Creating a Profitable Food Menu for Your Bar


Bar profits and operations are typically centered around beer, wine and liquor sales. After all, drinking is the main aspect of most bars. Still, many bars offer a selection of bar food, pub fare, snacks or other food items. Learn how you can put together a profitable food menu for your bar operation.

Selecting the Best Food for Your Bar

Most people know bar food as the mid-range or low-quality finger food that may taste great but is not great for your health. In many cases, this is the best choice for a neighborhood bar. In other cases, organic, local selections served on small plates can add the upscale element better-suited to a different concept. Know your bar first, then consider the type of food and food-presentation you want to offer your guests.

  • Make your food reflect your concept.
  • Not all bars can offer the same types of food. Neighborhood dive bars, for instance, typically offer a variety of fried foods, popcorn, or mixed nuts, to name a few classics. Usually the atmosphere, service-style and drink menu at the bar help dictate the type of food served. An upscale martini bar might offer truffle-glazed potato wedges. This is not a hard and fast rule, however. Just consider the impression your food will make on your guests, and how it will affect your bar’s overall appeal.

  • Consider quick, easy fried foods.
  • When people think of bar food, they think of nachos, French fries, mozzarella sticks and other goodies that are not-so-good for one’s health. People come to know and expect this style of fare. Not only are these foods easy to prepare and widely enjoyed, they often have the lowest food cost of any other type of bar food. This means that the amount you pay is a small percentage of the amount you charge guests, perhaps even less than 25 percent. Often, barfly fare is even packaged frozen for easy frying or grilling, which saves on labor cost. These details add up for maximum profit.

  • Buy at a bulk discount.
  • Start-up restaurants or bars may buy their food from local sources rather than the giant. Purchasing locally can be a great move, but buying in bulk is usually the more cost-effective way to go. See if you can purchase from a wholesaler such as Costco, or if a local farmer will give you a discount if you purchase a larger order. When you purchase at a discount, your cost goes down, making you more profit without raising customers’ prices.

  • Put a spin on tradition.
  • The best food for every bar is not necessarily “bar food,” or the typical greasy, fried, or salty items often seen as bar fare. For instance, you might find a recipe for veggie sliders, offering a healthful alternative to fatty meat. You may also try to offer something different altogether, depending on your concept. If the concept is a French wine bar, offering modern versions of traditional French fare, such as onion soup, cheese plates and steak-frites might be the way to go to intrigue your clientele.

Liquor License Requirements: Bars that sell only alcohol are only required to have a liquor license. However, some bars that sell food must have a food and beverage license. This is where it gets tricky. In this case, the local Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) usually requires a certain percentage of sales to come from food. This means that your menu may need to be put together according to ABC bylaws.

The good thing is that running a bar with a small food menu may put you in a more favorable light with your local law enforcement, since your patrons will have the option of drinking and eating something before driving away from your establishment. Communicate concerns to your local ABC.
Learn more about liquor laws and licensing for your bar or restaurant »

Choosing the Right Equipment

Bars often have limited space in their kitchens, which may be nothing more than small spaces behind the bar, far from the large and fully-equipped commercial kitchens restaurants have. When it comes to cooking in a small kitchen, smaller equipment is key. Bar owners and managers often prefer countertop models of traditional equipment, which consume less energy, less space and usually less up-front capital. Additionally, countertop equipment may not require a ventilation hood—but always check your local health and fire codes. There are many varieties in fryers, griddles, pizza ovens and more.

Making Food Service Part of Bar Service

Many establishments are called by the name of “brew pub,” “bar and grill,” or simply, “bar,” and these all potentially serve food in addition to alcohol. Many bars not only serve food, but are required to serve food as part of their food and beverage contract. Hence, it is essential that your bartenders know how to serve food whenever people come in to drink as well as dine at the bar. A few tips for quality food service at the bar include:

  • Develop an understanding with the bartenders.
  • Be sure your bartenders are fully aware that any food ordered at the bar is to be served at the bar. That means that they are responsible for taking the order and bringing out the food to their bar guests.

  • Provide basic server training.
  • Managers should train their bartenders in every step along the way, including whether or not it is the bartender’s responsibility to bring out the condiments, clear the plates and other tasks. The bartender should know a little about serving food, if that is going to be part of his or her job requirements.

  • Be sure the bartenders know the menu.
  • The bartenders should have a basic knowledge of your products whether or not they actually serve food. If they are responsible for serving food at the bar, they need to know the specials, the ingredients and the portion size, as well as the operating hours of the kitchen.

The bar food you offer is as representative of your bar as the drinks you offer. The same quality, selection and service that you put into serving drinks should also be present when serving bar food. Choose your food based on your concept, reflective of who you are and the reputation you want.


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