Bites for Bars
Proper Food Equipment Helps Keep Customers in Their Seats While Adding Bottom Line Revenue
Food at bars can be a winning bet. Just ask Alan Hoffman, co-owner of the Stage Door Casino in Las Vegas, a small 24-7 off-strip casino that caters to locals during the week and tourists on weekends.
“Food keeps customers sitting at my bar instead of leaving to find a bite elsewhere,” says Hoffman, who serves up to 90 meals a day from two hot air-powered speed ovens. Burgers, chicken wings and fingers, fries, “tornado” wraps and more are all sold at $3 each, ready within minutes of being taken out of the freezer. “The menu has helped the bottom line tremendously,” Hoffman says.
Hoffman’s experience is hardly unique. “People like the ability to grab a bite while they’re having a drink,” agrees Chris Bigelow, president of Kansas City, Mo.-based consulting firm The Bigelow Cos. and a veteran at adding food components to bar setups. “Not only is it incremental business, it also means you’re not losing customers to some other establishment.”
Every inch is precious real estate at the bar, so operators need to get the most bang for the proverbial buck when incorporating food equipment into the lineup. Manufacturers have stepped up to the plate with a plethora of speedy plug-and-play ways to add a food component to bar settings. A “tip-of-the-iceberg” list includes panini grills, carveries, hot-air ovens, self-enclosed fryers, insert-enhanced microwaves and even a stone-hearth oven. Here’s a look at some prime food opportunities and the equipment to make it happen.
Hot Sandwiches, Hot Carved Meats
Customers at the bar at Trattoria Cinque in New York can order a Piadina Vegetariana, a flatbread sandwich filled with mozzarella, grilled eggplant and a dash of salsa verde. The sandwich, assembled behind the scenes in the kitchen, is grilled to crispy perfection on an Italian sandwich press in full view of guests.
Russell Bellanca, owner and founder of Trattoria Cinque’s two New York restaurants, says a sandwich press is number one on the list of bar-friendly cooking equipment. “It requires nothing but a plug. Once you have the right ingredients, the press is the smartest way to go.”
Countertop panini grills, made by various manufacturers, consist of two heated metal platens that quickly heat sandwiches from top and bottom. The platens can be aluminum, iron or stainless steel, either smooth or ridged. Ridged platens provide tasty-looking grill marks, while smooth surfaces can increase menu versatility by allowing you to cook breakfast items, tortilla breads, Reubens and more. Grills can be spec’d in single- or double-sandwich configurations, depending on your expected volume. If you expect a high volume, consider units with higher voltage for faster heat recovery time.
If you’d rather put the spotlight (or heat lamp) on meats, then “carveries are a natural fit for bars,” Bigelow says. Add presliced buns and some tasty condiments and you have instant lunch service or late-night snacks.
Depending on space, you could opt for an all-in-one countertop carving station that combines a heated base (complete with spikes to hold the meat in place), a heat lamp and a drip tray to keep the area neat. Or you could go even simpler with a heat lamp and heated cutting board arrangement. Suppliers include Alto-Shaam, Hatco Corp. and Nemco Food Equipment, to name just a few.
Would You Like Fries With That?
Fried anything is another sure-fire revenue booster. The Quik n’ Crispy hot-air fryer, like the one used at the Stage Door Casino in Las Vegas, uses super-hot convected air to heat and crisp all kinds of pre-cooked, ovenable frozen foods — fries, poppers, quesadilla rolls, breaded mozzarella sticks, pizzas. Even pre-cooked frozen burgers and pre-grilled frozen chicken can be prepared in this countertop unit. The surrounding air stays odor-free thanks to a built-in grease and carbon filtration system. QNC’s larger unit can process up to 35 pounds of fries per hour.
For higher volume locations, you could opt for a self-enclosed, self-regulating automatic fryer. The units can cook nearly a full menu, handling just about anything that can be fried except for doughnuts or corn dogs. They come with programmable pre-set buttons for ease of operation, standby mode and food temperature sensors. The oil is completely self-contained, making it safe for users. No hood or vent is needed, thanks to a series of baffles and filters that trap oil particulates and odors.
Two leading manufacturers include Autofry and Perfect Fry Co. Autofry equipment offers single or double-basket models, with the catch-baskets for completed product customizable for either the right or left side of the unit. The largest countertop machine can cook up to 100 pounds of fries per hour, while its most compact unit handles about 30 pounds per hour.
Perfect Fry Co. offers four models with capacities of 50 to 90 pounds per hour. The models are front-loading and front-dispensing.
A recently debuted product lets you turn your convection-microwave into a speed oven capable of producing crispy pizzas and toasted sandwiches. The Silar Microwave Flatstone is a deceptively simple ceramic composite oven insert that converts microwaves into some serious heat — hot enough to speed-bake fresh dough, flatbreads and a range of toasted foods. The maker, Advanced Composite Materials, says a fresh-dough pizza can be speed-baked on the Flatstone in less than three minutes.
On the high end of the pizza spectrum, bar owners who want to add dancing-flame pizzazz to their food offerings can install a countertop stone-hearth oven made by Wood Stone Corp. The Vashon electric/gas oven can be used to prepare fresh or frozen pizza, hot sandwiches, appetizers and more. The flames are confined behind glass in a sealed chamber. The oven was designed with no ventilation requirements, making it easy to use anywhere.
Need To Vent?
While all of the products mentioned above generally do not require ventilation, you may live in a city whose building inspectors say otherwise. If that’s the case, you’re in luck. Equipex has introduced a line of three countertop ventilation units, the SA Vent series. The devices remove any smoke, grease and moisture from the air, and they allow you complete flexibility in where you place your cooking equipment. The units run on standard 120V power.
Whatever type of food you’re looking to offer your patrons at the bar, think about energy- and space-efficiency, ease of operation and quality of the product produced when considering food prep equipment. Do your research, plan appropriately and then watch your sales grow. NCB