Making Bar Snacks More Profitable
Clever Ways To Upcharge Items Typically Given Away For Free
Here’s the thing about those complimentary bowls of peanuts or pretzels offered at the bar: They’re a) going to waste because customers won’t touch them in fear of too many hands passing over them or b) a restaurant could be missing out on additional profits if customers are indeed eating them and the bartender is constantly replenishing them.
There’s a way to solve this issue, says Greg Baker, who co-owns Tampa Bay hot spots The Refinery as well as Fodder and Shine with his wife, Michelle. Just do not give anything away. At Fodder and Shine, there’s a scaled-down bar menu for those who are just in the mood for a snack. It also encourages them to stick around and order more drinks, more food, more everything.
“We have some twists of originality to keep simple offerings interesting such as pimento cheese to fried chicken biscuits, depending on what people are in the mood for,” says Baker. “The pimento cheese is hand-crafted and we make the crackers in-house to go with it. It’s a staple on the menu that may be ordered at the bar or in the dining room.” There’s also smoked mullet spread that’s served with those house-salted milk crackers as well as a cornmeal fried smoked eggplant served on a house-made buttermilk biscuit.
There are exceptions, of course, when Baker will give away something at the bar. For example, if he’s testing out a new dish, and customers are hanging out at the bar, they’re the perfect audience.
“We will sometimes give away things to test them,” says Erick Williams, the executive chef at Chicago’s MK and partner at County Barbeque. “It’s typically done in the manner before a restaurant’s opening. Sometimes we will give things away to get feedback from customers, but it’s a business so we’re not trying to fill people up for free.”
Williams offers a few simple ways to monetize snacks at the bar:
The first thing I would encourage is for the kitchen to look at the items they would have thrown in the garbage. All the ends of the salumi is a good start. You can take the ends off and drop them in a Robot Coupe, or food processor, and turn those into what would be the equivalent of a pâté or paste. Serve them with fresh bread or day-old bread that’s been grilled. All of a sudden, something that someone may have passed up, is now on the bar menu. Or you can dice those ends of salumi finely and toss them into what’s called a “garbage” salad. There are ways to utilize “scraps” and make them profitable just as the French and the Spanish and every other culture has done and taught us to use the animal from end to end.
Anything that’s crispy and/or crunchy in combination with rich works because alcohol really loves to soak up those components. When you add salt, you’re on your way. You can do pretzels, if you want to take the time to make perfect pretzels, or you can do things that taste like pretzels that are yeasty and salty and chewy. If you don’t have anything to warm up the items, you can do something crunchy because beer tends to like crunch.
If you have potatoes, make fries or chips. Chefs have made it OK to have popcorn any way we want it. Get some organic or farmers’ market popcorn. It’s cheap. If I were to do popcorn at the bar at MK with premium ingredients, it would probably be smoked paprika because I like smoke and I like the earthiness of paprika. I also love cheddar popcorn and there are some cool ways to get cheddar on popcorn these days. I actually do love truffle popcorn, but it’s a little too oily. I also love popcorn with rosemary salt on it.