By: Corbin Ensminger
Edited by: Mallory Cage
Walk into the World of Beer on any night and amid the sports highlights on TV and the monstrous fridge full of beers, you'll spot an eclectic mix of bar food: hamburgers at one table, nachos at another, roasted chicken at yet another.
What you won't see is a kitchen. Instead, it's BYOF – bring your own food.
The idea started in San Francisco and New York City, but the World of Beer is the first local bar to let customers bring their own food.
Zach Hill and two co-workers took advantage of the idea on their first trip to the World of Beer by ordering an appetizer platter from the Wild Hare Sports Cafe.
"It's different. I'm on the fence. I ordered an appetizer, and if it came from here it would take five minutes, but they told me it would be about 20 minutes," Hill said.
"But I do like that it gives you more variety, and it gives them much more space without a kitchen," he said.
The S.C. Hospitality Association said the cost to install a typical restaurant kitchen can cost about $100,000.
Not cooking food might also have another benefit, said Robin DiPietro of the USC School of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management.
"Businesses are always looking for a competitive advantage, and now their servers only need to know drinks," said DiPietro, who directs the International Institute of Foodservice Research and Education.
State law requires bars be able to serve food to at least 40 people, so the World of Beer does have large commercial toaster oven. It sits idle, with only hazy plans of maybe making appetizers someday.
General Manager Dan Albert said the BYOF idea started with the chain's original bar in Tampa, Fla. It opened in a plaza around several restaurants, and the owner decided not to compete with them on food.
"We are not trying to make money off of food; that's just not our thing," Albert said.
While Columbia's Vista location was preparing to open, Albert said he visited nearby restaurants and discussed the BYOF idea. Most agreed, he said. All Albert asked was not to add a delivery fee.
"We want this to be an extension of their dining rooms," Albert said.
He said people have even brought in homemade dinners and that a group brought sandwiches and chips to watch a football game in January.
"We want people to feel like they're at home. The more comfortable they are, the better," Albert said.
Dameion Dawson and Joe Mayo ordered food from Salsarita's during their first trip to World of Beer. Dawson said it was "weird not knowing where the food's coming from," while said it made him more likely to come back.
DiPietro said BYOF usually works only in specific places like the Vista, where several restaurants and bars are close together.
For example, New York City has several BYOF bars in the East Village. Their websites provide the names of restaurants that deliver.
At the World of Beer in the Vista, customers can look at menus from restaurants and call in their orders.
But at The Flying Saucer, directly behind the World of Beer, and its main rival, manager Will Cauthen said not having a kitchen could be a disadvantage.
To really enjoy the total experience of having a high-end beer, he said, "you need to see how it pairs with food."
What happens if customers complain about food delivered from somewhere else, he said.
"You become the middleman at your own place," Cauthen said. "That's kind of weird."
Albert said food hasn't been an issue at the World of Beer, but that he'd deal with any complaints.
James Lanning, general manager of the Wild Hare, said he was a little worried about the World of Beer at first, but that it has increased his business. Since the World of Beer doesn't serve liquor, Lanning said many customers come to the Wild Hare after having their beer next door.
"We share a lot of customers," he said.
But with 45 percent of The Wild Hare's sales coming from the food, it's not likely to adopt the BYOF model, he said.
"If we lost that, we wouldn't be able to stay open," Lanning said. "Lunch is a big part of our business, and that's only food."
The Wild Hare gets so many orders from its neighbor on Fridays and Saturdays that Lanning brings in an extra employee just to handle World of Beer orders.
Salsarita's, a Mexican restaurant a block away, also hopes to assign someone just for deliveries soon. "We have orders going to World of Beer every day," manager Suki Patel said.
Salsarita's opened about three months ago, and Patel said partnering with the bar has helped it get noticed.
Albert said that's part of the goal with BYOF.
"We're not here to take over the neighborhood, we're here to be a part of it and make it better," he said.