Co-founder of Trust3 Hospitality, Kelley Jones is an operator and a consultant with over 30 years in the industry. During the 3-plus decades Kelley has worked in hospitality, he’s learned quite a bit. For instance, he’s realized that people will go to a bar to eat but they won’t typically go to a restaurant to drink. He has also recognized that today’s guests aren’t just more educated about beer, wine and spirits, they’re much more knowledgeable and discerning when it comes to the quality of the food they’ll consume. In order to keep up, bars need to use organic, locally sourced and additive-free ingredients. If they want to compete they’ll also have to offer higher quality food items.
Of course, it isn’t just better food that attracts guests to your bar and earns their loyalty. Superior service and consistency are critical to your success. The very first thing Kelley expects from a bartender is a greeting, a bev nap and a menu. Not only is this welcoming, even guests who aren’t hungry will look over a menu and find an item or two they want to try during that visit or that will motivate them to return to your bar. Make no mistake, placing a bev nap and menu in front of a guest is part of menu marketing, every bit as effective – if not more so – as the use of chalkboards and table talkers. Also, a slammed bartender who acknowledges a guest when setting down the napkin and menu can let guests know he or she will be right with them, going a long way to disarming an impatient person. As far as consistency behind the bar is concerned, use jiggers and pour tops to control liquor costs. In the kitchen, make sure your staff is using measuring cups and spoons.
Excellent service and consistency come down to training. As Kelley says, “The most important thing you can do with your bar is train your staff. There’s no such thing as over-training because what you expect is what you have to inspect.”
While it can be tempting to create a few dozen specialty beverages for your drinks menu during the Craft Cocktail Movement, this can be counterproductive to training and opening a bar. Kelley limits his bar menus to 6 or 7 signature drinks when he’s opening a new venue because of all of the other training staff must undergo. Consider how much information your employees need to know: how to use the POS system, the table numbers, position numbers, the food menu and the ingredients of each dish, the drinks and the ingredients, the wine list, what bottles are in the well, and the venue’s address and phone number. You can always add drinks down the road. It may be a cliché, but less is often more.
Your bar staff and kitchen staff should also be working closely together when developing and finalizing both the food and drink menus. Disconnects between both menus should and can be avoided by having the chef or cook sit down with the head bartender or mixologist. A creative way to avoid disconnects is growing your own herbs and other ingredients. Utilize these in-house ingredients in both your food and drinks and indicate their usage on your menus.
Speaking of your food menu, shareable foods bounce check prices up because most people will order multiple items if they’re made for sharing. Bar snacks, items designed to share, finger foods…these all increase spends and extend the length of guests’ visits. The following are Kelley’s favorite bar foods.
Bar food means different things to different people but the common denominator is that it should pair well with an assortment of beverages, from beer to martinis. The other key is to make snack foods such as peanuts, popcorn or trail mixes individual as most people aren’t eager to eat from a basket strangers’ dirty hands have been in.
Shareable items that guests can eat with their hands are always popular. You may think your guests don't want to use their hands to eat but Kelley has observed just the opposite: people seem to love digging in with their fingers.
Wings & Things
These classics present an inexpensive growth vehicle that are typically among the top 3 selling items.
Things like dirty chips (kettle chips tossed with bleu cheese sauce and topped with scallions, tomatoes, bacon and chicken livers featured at Todd English PUB) are popular because they’re shareable and are available in many variations. It may seem unlikely, but guests enjoy messy snack items. Additionally, all of the different salts available make them fun.
This is the number one fast food in America. What’s great about pizza is that bruschetta, flatbread and pizza can be topped with cross-utilized ingredients. Also, you don’t need a pizza oven to make them anymore.
Dips & Spreads
It doesn’t matter whether it’s hummus, baba ganoush or French onion dip, the most important thing about dip is the vehicle by which it is consumed, says Kelley. It’s important that this vehicle be substantial so it doesn’t break off in the dip.
Be concept specific to your theme and venue and these will be a homerun. French fries also allow for a lot of experimentation.
Frying adds texture and flavor and fried foods are shareable and even in today’s health-conscious society, these foods remain incredibly popular.
Charcuterie & Cheeses
Not just for wine bars anymore, charcuterie and cheese plates are increasing substantially in popularity because there’s great variety and cheese and cured meats have a long shelf life. These can be upsold by offering varying amounts of cheeses, meats or both. Consider developing an in-house charcuterie program if it will serve your concept and clientele.
Invented in Wichita, Kansas in 1916 by Walter Anderson (the creator of White Castle), the great thing about sliders is that they don’t just have to be hamburgers. Sliders offer great variety, such as lamb, roast beef, chicken parmesan, sausage and peppers and onions… Increase that variety by letting your guests mix and match sliders.
Not just limited to tapas any longer, small plates encourage experimentation and sharing. They also make for great impulse purchases.
Some people think the bacon craze is outdated but people are still in love with it. In fact, bacon strips can be served as a bar snack in place of peanuts or trail mix. Not only delicious, bacon is salty and spicy, making guests thirsty and increasing spends.
Kelley believes that owners and operators can have a lot of fun with bar food. Coming up with names for bar food and figuring out clever presentations can serve as a creative outlet. Don’t be afraid to play with big flavors, look into making your own charcuterie items and offer your guests great value.
“Let me tell you something – we’re not curing cancer, we’re just feeding people,” Says Kelley. “So have a good time with it!”
Want to get in touch with Kelley Jones for more insight? He will be speaking at the 2016 Nightclub & Bar Show, March 7-9 in Las Vegas.