On the Line / Bar & Nightclub / What is a Brasserie?

What is a Brasserie?

A brasserie is an informal French cafe offering beer and wine with simple, hearty food.

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1. What is a brasserie?

A brasserie is an informal French cafe offering beer and wine with simple, hearty food. The dining area is usually large and open, boasting a loud, boisterous atmosphere with many tables filling the space. 

Food is served at all hours, without breaks between lunch and dinner service, and the menus are French-inspired. Classic brasserie fare tends toward rustic, filling dishes like steak frites, roasted chicken, pork and bean stews, meat terrines, and cheese plates. 

The word brasserie is French for “brewery.” As the name suggests, most American brasseries offer a rotating assortment of lagers, ales, ciders, and stouts from local breweries, in addition to French and American wines. 

Intriguing cocktail programs are standard and often feature Prohibition-era tipples and other craft cocktails.

2. What is the history of brasseries?

Today, the idea brings to mind tasty food, but the first brasseries were early breweries in Alsace, where around 60 percent of the beer drunk in France is still brewed. 

The “brasseries artisanales” were France’s original craft breweries, often operated by inns and serving the kind of rustic home-cooked food ideal for soaking up alcohol. They either had beer-making facilities on the premises or a nearby brewery owned them. By the early 1900s, they were known in France as beer gardens or saloons. Food became the focal point through the years, and brasseries evolved into the informal restaurants we enjoy today.

3. What is typically on a brasserie menu?

The typical brasserie showcases the rustic, hearty comfort foods of France. The dishes employ top-quality ingredients and are more elegant than usual diner fare, allowing simple flavors to shine. 

You’ll see traditional soups and starters, like French onion, bouillabaisse, and oysters, alongside hefty entrees. Classic steak frites remain a perennial favorite, but there are lesser-known dishes like duck confit, moules marinère, cassoulets, and savory terrines and tarts that make regular appearances on menus. 

Dessert menus are anchored by a few French classics, like crème Brûlée, but often cast a wider net to include pies, puddings, cookies, and other American favorites. 

The drinks program is integral to a brasserie's identity, and you can expect a large selection of beers, wines, and cocktails.

4. How do you start a brasserie?

No single style of restaurant has universal appeal. Brasseries occupy a specific niche in the marketplace, so potential owners must focus on the five to ten percent of the market they can get. 

“Know thy customer” should be the number one mantra of potential owners. 

Researching your target market will help you narrow down the location you choose for your restaurant. Questions to answer are who is most likely to crave moderately priced French food, where do they live, and how much do they typically spend on eating out? 

Once you identify your customer and location, many other details — like staffing needs and design elements — will fall into place.

5. How much does it cost to start a brasserie?

According to FreshBooks, the median price to open a restaurant is $450 per square foot, including all expenses. 

Brasseries inhabit large spaces and feed many customers at all hours of the day, so overhead costs such as rent, staffing, and utilities may increase your price per square foot. 

Another consideration is the alcohol program. Decisions like whether to brew beer on-site or hire mixologists to make specialty cocktails will significantly impact your costs. 

But generally speaking, profit margins are high when it comes to alcohol, and the additional start-up costs may be worth the investment.

6. Most popular types of brasseries

The most popular brasseries are more dining destinations and experiences than just restaurants. People seek them out for a taste of French “home cooking,” stellar beers, and lively atmospheres. 

Successful brasseries keep customers interested with seasonal specials, rotating beer selections, and richly-flavored French dishes that hit the spot. They also charge prices that customers perceive as a value for the quality. 

Though informal and sometimes loud, brasseries are viewed as a gourmet experience that offers a break from the usual. They’re popular for diners who want a “Parisian feel” with a good beer or glass of vino.

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