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10 Most Profitable Bar Foods for your Busy Season

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Tessa ZuluagaAuthor

As the busy season for bars and restaurants approaches, owners and managers are always on the lookout for ways to increase their profits. 

One effective strategy is offering popular and profitable bar foods that keep customers returning for more. 

According to Ginger Hultin, a registered dietitian, “people will consume more [food] at meals when they’re including alcohol…”. Whether running a sports bar, a gastropub, or a nightclub, having a menu of irresistible and profitable foods can make all the difference.

In this article, we'll explore the 10 most profitable bar foods that are sure to be a hit with your customers and boost your bottom line. From classic appetizers to trendy snacks, these items are guaranteed to help you make the most of your busiest season yet.

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What are the most profitable items on a menu? 

high-margin menu is a combination of popular, profitable items, and high-cost items. This means a balance between high-labor items and quicker sides and appetizers that your kitchen can send out quickly. It’s important to find that perfect balance by tracking food costs

Bar menus tend to be much simpler than full-service dining restaurant menus. However, analyzing your current offerings can help you improve your menu and ensure it’s a moneymaker. 

Analyzing your current menu

The first step in making your bar menu a moneymaker is to analyze your current menu. This process is called menu engineering. You should consider implementing this process at least twice a year. 

You’re going to want to measure the profitability and popularity of each of your menu items. This can be accomplished through calculations such as food cost percentage, contribution margin, and frequency of sales. 

You can also implement restaurant technology to keep a quick menu analysis always at your fingertips. For example, reporting and dashboards within xtraCHEF by Toast can provide a real-time barometer of menu health based on the most recent food costs.

You can break your menu items into the following 4 categories:

Stars 

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

Puzzles

This category is appropriately named; puzzles are difficult to solve. These are the items with high profitability but low popularity. Although selling one makes your restaurant a good profit, they don’t sell too often. These items are touchy because ordering the right ingredients for them can be a waste. However, if you get your staff to focus on upselling guests these items can increase in profitability.  

Plowhorses

Plowhorses have low profitability and high popularity. You don’t make a large profit off of them individually, but they sell often enough to usually make up for it. These items attract your guests to your business in the first place, so you usually don’t want to remove them from your menu. 

Dogs

This is the category you should most likely avoid. Dogs are low profitability with low popularity. However, you can always re-brand your dogs to make them more appealing to boost popularity. Consider changing the menu item name, ingredients, or placement on your bar menu.

Once you’ve established which items need to be re-branded, removed, or upsold by your staff, you can move forward with your menu.

Top 10 Most Profitable Bar Foods

Here are the 10 most profitable bar foods that are low cost and will make your bar the highest profits. 

Chips and Dip

Chips and dip are one of the easiest items to prepare, and they could be whatever suits your bar the most. You could serve salsa, guacamole, queso, spinach and artichoke dip, etc. Chips and dip are also popular food items for groups of people who want to share a snack while enjoying drinks.

Pizza 

Pizza is almost a no-brainer because it’s such a highly popular menu item. Pizza also has a relatively low cost of ingredients compared to the menu price, which means it has a high-profit margin for bars. Pizza is versatile and can usually be customized, and it pairs well with alcoholic beverages such as beer and wine. 

This New Hampshire Bar serves pizza and does a great job of promoting it with pitchers of beer. They’re aware of their location in the college town of Durham and sell plenty of pizza. 

French Fries and Onion Rings

Next, we have french fries and onion rings. These can be purchased frozen at a low cost and sold with different dipping sauces at a higher price. Everyone loves a basket of fried snacks, and these 2 rarely fail. Fries and onion rings can also be listed as additional sides that consumers can order to make your bar some extra profit. 

Burgers

Did you know about 3 out of 5 consumers love burgers on the menu? And, about 56%  of consumers eat burgers at least once a week, according to Technomic, a Chicago-based food industry research and consulting firm. Having a classic burger on your menu is a smart move because of its popularity, versatility, and high-profit margin.

Four Peaks Brewing Co Pub, located in Tempe Arizona, has a weekly burger special. The burgers served here pair well with the local beer on tap, and keep customers coming back. 

Chicken Wings andTenders

Wings and chicken tenders have always been bar food staples. They’re easy to prepare and have a high demand. But have you considered how late you should be serving them? 

Lincoln Tavern in South Boston starts offering their wings starting at 9 am on the weekends with brunch and keeps ‘em cooking until 1 am in their pizza oven. Lincoln’s dinner menu ends at 10 pm but the pizza station stays open serving pizza and wings for the bar scene customers to enjoy. 


Also, you make sure to check out Toast’s Q4 Restaurant Trends Report which includes data such as the average chicken wing cost at restaurants the week leading up to the Super Bowl in 2023. 

Nachos

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 is most certainly nacho problem. 

Nachos are made up of cheap, simple ingredients: chips, cheese, sour cream, jalapenos, olives…etc. You can upcharge customers for guacamole or protein. Overall, consumers love nachos and the option to upgrade them. 

Mozzarella Sticks 

Mike Kostyo, a “trendologist” at Datassential, notes that 85% of American consumers say they either “love” or “like” mozzarella cheese. Similar to french fries and onion rings, you can buy mozzarella sticks frozen, toss them in the fryer, and serve them with a side of marinara sauce. Also, the portion size of mozzarella sticks is often small, making them an ideal appetizer that can be shared among a group of people. This means that more orders can be placed, which increases revenue for your bar.

Salads

Salads are a great option for your health-conscious customers. It doesn’t cost a lot to have a few salads on the menu and they can change with the seasons to keep produce costs low. Salads are also commonly the only menu item available for different dietary restrictions. Consider adding a Greek or a caesar to your bar menu today! 

Zipps Sports Grill is more commonly known for its chicken tenders and wings, so they made use of the ingredients they already purchase to make a buffalo chicken salad. 


Pretzels

Soft pretzels are another popular menu item at bars, and there are several reasons why they can be profitable. First, soft pretzels are relatively inexpensive to make and can be made in bulk. Second, soft pretzels are a versatile menu item that can be served with a variety of dips or toppings. This means that they can appeal to a wide range of customers with different tastes. Lastly, soft pretzels also pair well with a variety of drinks, such as beer. This makes them an ideal appetizer to order at a bar. 

Quesadillas 

Quesadillas use some of the same ingredients as nachos and chips and dip. If you feature all of these items on your bar menu you are purchasing ingredients that serve different purposes – this is good to keep inventory efficient. Quesadillas also paid well with cocktails such as margaritas, and make for a tasty snack during a late night.

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Menu Engineering Course

Take this course to make the most of your menu. Learn about menu psychology and design, managing your menu online, and adapting your menu to increase sales.

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Bar menu ideas for your busy season

Still need some inspiration? Check out a few of these creative menu ideas/examples from real restaurants. 

Dollar oysters

For those slower hours, consider offering dollar oysters to get customers to visit your bar. This way, they stay and order drinks and other food while enjoying the deal of the day. 

Check out this awesome Instagram post by The Dive Oyster Bar, promoting its Happy Hour oyster deal. 


Sampler platters 

Dear all indecisive customers- we hear you! A sampler platter is a selection of your most popular appetizers served as one big dish. This is the perfect menu item to serve large tables while being cost-effective. 

Look at this beautiful platter you can find at Saz's State House located in Milwaukee, WI:


Charcuterie boards 

Charcuterie boards aren’t always the cheapest to make, sometimes these fall in the plowhorse category. However, according to the National Restaurant Association’s What’s Hot 2023 Culinary Forecast, charcuterie boards are among the top food trends to watch this year. 

Ember, located in Dover New Hampshire, features a charcuterie appetizer that includes cured meats & cheeses, house pickles & mustard & jam, dried fruit, and crackers for $25. 


For more inspiration check out this article on How to Come Up With New Restaurant Menu Ideas.

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Offering the right bar foods can make a significant impact on the profitability of your business during the busy season. By incorporating these top 10 profitable bar foods into your menu, you can attract more customers and boost sales while keeping your kitchen operations streamlined. 

However, it's important to remember that offering great food is just one aspect of running a successful bar. Providing exceptional customer service and making use of modern restaurant technology are equally crucial for attracting and retaining customers. Your bar can thrive during even the busiest seasons with the right combination of tasty offerings, outstanding hospitality, and efficient technology.

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Restaurant Menu Templates

Use these menu templates as a starting point for your menu design or to give your menus a refresh.

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