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Optimizing Your Bar Food Menu for the Busy Warm-Weather Seasons

As the busy warm-weather seasons approach, now is the time to optimize your bar menu and create a strategy to boost sales. To attract attention to your restaurant, offering popular and profitable bar foods can drive traffic and keep customers returning for more.

Studies have shown that the more people drink, the more they eat. One reason we tend to eat more when we drink is that alcohol lowers inhibitions and decreases defenses---especially when it comes to making healthy eating choices.

This can play an important role in boosting sales during the busy back-to-the-bar season. With a drink in hand, customers are more likely to devour the free chips and nuts and order quick-to-the-table appetizers and easy-to-handle bar food.

Studies have also shown that people tend to order and eat more when alcohol is either consumed before or accompanied by a meal. This can be an especially influential factor for restaurants that broadcast sporting events in the bar area or offer happy hour events like karaoke, game night, girls’ night out, or holiday events.

When preparing your restaurant and bar for the busy warm-weather seasons ahead, reimaging your bar menu to include some of the most profitable and popular items should be at the top of your “to-do” list. From classic apps to trendy snacks, adding these 10 items can help you make the most of the busiest season.

Analyze your current menu

A high-margin menu is a combination of popular, profitable items, and high-priced items made with the least expensive and most readily available ingredients possible. Attractive bar menu items should also be quick to prepare and send out to your guests. Finding that perfect balance of popular, profitable, and affordable requires doing some tweaks to your menu.

The first step in making your bar menu a moneymaker is to analyze your current menu, a process known as menu engineering. To keep your menu profitable, popular, and fresh, consider implementing this process at least twice a year.

Break your menu items into the following 4 categories:

Stars: the category under which most of your bar food menu should fall. Your stars are the items with the highest profitability and popularity. It doesn’t cost too much to make them and yet they sell often.

Puzzles: Appropriately named, the decision of whether to include these items might be difficult to solve. These are the high profit items with low popularity. Though these items can bring in revenue, ordering the ingredients for an item that doesn’t sell that much might create a waste of food, time, and money. If you do decide to include these items, it’s important to train your staff to upsell them. It’s also important to feature them on your menu, both online, and in person. For tips on menu design, see our blog post, Reimagining Your Online Menu.

Plowhorses: The opposite of puzzles, plowhorses have low profitability and high popularity. Though they're not the big moneymakers individually, if sold enough, you’ll usually make up for it. These are important because they are the items that can attract your guests to your business. Once they're enjoying a drink and the enticing item, it's the hope that they will order more profitable items from your bar menu.

Dogs: The category you should avoid, dogs are both low in profit and popularity. Consider rebranding or reinventing your dogs to make them more appealing. This could include changing the item’s name, ingredients, or its placement on your bar menu.

Use the MVM: Minimal Viable Menu Strategy

When it comes to strategizing your restaurant’s bar menu, it’s important that you implement the minimum viable menu, a condensed version of a full-scale menu. Using tactics like menu engineering, a MVM is a carefully thought-out, scaled-down menu that contains items that are popular and profitable at the same time.

Other important considerations are deliverability and availability. To save yourself and your staff headaches, pare down your menu to only those items that meet these important criteria:

  • Profitable

  • Popular

  • Available

  • Deliverable

The goal of a MVM is to create a menu that eliminates items that do not meet these four criteria, and entices customers to order. Shifting to a leaner and smaller menu of options not only increases customer satisfaction by consistently offering your proven winners and decreasing the dreaded “out of stock” response, but the trimmed-down menu will help your restaurant to operate more efficiently and ultimately, more profitably.

For more tips on the MVM,see our blog post, How to Cook Up a Minimum Viable Menu that Delivers.

10 Most Profitable Bar Food Menu Items


Pizza is almost a no-brainer because it’s not just a highly popular menu item, but it also has relatively low ingredient costs, which translates to a high-profit margin. Pizza is also extremely versatile, customizable, and portable, making it one of the most commonly ordered bar food items..

French Fries

Everyone loves a basket of fried snacks, and when you add simple ingredients like parmesan cheese, gooey mozzarella, or garlic powder, you can create a twist on this old favorite that never fails. Basil NY offers delicious starters like Basil Fries and Arancini Balls that pair perfectly with a glass of wine or a craft beer.


Did you know that more than half of consumers eat burgers at least once a week? And that goes for vegans as well. Having a classic burger and vegan alternative on your bar menu is a smart move because it’s not only a popular, versatile, and portable item, but it’s a high-profit margin food. Letting prospective customers know that your bar menu includes items for non-meat eaters will help to broaden your base.

South Florida’s Krazy Vegan is an inspirational success story, serving up vegan burgers, and proving that comfort food can be healthy and delicious.

Chicken Wings and Tenders

Wings and chicken tenders have always been bar food staples. They’re easy to prepare and always in high demand. To please the pallet of your vegan customers, consider adding buffalo cauliflower or other faux chicken plant-based menu items to your bar menu.


There’s something about a large plate of nachos at a bar that just makes sense. And when it comes to high profit, this dish can’t be missed.

Made up of cheap, simple ingredients like chips and salsa, chips are a munchie menu must. Upcharging customers for add-ons like guacamole, cheese, tomatoes, homemade salsa, shredded beef or pork , or fresh avocado is a simple basket-size booster.

Mozzarella Sticks

Americans love mozzarella cheese. Like french fries and onion rings, mozzarella sticks can be prepackaged and frozen, ready in a pinch to toss in a fryer and serve with a side of marinara sauce. Play with the portion size of mozzarella sticks by upselling your standard smaller order to serve a group. Make sure your servers are on the ball by asking your guests if they'd like a "refill" on the appetizers along with their drinks to boost basket size and generate more revenue.

Tacos and Quesadillas

To keep inventory efficient, create bar menu items that use the same ingredients for different purposes. Tacos and quesadillas use some of the same ingredients as burritos and nachos. And this tex-mex handheld bar fare pairs well with cocktails like margaritas.

Taco Mahal in New York’s West Village and Hell’s Kitchen offers a full customizable taco menu that guests enjoy.


When people think of bar food, deep fried this-and-that is the first thing that comes to mind. Having a few salad options on the bar menu that can be changed when ingredient supply costs or availability changes can help to attract a new customer base and keep costs low.

Salads are a great option for health-conscious customers. They’re also easily customizable to accommodate dietary restrictions, and like nachos, they can be made with ingredients already on hand.

Soft Pretzels

Soft pretzels are another popular menu item at bars, and there are several reasons why they can be profitable. Soft pretzels are relatively inexpensive to make and can be made in bulk. A versatile menu item that can be served with a variety of dips or toppings, soft pretzels pair well with beer.

Bar menu inspiration for your busy season

Still need some inspiration? Check out a few of these creative menu ideas.

Dollar Clams and Oysters

For those slower hours, consider offering dollar oysters, mussels, and clams to attract more customers to your bar. This not only gets guests coming in the door and staying a while, but they'll likely be ordering drinks and other foods while enjoying the deal of the day.

Sampler platters

A sampler platter is a selection of your most popular appetizers served as one big dish. This is the perfect menu item for your indecisive guests and larger groups.

Charcuterie boards

Among the top food trends to watch this year, charcuterie boards aren’t always the cheapest to make, falling into the plowhorse category. But if you get the presentation right and post on social media, this item speaks for itself. Mickey Burkes, located on Miami’s South Beach, features a charcuterie spread that’s as much an art installation as it is a delicious reason to head to the beach.

Healthy Happy Hour

Bar menus tend to be much simpler than full-service dining restaurant menus. And at Basil Pizza NYC, a kosher Italian eatery and wine bar in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, it doesn’t have to be the weekend to get your happy hour on. Create some beautiful and interesting healthy smoothies and cocktails for your vegan or eco-conscious customers. Adding a few fresh ingredients to cocktails that you already serve, like an arugula martini or a blueberry wine spritzer, can add some spring freshness to your bar menu and boost revenue.

Offering the right bar foods can make a significant impact on the profitability of your business during the busy season. By incorporating these profitable bar foods into your menu, and creating some fun and summery specials, you can attract more customers and boost sales while keeping your operation streamlined.

With the right mix of popular, profitable, and instagramable items, your restaurant can thrive during the busy seasons.

By Eileen Strauss


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