NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The owners of Swingbellys BBQ, a small barbecue joint in the beach town of Long Beach, N.Y., like to drink beer.

That helps when it comes to choosing the hops, ales, stouts and lagers the 55-seat restaurant prides itself on offering on eight routinely changed taps.

For many small restaurants and bars, deciding on a beer menu is part of making smart business decisions.

"We choose the beers we want," says Dan Monteforte, pit master at Swingbellys.

While price plays a role in selecting many of the beers, Monteforte says, the most important factor is that they complement the strong flavors of ribs, chicken and brisket.

"There are a lot of beers that won't stand up to BBQ. We try to choose bold flavors," Monteforte says. "If you pick something that is weak or light, it will get lost."

For many small restaurants and bars, deciding on a beer menu is part of making smart business decisions.

Restaurants take into account the demographics and demands of their guests, storage space and cost as well as what's on the food menu, according to Annika Stensson, director of media relations for the

National Restaurant Association

.

'I don't even ask about price, I want the best beer and my customers will pay.'

-- Michael Roper, proprietor of Hopleaf Bar

Riccardo Romero, owner of

Arepas Cafe

, a Venezuelan restaurant in Astoria, N.Y., offers arepas, a traditional Latin food that looks somewhat like a pita but is made out of corn flour. Arepas are stuffed with a meats, cheeses and other garnishes.

Romero says the so-called street food goes very well with beer and sangria, and among the beer selection, Arepas Cafe makes sure to offer Colombian and Venezuelan beer to cater to the community it serves most.

Beer powerhouses such as

SABMiller

and

InBev's

(INB) - Get Report

Anheuser-Busch have to find ways to beat out the competition, typically by offering deals and special marketing to get their labels in coveted draft and bottled-beer spots, experts say. Larger sports bars and chain restaurants tend to respond the best to stocking more mainstream beers for price breaks.

Those mega brand-name beers are also typically priced about the same, says Gregg Rapp, owner of

Menu Technologies

and a "menu engineer" who helps restaurants, typically chains, match customer demand and preference.

"In the old days before it was regulated, a beer company would come in would build a bar for a bar owner and you would agree to only serve their beer. Now they can't do that. It's very regulated on how they do promotions in most states," Rapp says.

Even that more limited kind of promotion is far from the experience of Michael Roper, the proprietor of

Hopleaf Bar

in Chicago -- seller of roughly 300 kinds of domestic and foreign craft beer.

"The kind of breweries

we do business with don't have anything to offer us other than their product. The chain bars are really susceptible to that kind of stuff, but for us it's all about the beer," he says of special marketing, events and bargain promotions. "The brewers we deal with are small independent breweries that do not have a budget to give away product."

The smaller brewers either send their own sales reps or will work with local distributors or marketing companies to sell their product, Roper says.

"I don't even ask about price. I want the best beer and my customers will pay what it takes," says. "It's a very old-fashioned, personal sales pitch, where somebody comes in from this little independent brewery with the highest-quality ingredient, or they tell you

something

to make you want to carry this beer."

One good argument: Craft beer and microbrewery offerings can set a small restaurant or bar apart from the competition.

"Though not quite at the level of wine yet, beer is becoming a more important and recognized element to the restaurant experience," Stensson writes in an email.

Smaller bars and restaurants have the flexibility not only to make those unique choices, but to make them in unique ways.

"So many breweries want to be in our bar that

some Fridays I have a group of regulars that come after work and sit at the end of the bar and I will pop

samples open and let my customers taste the beer," Roper says. "That's a fun way that not only do we get to test the products, but it also builds loyalty to a group of customers that come and feel like they are part of the process.

Hopleaf usually gives beers a test run before really making a sales rep's day and adding them to the menu full time.

"I'm looking for a beer that's really delicious, that fills a niche that's not being filled by another, or that has a great story to it. Or I really like the guy," Roper says.

To contact the writer of this article, click here:

Laurie Kulikowski

.

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