The 5 Most Profitable Bar Foods
These days, serving food has become a core component of any drinking establishment. Adding a food menu to your bar or brewery creates a reason for people to stay and order more beers, increases your revenue, and brings more customers into your space.
And while the popularity of to-go meals increased during the pandemic, today, people are once again going out to eat in person at bars and breweries.
And when potential customers decide where to eat, the caliber of the meal takes precedence.
In fact, of the 2,600 diners questioned for a TouchBistro 2022 Diner Trends Report, sixty-eight percent agree that when deciding where to eat, food quality is the most important factor.
With food at the top of diners’ minds, bars and breweries, especially those just considering whether to serve food at all, should focus on developing a menu full of money-making foods to draw in those hungry customers.
What We’ll Cover in This Piece:
The 3 Reasons Why a Brewery Should Serve Food
If your brewery or bar does not currently serve food, you should consider adding a food menu to your establishment for several reasons.
1. Topping Off Tabs
A food menu ensures that customers will on average spend more money at your establishment. Filling up on tacos or pizza means that your customers feel more comfortable ordering that extra beer.
2. People Stay Longer
If people spend more time in your bar or brewery they will be more likely to spend more money ordering that last beer or extra plate of food. A bar food menu opens up all these possibilities to keep butts in seats longer. Do you want to run a happy hour special? Can you offer a late night menu? If you offer food at your bar or brewery, that means when folks get hungry (which they always will when drinking), they don't have to leave to find food somewhere else. Instead, they can stick around and simply order from your bar food menu.
3. Attract More Customers
According to a recent study conducted by Eventbrite, seventy-eight percent of Millennials are looking to spend their money on an experience over buying something material. Adding a menu to your bar or brewery program elevates the experience you’re creating for your customer. According to a Restaurant Success Report from Toast, seventy-two percent of diners ranked high-quality food as the main reason they visit a food establishment. You could be missing out on a big segment of folks looking for a reason to go out to one place for beers and bites.
It has been almost three years since the global pandemic first caused many bars and breweries to close, and many people are venturing out again, looking for a place that has it all. Adding a food program to your establishment gives people the best reason to visit your spot as they return to a more normal social life.
How to Make a Profitable Bar Food Menu
There are three things Gallagher suggests for creating the most profitable bar food menu: Keep it basic, go beyond by using the freshest ingredients and differentiate your dishes just enough to keep customers intrigued and coming back for more.
“Bar food should only have four or five ingredients, and it should be served with fresh produce or a complimentary sauce,” says Gallagher. “It's important to keep your customers curious by giving them consistent, well-balanced dishes that [they] will come back to experience again, or better yet, that they’ll share with a future customer who gets intrigued enough to come to your bar or pub and order the dish to experience it for themselves.”
Create Unique Dishes
According to Mike Gallagher, co-founder of Brick Store Pub in Decatur, Georgia, his approach is to start with a high-quality ingredient and figure out how to make it more distinctive than something that a customer might simply, and affordably, recreate at home.
"I can put a pulled pork slider on our menu, but talking about how it was made might help sell that slider better," says Gallagher. "If I tell you how we ordered a full pig, broke it down, and smoked it for seventy-two hours, and not only made sliders with it, but other offerings like fried pig ears, house-cured bacon for our burgers, and even a Chicharron appetizer, it elevated the experience and allows you to charge a little bit extra because it's something that shows of technique and passion for all the effort it took to bring that pig to your plate."
People want to go out to eat and drink for a new experience. Offering something completely unique will draw in potential customers.
Find Your Niche
If you think you have what it takes to break down a pig, go for it! If your specialty is brick oven pizzas, serve up the best crust you can. The most crucial factor is avoiding a menu with an absurd variety of food. Let your menu tell the story of your brand.
“At Brick Store Pub, we concentrate on enhanced southern food," says Gallagher. “We understood the importance of having a few menu items that were unique to us and that patrons felt they couldn't find elsewhere.”
For example, Gallagher says, “We do this by using locally sourced trout rather than traditional English cod in our beer-battered fish and chips, and for a really flavorful burger, you might find a scoop of homemade pimento cheese instead of slices of cheddar."
Experiment With Seasonal Produce
It may sound obvious, but the dishes will naturally complement the alcohol when you use seasonal items.
For instance, you may marry the Oktoberfest beers and darker lagers you put on tap in the fall with seasonal autumn vegetables on your menu, such as brussel sprouts, apples, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and cauliflower.
"Dish ideas will come to you fast when you compare the beer and seasonal produce,” says Gallagher. “The decision of which menu items to stay and which to retire must be made on a regular basis. This enables you to evaluate the popularity and sales of each menu item. So go ahead and feature seasonal dishes because we've discovered that beer and food from the same region match well, too.”
The best prices on the freshest produce and meats are frequently offered by locally sourced food suppliers, so this is a fantastic chance to keep your food cost low.
Post Your Dishes on Social Media
It’s common these days for curious and hungry customers to reference a bar’s social or Yelp pages before making the decision to dine there.
In fact, about eighty-four percent of guests study the menu online and seventy-nine percent check out a restaurant's website before deciding where to eat (TouchBistro 2022 Diner Trends Report).
Make sure you have a presence on Facebook or Instagram. Post pictures of your restaurant's menu, outdoor seating area, and dishes, adding enticing descriptions with lots of details, especially for seasonal specials.
If you want to make sure you're capturing the best angle, reference our guide on How to Take Mouthwatering Food Instagram Photos for Your Restaurant.
Promote any events, deals, or happy hour specials you may have on social media. Encourage happy clients to submit their experiences and favorite bites. This will help determine your best sellers too!
The 5 Most Profitable Bar Foods
- Fish and Chips
- Fried Pickles
- Tater Tots
Fried food is usually the first thing that comes to mind when you think about amazing bar food. With good reason.
Customers enjoy fried foods. Fried food is a great way to upsell in your bar or brewery because crunchy, salty, fried foods make people thirsty for something cold and bubbly to wash it down.
In that same vein, fried foods often become bestsellers on bar menus because they complement beer so well, especially hoppy styles such as hazies, West Coast IPAs, and double IPAS.
The hops and the carbonation in beer clear your palate in between bites, enticing your patrons to go back for one more spicy buffalo wing or fried pickle, for instance.
When customers saddle up to your bar for a bite and a pint, they want something that feels familiar and new all at the same time.
“Our fish and chips are one of our most popular bites,” according to Gallagher, who takes this humble dish to a new level at Brick Store. "Each piece of fish is made specifically for each customer. We could just batter, dredge, and freeze the filets, but we'd prefer to give customers the feeling that their food is being specially prepared for them. It is genuine, respects the ingredients, and highlights the skill of our chef.”
Similarly, fried pickles are a great example. Offer this dish with different types of breaded coatings to give your guests a twist on a classic. Or for tater tots, a nostalgic elementary school lunch staple, impress customers by offering several homemade dipping sauces like curry ketchup or chipotle aioli.
- Wood-Fired Pizza
- Smoked Mac and Cheese
Pizza is a great addition to any bar's food menu because of its low overhead and affordable ingredient costs. In its most basic form, pizza is just dough, sauce, and cheese, so you can make some low-cost versions that will still sell well.
With that in mind, keep the pizza menu pretty tight. Go with a classic margarita, a cheese, and then something with meat. If you do want to put a bit of a twist on things and perhaps feature some seasonal ingredients, offer one specialty pie. Think of more adventurous toppings that will excite customers’ palates like Peppadews, goat cheese, or chorizo. But keep in mind: These specialty ingredients will probably drive up the food cost.
Regardless, pizza is a best-selling bar food menu item because it’s shareable and approachable. Nothing beats tearing into some wood-fired crust while sipping on a pint! Pizza and beer just go together so well, making it one of the best bar foods to add to your menu.
Similarly, pasta is a craveable (often cheesy) carb that goes well with a variety of beer styles.
Keep the ingredients straightforward but add a couple unique cheeses, such as gouda and white cheddar. The richness in the varieties of cheeses combined with the starch of a popular mac and cheese pasta noodle like cavatelli makes for an incredible bar food menu item with a higher perceived value from your customers.
Especially if you add an extra broiled layer of smoky gouda and breadcrumbs on top!
- Bacon Burger
- Greek Turkey Burger
- Black Bean Burger
Like pizza, burgers are a global favorite and simple to customize in a variety of ways for your clientele.
You can’t go wrong with a crowd-pleasing beef burger topped with bacon and all the fixings. But you shouldn’t feel constrained to stay traditional.
Burgers are the perfect dish to flex your chef’s creative muscles. At Brick Store Pub, Gallagher says they give the consumer the option of adding some Southern style to their house burger by paying extra for a scoop of pimento cheese.
"Our burger is popular with customers because it's approachable, fresh, and goes well with the over 1,000 beers we have in our cellar," Gallagher explains. "However, I recommend that you top it with a scoop of our homemade pimento cheese. It not only honors Southern food in Georgia, but it will always be one of the best burger experiences for your customers.”
And it’s a perfect opportunity to upsell the customer. By charging two dollars extra for this Southern staple, Brick Store Pub can quickly rack up an additional profit on a simple menu item.
Think of all the creative ways you can present a burger. And they don’t all have to be in the traditional beef form.
For example, you could create a Greek-inspired burger. Substitute ketchup for a tangy, house-made tzatziki sauce and ditch the beef for a turkey patty. Toppings could include cilantro, feta, and red onion.
Your vegetarian options don't have to be boring either. For instance, offer a black bean burger topped with tomatoes, raw onion, crisp lettuce, and a housemade cherry, jalapeno barbecue sauce.
Plus, burgers are a great opportunity for a double whammy: You can add a fried ingredient on the side, such as french fries or onion rings. Include the addition of specialty ingredients like pimento cheese and your average customer tab starts to mount pretty quickly.
- Hummus with Crudites
- Falafel with Tzatziki
- Chips and Dip
Shareable plates offer patrons the chance to try a little bit of everything.
Popular starters like this include fresh crudites and hummus, cheese plates, and chips and dips.
These dishes can be as straightforward or sophisticated as you like.
At Brick Store patrons have dubbed one of Gallagher’s starters as their favorite shareable snack—Fire Crackers and Dip.
“We took your standard saltine cracker and seasoned it with herbs and spices, [but] to counteract the heat, we serve it with a housemade herb spread that is creamy and rich,” says Gallagher “It’s a fresh approach to your standard chips and dip presented with a fresh take. It’s one of the best-seller snacks.”
Another unique treat that’s a hit with Brick Store customers is a shareable called Tittle Pop, a southern spin on caramel corn but with bourbon caramel, peanuts, and pecans.
This category is a great place to increase your average check value. If you make your shareable starters appealing enough, people will order them first alongside a round of drinks before even deciding what they want to eat for the main meal. Like Tittle Pop—it’s a delicious snack, creates a sociable eating experience, and sparks conversation.
Which leads us back to Gallagher's initial point about profitable bar food: Keep the ingredients simple and well-balanced while differentiating your meals just enough to keep people interested and coming back for more.
- Chicken Wings
- Chicken Tenders
- Crispy Chicken Sandwich
People love fried chicken, it’s as simple as that. For instance, although The New York Post reported that expenses for bone-in chicken wings increased by 40.9% in fiscal year 2021 when compared to the previous year, customers still ordered chicken!
In fact, the National Chicken Council forecasted that Americans would eat almost 100 billion pounds of chicken in 2022.
Fried chicken hits on that magical combination of fat and salt. Almost every bar worth its salt has some type of fried chicken on the menu whether it’s a wing, tender, or sandwich.
To differentiate yourself, offer a wide variety of wing flavors, dipping sauces to go with your tenders, or toppings on your sandwiches.
The key here?
Beer is an incredible foil to that one-two punch of fat and salt. Customers will want a beer to wash down any fried chicken dish, especially if you dress them up with garlicky, sticky, or—even better—spicy ingredients!