Innovative menus and craft brews drive the operational requirements for this emerging segment of the foodservice industry.
In the early '90s, the term gastro pub was first used to describe bars that focused on food as well as beer. Today, these operations continue to flourish in big cities across the country, including Los Angeles, Chicago and New York.
Although limited data exists for this foodservice segment, gastro pub customers tend to skew more heavily toward men, who comprise 65 percent of the patrons, according to Synergy Restaurant Consultants, located in Laguna Niguel, Calif. These establishments also tend to be popular with members of the Millennial generation, which includes those 30 years old or younger.
"People define gastro pubs differently," says David Kincheloe, president of National Restaurant Consultants, based in Denver. "It's more about locally brewed craft beers in connection with food that isn't characteristic of a bar-type setting."
The dining experience offers the flavor and feel of a neighborhood bar. Belgian brews, in particular, are prevalent in many gastro pubs. "There is a socialization aspect of the segment, with guests wanting more artisan food and beverage offerings," says Salma Abu-Ghazaleh, Synergy's business development manager. "Gastro pubs are frequented by true beer enthusiasts seeking to elevate their beer knowledge. Also, these restaurants tend to offer innovative food with nicer presentations and smaller portions [than traditional pubs]."
Typical gastro pub offerings include food for sharing, such as wings, in addition to higher-end burgers and sandwiches. "What defines this segment is higher-end beers that come in bottles meant to be shared, locally brewed beers and infusions, gourmet sandwiches, interesting cooking techniques and twists to classic dishes like elk-ragout-covered fries," Abu-Ghasaleh says.
From a foodservice equipment standpoint, the setup tends to be similar to an upscale casual restaurant. "In gastro pubs, the menu dictates the equipment, so there can be any combination of units in the back of house," Kincheloe says. A typical cookline includes fryers, broilers and cheese melters. The more innovative kitchens are using induction cooktops and ovens that take up less space.
With extensive beer offerings, product knowledge and training represent the main challenges operators in this segment face. "Gastro pubs must have strong training programs that educate employees about beer," Abu-Ghazaleh says. "Also, with better food offerings comes higher levels of expertise and labor costs. Another important challenge is incorporating aroma and visual cues in the guest experience. One popular gastro pub torches wood and places it in a scotch glass, while another offers different types of ice to enhance guests' experience."
As the gastro pub segment continues to evolve, more innovative and diverse menus, along with expanding and eclectic beer offerings, will help set these operations apart.