Sure, you offer a range of by-the-glass selections from your well-curated wine list, cool cocktails from your on-staff mixologists and artisan beers you’ve sourced from local and regional artisan purveyors. But are customers really able to figure out which alcoholic beverage option goes best with the food items you serve? Or, other than a few aficionados, is it mostly guesswork on the customer’s part?
Well-curated beverage pairings are a fixture at many high-end restaurants. But now a few operators have figured out how to showcase beverage options this way at neighborhood-type restaurants that feature lower price points. They’re printing specific wine, beer and cocktail matching recommendations right next to every food item shown on their menus.
New York City restaurant Apartment 13, which opened early last fall, was among the first operations to give this matching strategy a try.
“Our menu explores an exciting new, user-friendly way of presenting our basic suggestions of matching wine, beer, sake and cocktails with chef John Keller’s food,” the restaurant’s website notes. “And we further our efforts to create guest-friendly dining by matching a small, representative sampling of spirits, cocktails wine and sherry with our desserts as well.”
The restaurant has the firepower to do it. Apartment 13‘s beverage program is overseen by wine guru Steven Olson and mixology whiz Leo DeGroff, son of cocktail legend Dale DeGroff. Leo DeGroff is part of Olson’s legendary aka wine geek consulting business.
Here’s an example of what they’ve put together for Apartment 13.
A guest starting with a Kale Caesar salad ($9) is prompted to choose a Pinot Gris or a Bluepoint Toasted Lager. The menu suggests that a crab cake eater (Mimi’s Maryland Crabcake, $13) should consider a Duvel beer, a Kitaya Sake or a Cherry Blossom cocktail.
Main course selections for a simple Steak & Fries (Creekstone Farms 28-day Dry Aged NY strip, Rittenhouse rye demi-glace, $29) are the Miss Parker Place cocktail, a glass of Mencia red wine or perhaps or some Scythe & Sickle beer.
Food prices are surprisingly modest at this well-reviewed restaurant. But the carefully curated beverage options—hand-crafted beers are $8 each, wines-by-the-glass are mostly in the $15 range, cocktails are $13 per—are check-builders any restaurant operator would embrace. Pairing suggestions change frequently.
The just-opened Coppervine in Chicago has an even more ambitious and specific pairing program that stretches across multiple beverage categories. Its tag line: “Pursuit of the Perfect Pairing.”
While Apartment 13 suggestions are for full-sized portions, Coppervine goes with smaller pours. The idea is to allow curious customers to sample more than one beverage matched to the food item they’ve ordered.
Here’s an example of how this restaurant’s menu is set up.
Customers opting for a simple small plate starter of organic white popcorn tossed with Parmesan and Thai chili oil ($6) can choose a three-ounce pour of 2011 Yealands Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand that goes for $7; a five-ounce glass of Wipeout IPA from Port Brewing in San Marcos, CA that costs $4; or a two-ounce WWPDS cocktail priced at $6.
Those who order the Red Wine Braised Short Rib with creamy goat cheese, root vegetables and lardons ($19) might opt for a $6 pour of 2012 Boneshaker Old Vine Zinfandel , Lodi, CA; some Boffo Brown Ale from Dark Horse Brewing in Marshall, MN that costs $5; or a Smoke & Mirrors cocktail that goes for $6. Portions are the restaurant’s standard three ounces for wine, five ounces for beer and two ounces for cocktails.
These sampler-sized pours enable customers to order several different food courses that come with matched drinks, or to order several different types of drinks with a single food item to see how the pairings compare. Either way, the bartenders at Coppervine will be busy.
Consulting chef Michael Taus handles the food at Coppervine. Chicago wine guru Don Sritong oversees the beverage program. Keep an eye on their concept, along with that of Apartment 13. No customer at either restaurant has to wonder what wine, beer or cocktail to order—quite a service at the price points these places charge.