Now that ethnic foods and flavors have become mainstream, and culinary companies like McCain Foods are delivering new menu items with an ethnic twist, diners are enjoying them more often — particularly when accompanied by a complementary alcoholic beverage like craft beer.

According to research from Nielsen, one out of three Americans consumes foods that contain multicultural flavors at least once a week.
Additionally, according to Nielsen’s CGA On-Premise Consumer Survey, twice as many Americans dine out every week and order a drink (67 percent), compared to those visits that are drink-led (34 percent).

Partnering beers with ethnic food

Offering craft beer as a companion to ethnic foods and ingredients presents a major opportunity for restaurant operators to increase visits and grow sales.

“There’s a synergy with beer and food,” says Julia Herz, craft beer program director at the Brewers Association, a non-profit trade group.

Whether it’s tacos and Tecate or sushi and Sapporo, ethnic foods have historically been enjoyed with beverages from the same geographic region, so it makes sense for operators to start with such symbiotic pairings.

“Food and drink are meant to be enjoyed together,” says Phil Stubstad, a manager and brew consultant with Chicago-based Lettuce Entertain You Restaurants (LEYE). “Beers [from the same region] are always a good place to start.”

Among the alcoholic beverage offerings at Big Bowl, LEYE’s Chinese and Thai concept, are bottles of traditional Asian beers, including Sapporo and Tsingtao, and other well-known global brews, such as Beck’s, Heineken and Corona.

Exploring flavor profiles

Instead, Tyler develops recipes and pairings based on flavor profiles. “It allows a much wider exploration of a region’s food culture,” he says. For example, his latest concoction is a Sichuan Saison, made with Sichuan peppercorns, orange peel and a custom blend of Chinese five-spice.

Meanwhile, Lettuce Entertain You’s Stubstad advises operators to offer options for all.

“It’s important to do a little bit of both,” he said. “Not everyone wants the same thing. You want some variety.”

At Big Bowl, the beer menu takes advantage of this to focus on local brews as well as a selection of locally made IPAs and original brews. An example is Stubstad’s original Lemon Grass Wit Beer, a light, wheat beer created to balance the spice in dishes like Kung Pao Chicken.

Herz of the Brewers Association also sees advantages to expanding beyond the traditional pairings.

“When you want to be a leader and flex your muscles and shape people’s tastes, you go to beers that are less [traditional],” says Herz. “It creates a lot more home runs and ‘ah-has.’”