Oktoberfest: special event fills coffers

Oktoberfest: special event fills coffers – restaurant industry

Carolyn Walkup

Oktoberfest

Special event fills coffers

Celebrating a 19th-century European tradition is boosting contemporary fall sales at many U.S. restaurants.

Operators of both German and some non-German restaurants in the United States are using Oktoberfests to promote their food, beer, and Gemutlichkeit (“good fun’). Most say they are gaining additional sales and, they hope, future repeat business.

The special events are attracting people of all ethnic backgrounds who like beer, bratwurst, bands, and boisterous parties.

Today’s festivals are not that different from the first one in 1810, held to celebrate the wedding day of King Ludwig I and his bride, Theresa, in Bavaria.

Then, as now, German beer is the primary beverage served. Today, however, it can be ordered in quantities smaller than a quart, and oxen, which were spit-roasted for the entree, are no longer served.

In Norfolk, Va., one can find the downtown Omni International Hotel here again sponsoring another Oktoberfest program, on a nightly basis through Oct. 31, and it is being copied by other Omni hotels around the country as well.

“The hotel did more business during that period last year than in any other of its previous food promotions,’ said Michael E. Przybyla, director of food and beverage operations at the hotel.

The Omni has converted its Riverwalk Cafe into a German beer garden, with German flags and decorations, oompah bands, colorfully costumed waiters, and an authentic Bavarian buffet, priced at $10.95.

At Old Heidelberg Park behind the Bavarian Inn in Glendale, Wis., a suburb of Milwaukee, a young pig (spanferkel) and chickens are roasted over an open pit. Other essentials are charbroiled bratwurst, German potato salad, sauerkraut, rye bread, and desserts, such as apple strudel.

On the busiest nights at Bavarian Gardens in Houston, which offers many American foods at its month-long Oktoberfest, about 2,500 people are served in an outdoor beer garden, 10 times the number who normally eat indoors.

Hans’ Bavarian Lodge in Wheeling, Ill., which also does 10 times its normal business during Oktoberfest, features smoked pork chops and thuringer sausages as well as chicken and bratwurst. Hans’ Bavarian Lodge also includes steak tartare, steak sandwiches, and barbecued beef on its menu.

Hans’ Bavarian Lodge expands its seating from 300 to 3,000 during its six-week-long Oktoberfest. Last year, in spite of heavy flooding in the area, Hans’ served 800 barrels of beer, 400 cases of wine, 4.5 tons of sausage, three tons of German potato salad, and 2.5 tons of sauerkraut, co-owner Jane Berghoff said.

ZumAlten Fritz in Miami serves pork shish kebab and cold pork chops in addition to shrimp kebabs and seafood salad.

Bevo Mill in St. Louis is featuring German daily specials during October in the dining rooms. Sausages are being broiled on the patio, and kegs of beer are being set up in the bar, according to Ramon Gallardo, co-owner.

“We see a big opportunity to push sales,’ said Gallardo, noting that the restaurant used to be known for its German food before he and his partners took it over and restored it. Bevo Mill now offers a more varied American menu with just a few German specialties.

Normally Italian-American Grandma’s Restaurant in Duluth, Minn., also becomes German for one week every fall. While Swedes, not Germans, are Duluth’s predominant ethnic group, Oktoberfest “is just a good reason to get out and try something different. It gets a lot of people introduced to Grandma’s,’ a spokesman said.

Schroeder’s Cafe in San Francisco, a 300-seat German restaurant that resembles a Munich beer hall, makes a “tremendous’ profit from its week-long Oktoberfest, said co-owner Skip Kanieche. The sales volume makes up for the restaurant’s slow winter months, he added.

The Berghoff in Chicago sponsors a four-day street party to showcase its house-brand beers and German-American food. This year the Berghoff also is celebrating its 90th anniversary.

Since The Berghoff’s Oktoberfest offers no seating, it can accommodate crowds of 40,000 daily, according to Bill Marquardt, vice president. The outdoor festivities have not hurt the restaurant’s regular indoor business, he noted.

In spite of its size, the Berghoff’s Oktoberfest did not make a profit the last two years, Marquardt claimed, because of high costs of extra labor, entertainment, and equipment rental. Nevertheless, the restaurant plans to continue the annual celebration “to give back something to the city that’s been so good to us and to give us a chance to promote our beer, food, and image,’ Marquardt said.

Promoting beer, especially European-style microbrewery varieties, is becoming increasingly important to the burgeoning brew pub segment, which The Berghoff’s owners plan to join in the near future.

At least one new brew pub, Devil Mountain Brewery in Walnut Creek, Calif., is having an Oktoberfest this year, complete with a special Oktoberfest beer.

Photo: The Berghoff’s Chicago street party in full swing.

Photo: An Oktoberfest sign decorates the roof of the Bavarian Inn restaurant in Glendale, Wis.

Photo: Whole chickens and spanferkel (young pig) are roasted on an open spit.

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