To beer or not to beer?

If you offer pizza, chances are, you’ve thought of offering beer and wine, too. Some takeout operations even offer beer to go with their pies, like Mad Greek’s Pizza (madgreekspizza.com) in Philadelphia, which entices customers not only with pies, but with deals on six-packs to go! Meanwhile, many upscale sit-down pizzerias wouldn’t think of operating without their oft-lengthy beer and wine lists. Of course, your local laws will determine what you can sell and in what capacity, and your clientele will determine whether you offer dozens of obscure wines by the glassor frosty mugs of down-home domestic brews on tap. But, if you’ve been thinking of making the leap to a soft liquor-serving establishment, you probably want to weigh your options first. So we talked to a few pizzeria insiders around the country—who sit at the helm of very different operations (a small neighborhood pizza shop, a family-style restaurant, and a large-scale concept with multiple locations)—to ask about the pros and cons of adding beer and wine. Here’s what they said:

“In my mind, you can’t really call yourself a sit-down pizza place without at least beer; pizza and beer seem to go together, and you’ll get many more adults eating pizza at your place if you offer beer. However, there are many complications incurred by offering beer. (Note: Everything I know is based on Oregon’s rules.) You need a liquor license from the state, and usually the city, too. If you can get one, you have to undergo the same server certification training that all of your bartenders will have to take. And you’ll need liquor liability insurance to get a license. Of course, you have to follow the rules concerning beer service—rules about minors in areas where you serve beer, hours of the day when you can serve, access to your restaurant for liquor inspectors at all times, rules about advertising beer, etc.—as well as the laws: checking ID, over-serving people, not serving minors, etc.

“There are employee-related complications as well. You must have at least one employee who is old enough to serve beer working at all times, and that employee can get your business fi ned or cause you to lose your license with any improper actions. You and your employees will have to learn how to deal with intoxicated people who may come in and demand booze. You also have to start being concerned about employees drinking, especially minor employees, both on the job and afterhours.

“As for the equipment issues, if you offer beer, you will probably need a glass washer—a dedicated dishwashing machine under the counter to wash glasses, pitchers and soda cups—which cost about $3,000 and up. And you’ll need more refrigeration space: for glasses and pitchers, and for kegs and/or bottles of beer. In all but the smallest places, this means you must have a walk-in cooler. And, don’t forget, you need to have the lines from the beer kegs to the taps cleaned at least biweekly by a professional.”

               –Hale Carter, owner, Joey’s Pizza, Springfield, OR

“We decided to sell beer at our restaurants for several reasons. Most restaurants in our areas sell beer and wine/liquor. We opted to sell beer only, as liquor licenses in some cases are costprohibitive, and there are a whole different set of regulations in our area, such as not being able to hire a server under 18 if you sell wine or liquor (with beer, we can have under-18 servers, though they are not allowed to serve beer). Proper monitoring and training eliminates any issues with under-18 servers.

“Beer is solely a complement to our menu. We are a family-style restaurant that serves beer—not a bar that happens to serve food. Some of the pitfalls to avoid involve: making sure you are not over-serving guests, making sure all servers go through alcohol awareness training, and checking ID every time. But beer can increase your sales through running promotions duringsporting events and special times during the year. A lot of times, your local beer distributor will co-advertise for special events, and our distributors make up all of our table tents and window signage for free—very helpful!

“Draft beer is extremely profitable, and specialty brews can make a difference with your guests. We encourage starter pairings that go with different beers, and wings with beer pairings for football nights. All in all, we feel that offering beer is another revenue stream for our business.”

                –Elesa and Shannon Hayden, owners, Johnny Brusco’s New York Style Pizza (johnnybruscos.com), Cordova, TN, and Olive Branch, MS

“The addition of wine and beer to a pizza concept creates a great opportunity to expand the customer base and results in a monetary shot in the arm. By adding libations to your offerings, you attract a more diverse clientele that continues to grow. That provides the opportunity to create a healthy database of customers and enhance customer relations. Wine and beer, in short, can help create a total dining experience, but there are pitfalls to consider before jumping on board. There are three main areas that require strict attention: a precise inventory system, the potential for theft, and the readiness to be a responsible provider of alcohol. In some states, you also need to consider the tax ramification, as many states have an additional surcharge tax on the sale of wine.

“Inventory systems: Any establishment selling alcohol must have an inventory system to help monitor sales and trends, and to provide a financial grasp on loss and theft. Theft: Sad but true—if you are going to have alcohol on premise, you simply have to be prepared to secure product in cages and track inventory. You have to plan for this in your design or retrofit to an existing space. Responsibility: Consumption of alcohol is a major obligation for employees and is carefully monitored by the public. You must train employees on how to enforce laws so you don’t get a bad reputation in the community.

“Are you ready? If you have at least a 1,500-square-foot restaurant, then adding wine and beer could have great benefits. However, if you have less than 1,000 square feet, the time, effort and risk to you may far outweigh the benefits. If you decide to take the leap, be prepared to spend a significant amount of time cultivating relationships with beer and wine distributors—it’s generally the best way to get the most favorable pricing.”

             –Lars Kopperud, general manager, Mafiaoza’s (mafiaozas.com), Nashville, TN

Beer and wine may seem like no-brainer additions, but they will have a major impact on your business, no doubt about that—for better or for worse. Of course, once you weigh the pros and cons of offering soft liquor at your establishment, you’ll have more work to do as you analyze your customer base and determine what beer and/or wine you will carry. Then you’ll have to remain vigilant every day to make sure that you are serving responsibly, keeping theft at bay and—like with any other menu item—tracking what’s moving and what could be removed. If everything goes smoothly, cheers to a flowing new revenue stream!

Tracy Morin is PMQ’s managing editor.