If you’re attempting to make your bar profitable, serving food can be an effective way to boost your bottom line. But determining which is the most profitable bar food can be a challenge. 

On the surface, serving the cheapest food with the highest acceptable markup sounds like a solid strategy. But making bar food profitable isn’t that straightforward. There are several factors you should consider besides raw profit margin.

Here are the 5 most profitable foods you can serve at different types of bars, along with some important considerations to create the best menu for your unique establishment.

Up first, let’s lay the strategic foundation.

Step 1: Determine your goal

There are a lot of potential reasons to start serving food at a bar. Nailing down your objective is a critical first step. After all, not all bars are the same. Your goals may be completely different from the goals of another bar’s management. 

Some owners may wish to make regular customers more comfortable. Or you may be trying to get patrons to stay longer, thereby drinking more in the process. Others may want to bring new traffic or highlight special activities, like sports viewing or trivia night. Maybe you need to compete with a new bar that opened right up the street. 

Your first job as an owner or manager is to determine your goal.

It’s not enough to say you want to increase profits. A more specific strategy will make it easier to launch a new menu and improve your chances of boosting ROI.

Only 3% of the people will actually use a coupon for food or drinks at a bar.

Step 2: Evaluate your bar size and staff availability

Before attempting to serve food if you’ve never done it before, take a look at the size of your bar and what kind of staff you have. If most people sit at the main bar and a few tiny tables, serving full-size meals might be problematic. 

Likewise, if you have one bartender and one waitress on the floor, will they be able to handle the added tasks of prepping and serving food? 

It’s better to start small with your food menu and grow from there than to overreach and leave your customers dissatisfied. 

Step 3: Assess your prep resources

Do you already have a working kitchen? If so, great! You probably already have someone doing food prep. 

If you have a kitchen but it’s not being used, you may have to hire someone to cook, which will be an added expense. It might be best to think about easy-to-prepare foods—the kind you won’t need a top chef for. Someone who can make burgers, sandwiches, and other classics. 

If you don’t have a kitchen, don’t despair. You can still serve food—see our list below. You’ll have some limitations in what you can serve, but you’ll still be able to keep your customers full and satisfied. 

Step 4: Think like one of your customers

When you think of the phrase “bar food,” you probably think of specific items. It’s tempting to just run with what you would want if you were out. But does that match up with what your customers want? 

Think carefully about your consumer demographics. Are you located in a family neighborhood or an upscale shopping area? Are some of your patrons vegetarians? 

If you don’t know, start asking your customers. You might even consider a survey.

You don’t want to waste time and money offering food your customers don’t even want. And the process of asking can even generate some buzz around your new menu.

Step 5: Pair food and drink

Part of knowing your customer is knowing what they drink. If your standard crowd is made up of beer enthusiasts, that’s one thing. Hard liquor drinkers may have different preferences. And wine connoisseurs are a whole different animal.

Your menu needs to offer foods that pair well with what your customers drink. 

The recommended inventory for the average bar is 45% beer, 40% liquor, 5% wine and 10% mixers.

The top 5 Most Profitable Bar Foods

Now that you’ve had a chance to think about more than just the raw economics of bar menus, let’s take a look at our list of the most profitable bar foods.

You’ll notice we’ve made selections for the issues discussed above. That way you’re sure to find something that makes money for your bar. 

1. Bars without a kitchen: Pizza

If your bar doesn’t have a kitchen, pizza may be your best friend.

Pizza goes well with both beer and wine, and it’s easily customized for families and vegetarians alike. You can start offering pizza with little more than a fridge or freezer to store ready-made inexpensive pizzas and a high-quality countertop pizza oven.

Extras like gelato or after-dinner cappuccino also have the potential to pair well with it. 

2. Bars short on table space: Burgers

Burgers are a near-universal favorite and, like pizza, they’re easy to tailor to your customers. You can even offer vegan burgers.

Here are some protips for making burgers profitable.

  • Price so your food cost percentage is 30% or higher
  • Sell on volume so you can purchase ingredients in bulk
  • Add easy sides, like fries
  • Offer specialty toppings for an extra fee
  • Package them with drinks, like a beer of the day

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3. Bars with an established kitchen: Pasta

Pasta is a great value because it doesn’t cost a lot but it can easily feel upscale if done right. 

There’s no end to the ways you can make it special. Plus, it’s an ideal way to frugally use leftovers (casseroles or pasta of the day, like chicken alfredo).

You can also shake things up with cold pasta salad in summer, pasta soup in winter, Asian noodles, or even a tasting menu. Just make sure you find a way to put your own spin on it. You want customers to feel like they’re getting something they can’t easily make at home.

4. Bars open early or late: Breakfast

You read that right. Breakfast.

Breakfast foods have some of the highest profit margins of any edible offering. Serve omelets and breakfast-style sandwiches throughout the day (both go great with a Bloody Mary or champagne) and push pancakes and waffles later in the day.

If you serve a solid breakfast at all hours, you’ll become a neighborhood tradition. 

5. Bars serving wine drinkers: Tapas

Your sophisticated wine bar won’t be alluring to oenophiles (folks who like wine) if your only options are chicken tenders and potato skins.

Remember, growth isn’t just about profit margins. You need to entice customers. If that requires slightly more expensive menu offerings, that’s okay.

Tapas, or small plates, are the perfect thing to pair with wine, and they work in many bar scenarios. If genuine Spanish tapas are outside the scope of your kitchen, think about plates of olives and cheeses or antipasto skewers.

RELATED: The Wine Bar’s Allure

What you can do right now

Eager to roll out your new bar menu? Here are three tips you can use right away.

  • Make sure your storage capacity is sufficient. Think about foods and ingredients that are slow to spoil to reduce losses. 
  • Develop some fun food and drink combos that will appeal to your patrons. They don’t just have to be entrees. How about a warm brownie and a liqueur? 
  • Don’t forget to consider your payment processing system. Make sure your payment processing partner offers the kind of functionality you’ll need for your strategic shift.

KEEP READING: 9 of the Hottest Restaurant Trends in 2019

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