Help! How do I add good food to my bar?

Joined Sep 26, 2015
I apologize in advance if this is long-winded. I own a small tavern in Wisconsin, I have no commercial kitchen experience and currently serve just frozen pizza and fried items from a Perfect Fry machine behind the bar. I am currently opening at 2 PM daily as my limited menu does not draw a lunch crowd. My slowest time is during dinner hours when everyone goes elsewhere to eat. I'm looking for ideas/concepts that would allow me to serve quality food,I.E. sandwiches,wraps,soups, salads or dips that would either be pre-made in a rented kitchen space nearby or made on site and easily/quickly assembled/served by my bartenders. I'm trying to avoid installing a hood but could fit up to a 6 footer behind the bar over my 36" Worktop freezer and fridge combo. With a hood I could have a griddle for burgers, etc but like I said, trying to avoid all the equipment cost and I only want to have a line cook during the busiest hours with the bartender doing double duty the rest of the time. Any ideas for menu items that could be fully prepared or prepped ahead of time, possibly off site, that would make an appealing, viable menu to draw lunch and dinner crowds? I want a small menu with quality products that will stand out from normal bar fare. Thanks for the help!
Joined May 14, 2014
In my experience, people that do not understand the techniques & have other jobs to do will not execute correctly. Without putting in a hood you can't add any equipment to do more food; if you do put in the hood/equipment are you willing to try and develop your bar into an eating destination? It sounds like you don't want to carry the expense. I'll point out here, too, that you say your slowest time is dinner and that you'd only want a cook during peak hours. So, are you going to hire a cook to work 8-12?
Also, expanding your food menu to fresh food would mean needing to have your staff responsible for rotation and quality checking to make sure it's good. Again, in my experience (I don't know your bartenders) people tend to regard this sort of work as "above and beyond".

So, two suggestions; 1) Do an expensive kitchen build and hire a chef. If you want to have food go whole hog an build something you can feature. If you can find a person who makes good food and is willing to do all the work themselves, it could turn into a good thing for you. It's not hard to have good, interesting food if you could build a small kitchen and find the person to do it.

2)Buy ready made sandwiches with an agreed upon shelf life from someone in your area that makes good sandwiches. That way you can feature good, interesting food, and no one is bothered. You can up sell them when you start and sales will tell you if should persue more food. It might be a good way for a local business to start expanding(the sandwich people, i mean); if you can get them at a fair price you would probably need several orders a week. Because you have a person physically serving the sandwich sauces, dressings could be added at serving time. Not sure if you can reheat with your gizmo. my thought here is that going to someone who already specializes will allow you to feature good food without substantially changing your business model.
Joined Dec 23, 2004
I agree; it's hard to do it halfway.  If you want to have food and use it to drive business you'll need a proper kitchen.  It needn't be large but a hood will be necessary, and you need someone to do the cooking.  'Chef' might be stretching it if  you really just need a short order cook.  Certainly getting good quality premade stuff like deli sandwiches, wraps, etc might be a decent option but you need to be realistic about the limitations of this approach.  Will anyone actually go out of their way to stop in for something they could pick up made to their specs at Subway?

I can understand wanting to avoid the outlay of capital for equipment, especially if you're not sure if the ROI is there.  But I'm not seeing many options for adding interesting food to the operation without going all-in on at least some legit equipment.
Joined Sep 26, 2015
Hi there.
As Phaedrus and Grande already said, investments need to be made to have good Food at your bar. I have seen places where bartenders try to do the double work and 9 out of 10 times, they weren't happy about it.

Now, I have already helped to put up a concept of a bar kitchen in Slovenia. We made a small kitchen that had a fridge, freezer, small grill and a kombi-owen. We focused on dinners, had a market near by, made daily menus. I was surprised by the number of the orders we put out but yeah, the basis was a good mis en place and a good Chef.

Bottom line, there are a lot of options you have but you have to pick the one you feel suits you and your bar.
Joined Oct 31, 2012
     On behalf of your bartenders, whom I've never met, don't make them do double duty. As a bar customer, I want the bartender available to get me a drink. As a bartender, I have enough to do already. Watching a bartender get my drink and cash someone out is fine. Watching a bartender get my drink, handle cash, then make my sandwich without washing their hands or waiting while they wash their hands and waiting while they make a sandwich before getting my drink, not so good. 

     As for good food, the others have some good ideas. I can't see how you can make anything worthwhile without  some investment of some kind.

A local restaurant served pretty good food using only electric ovens and other electric equipment to avoid the need for a hood but they had a full time cook.

     Grandes' suggestion of buying a pre made local sandwich and other products is a good alternative. 

In any event, adding more food is going to involve more people, one way or another. There is simply no way around it. You could go old school and add things like pickled eggs and sausages, chips,  and other individual serving items that require no prep. There are hundreds of prepared foods, frozen and fresh, that you can buy from a local distributor. The salesman can help you with selecting some. 

But to do any kind of actual cooking that sets you apart from normal bar fare calls for some expense. 
Joined Aug 8, 2015
What is the foos community like in your area? Good stuff or run of the mill. Do your customers appreciate good food. My thought is just go with desserts you can bring in from a local pastry chef and do some fruit and artisinal cheese plates as well as some charcuterie. When i go out to eat nine times out of ten i go to another spot for a dessert and drink. You may not get the dinner crowd but without serious investment you wont get them anyway. But get the after dinner dessert people. Sell the desserts somewhat cheap and get them to spend money on the booze. Local artisan ice creams as well and feature boozy milkshakes. Also you may get the snackers with the charcuterie or people who want to meet up for a drink and an app. The cheese plates and meats would be a good way to do that. F3ature local cheese and some local butcher shop meats. Win win for you and the local food scene. Your mo ey maker will always be the booze but some interesting cold apps and desserts might get them to come there and drink.
Joined Jul 3, 2014
I like the idea of cheese and charcuterie. It is one of my favorites when I am out. You could also get a good truck to park on your lot and "allow" people to bring in their food?
Joined Oct 7, 2015
The best thing I can suggest is starting small - I have no idea what your current budget/numbers are like, and frankly it doesn't matter... even if you're doing very well, you don't want to just start losing money.

The cost of equipment aside, which is not a small up-front cost even for a small menu, the profit margins on anything you make in house are going to be a fraction of what your beverage sales will get you.  Not to mention that a skeleton crew (which basically means one or two full-time cooks) means you're setting yourself up for some massive headaches as soon as someone gets sick, or quits with little to no notice.

Long story short, you have to be sure your increased bev sales will off-set everything. 

Have you considered reaching out to nearby restaurants?  I've known a number of bars that partnered specifically with the restaurant next door, and simply had their menu available (orders were just run over by bussers/servers).  If you have 3-4 popular places within a block radius, it could be a pretty simple solution.  Restaurants will be generally happy to get the sales without taking up table-space (how's that for turnaround time?), and you get to offer whatever is already popular in the area.

It would let you test the waters and see if it's worth expanding in the future, at the very least.
Joined Oct 10, 2005
Hi Skis....

I've been following this thread closely, and don't know why anyone hasn't suggested what I'm suggesting:

Get a caterer in, a buffet line at  X $ a pop, served from Y to Z pm. build your burger, build your pasta, roast beef, what ever.  Get a Thai or Chinese caterer in to mix things up a bit.


-"O" and I mean zero, capitol outlay, you just pay for the food and service, not for a plumber to hook up a 2nd hand range that you just bought, and is your hot water tank big enough to handle the new dishwasher?


- No kitchen staff to hire

-If the food doesn't make you money, then you don't have staff to get rid of or equipment to get rid of.

-If things do work out, you can slowly work out what you need, and still have a caterer in the meantime._

Latest posts

Top Bottom