to a site offering in-depth details on various beers, including ABV, IBU, tasting notes and background information, has been in test on the beer menu in nine Old Chicago locations since November. Newman says QR codes are gaining traction with guests, and he hopes to expand their use to other locations soon.

The QR codes join iconography on the menu, which indicates characteristics with clever icons: hoppy (a rabbit), malt (a malted glass), spice (a pepper shaker), balanced (scales of justice), fruit (cherries), citrus (an orange wheel), chocolate (a chocolate kiss) and so on. The icons not only help the guest quickly understand the beer’s characteristics, but also cue servers.

“Our menus are printed in-house and can change every day,” Newman says. “While many of our servers are raving beer enthusiasts, and one or more staffers in every store are Cicerone trained, it’s still a challenge to keep servers up-to-speed on new additions to the menu. We’re finding the icons on the menu point them in the right direction to discuss the beers with the guest.”

Beer Booklet

Old Chicago uses QR codes and iconography to peak guests' interests.

Newman also watched closely the use of iPad wine menus at four locations of CraftWorks' specialty concept ChopHouse & Brewery; the iPad wine lists debuted six months ago. “The technology itself impacts the guests own interaction at the table,” Newman offers. “It’s one thing to be looking down at a book-style wine list; it’s another to be scrolling through the list on an iPad. My wife kept asking me if I was surfing the net! It’s just perceived differently.”

Additionally, the cost of the iPad devices is prohibitive. “You can never have enough of them in the dining room because they’re expensive, and there’s concern about theft,” he says. “We opted not to go the iPad route and decided to go with the QR code instead as our tool to allow the guest to access a depth of information about the beers. With the QR codes, it’s the guest’s choice to use it — they still have the menu in front of them. I can’t say I’ve seen a big-profit ROI on the iPads, although it’s a unique tool.”

Newman continues to investigate other emerging technologies. One is a menu displayed on a TV monitor or projected on a wall. Another high-tech menu is still top-secret, but should launch in March. “A lot of cool attributes are built into that one; it will be a game-changer. It’s a far more innovative format, with social media and other elements incorporated,” he says.

While they may deliver on the cool factor, create a buzz among guests, provide ample information on the brews and differentiate the concept, what’s the impact of these innovative menu formats on service levels? “The goal is that they free up the server to deliver enhanced service. The icons on the menu are really there to stimulate conversation, not replace the server’s description of the beer,” he explains. “All this is being done to enhance the quality of the guest experience. We’re able to deliver a lot of information about beer, which is something our target audience is really interested in and wants from us. We're also able to utilize technology they’re comfortable with while allowing the server to really interact and deliver great service.”

Stay tuned to VIBE for an update on the tech-infused menu Newman debuts at Old Chicago in March.


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