A little something to nibble on with a Martini or glass of Malbec is a must-have for many guests when they belly up to the bar. The logistical challenge for operators, however, is getting around that pesky need of a kitchen. Luckily, not all drinks-friendly snacks must be braised, fried, sautéed or otherwise cooked, and they still deliver flavor and quality while helping a venue differentiate itself from the tavern down the block.
The keys to snack success in a bar or lounge are a fresh and special presentation along with an ideal price point; operators should decide how much (if anything) to charge for their treats. Following are some easy-prep bar fare served around the country that keep guests noshing — and sipping.
The inspiration for San Francisco-based 479° Popcorn came from founder Jean Arnold’s childhood memories of her mother making organic popcorn in a stovetop popper; the exotic flavor combinations are a reminder of her international upbringing and training at Le Cordon Bleu London.
Arnold’s popcorn (named after the perfect kernel-popping temperature) comes in eight intriguing flavors in 8-cup canisters ($15). Arnold recommends pairing Champagne with the Black Truffle + White Cheddar popcorn and Riesling or Gewürztraminer with the Madras Curry
Coconut + Cashews popcorn.
“Popcorn is light, so you can consume a fair amount of it without getting full too quickly,” Arnold explains. “Yet, it has the full flavor of a well-prepared dish.”
Nearby Grange Restaurant at The Citizen Hotel in Sacramento, Calif., serves Fleur de Sel Caramel and Pimentón de La Vera flavors in
6- to 8-ounce bowls for $6.
Numerous flavored popcorn vendors offer an array of options; savvy operators may consider serving a trio of popcorn flavors with an accompanying flight of wines or beers. www.479popcorn.com.
Edamame — soybean pods — are always a crowd pleaser, as fun to shell as they are delicious to eat. What’s more, they’re trendy and often serve as a conversation starter for those not yet acquainted with the East Asian delight. One vendor, Seapoint Farms in Huntington Beach, Calif., offers an easy, no-boil way to serve them to guests: Its 14-ounce bags of cooked, salted edamame come ready-to-eat — just thaw and serve. Chilled or sparkling sake is a logical drink pairing, but the snack also is sublime next to a dry Martini, hoppy ale or earthy Old World white wine. The company also sells 4-ounce bags of shelled dry-roasted edamame lightly seasoned with salt or kicky wasabi, both of which are great washed down with a fresh Margarita on the rocks. www.seapointfarms.com.
Sushi is hip and flavorful and has visual appeal at the bar. Unfortunately, it’s also traditionally labor-intensive and expensive. But a new line of ready-made rolls is fixing the problem: Sushi Bar by Golden Tiger, a Windsor Foods brand, features four flavors of fully cooked, vacuum-packed sushi rolls —
California, Smoked Salmon & Cream Cheese, Spicy Crab and Vegetable — that need only be thawed and used within 48 hours.
“There is now a higher expectation from customers for more variety, better flavors and quality bar snacks,” Windsor Foods Senior Product Manager Lorena Cantu notes.
“Customers want to gather with friends or colleagues and share appetizers, small plates and/or bite-size appetizers.”
Available from a variety of foodservice distributors, the rolls are sold in cases of eight 15-piece vacuum-packed packages — a total of 120 pieces of sushi — for about 40 to 44 cents per sushi piece. The rolls are the perfect complement to many libations from bubbly to red Burgundy. www.windsorfoods.com.
Savory, sweet or a little bit of both, these eclectic tidbits from Falls Church, Va., company CookieZen are a fun accompaniment to a glass of vino. Packaged to pair with white, red or sparkling wine, Cookies & Corks brand sweets are packaged in assorted boxes of 15 as well as in bulk — three packs of 30 cookies each. Grape & Bean in nearby Alexandria, Va., pairs the conversation starters with wine by the glass. For cocktail lovers, serve Sea Salt Chocolate Oatmeal cookies with a creamy White Russian or Iced Lemon cookies with a refreshing Gin Sour.
“Cookies & Corks are a unique tasting experience for restaurant and bar owners to offer their customers, who will be pleasantly surprised to see a tasting option beyond a meat-and-cheese plate,” Vice President of Sales and Marketing Laura Englander says. www.cookiesandcorks.com.
House-Made Seasoned Nuts
It’s not terribly difficult to whip up a batch of spiced-up, tricked-out nuts that can deliver unique flavors not available in a bag or can; customers also will notice and appreciate the effort. Executive Chef John Critchley of Urbana Restaurant and Wine Bar, a Kimpton property in Washington, D.C., makes candied peanuts with sour cream and onion to serve at the bar for $3 an order. To replicate a recipe that’s equally flavorful but easier to make sans a kitchen, toss roasted peanuts or cashews with olive oil, salt and a blend of dried spices and fresh herbs. For a little Southwestern inspiration, try a mix of cumin, chili powder, cilantro and chives; rosemary, oregano, lavender and fresh lemon zest will transport guests to Provence.
These are just a few no-cook options. Delving deeper into what your guests crave when imbibing and being creative about easy ways to procure or prepare the items can pay off in low-cost, low-effort snacks that differentiate your place and keep
patrons in your seats. NCB
Easy prep doesn’t mean you should slack on service.
Presentation is important. Don’t simply rip open a bag in front of a customer and dump the snacks into a bowl. Instead, use a back room or area that is out of sight of guests, and serve the snacks in white or vibrantly striped square bowls or rectangular platters.
Plan ahead. If an item requires thawing, be sure to leave plenty of time for the correct number of servings to reach optimal serving temperature.
Consider pricing, if applicable. Will snacks be gratis during happy hour, or will customers be charged?
Offer pairing selections. List thoughtful wine, beer and cocktail suggestions to partner with available snack options. Windsor Foods Senior Product Manager Lorena Cantu suggests including items that have bold flavors and complement drink specials. Any pairing suggestions add appeal and can increase beverage sales, especially for adventurous patrons.
Dial it In
Food Delivery Keeps Patrons Satisfied and Staying Longer at Raven Lounge
When Jonathan Hunter opened Raven Lounge in Philadelphia in 2006, he wanted a diverse food menu to satisfy the appetites of all patrons, but a full-blown kitchen wasn’t an option. So Hunter turned to his restaurant neighbors in the Rittenhouse Square neighborhood; the result: a unique food-delivery program. On each table at Raven Lounge sits a binder containing menus from 20 surrounding eateries that will deliver to the venue; servers and staff direct patrons to the binder upon seating them. The diverse offering keeps patrons in-house and satisfied, while differentiating Raven Lounge and ingratiating it with the neighborhood. We chatted with Hunter about his unique approach to providing food to his patrons.
NCB: Tell us about the Raven Lounge concept.
Jonathan Hunter: There’s nowhere else in the city to play board games while eating any food you could think of, sing along with a band, watch sports on one TV and an old horror movie on another or dance on a pole upstairs to a DJ’s mix all under one roof. I wanted the Raven Lounge to be a place where there is something for everyone, and the “Most Eclectic Menu in Philadelphia” food menu is an extension of that concept.
NCB: What inspired you to go the food-delivery route rather than putting in your own kitchen?
Hunter: The logistics of running one kitchen that prepares sushi, deli, crepes, Chinese food, burgers, diner fare and pizza would be a nightmare. Also, the Raven Lounge has an excellent rapport with other businesses in the neighborhood; if [the Raven Lounge does] well, we all do well. I don’t think of others as competition, so it made sense to coordinate with them.
NCB: Tell us about the menu.
Hunter: It’s a bound book of uniformly printed menus from 20 surrounding restaurants on each table. When new restaurants open up, we add their menus to our book; if a restaurant closes, we remove them. On the cover is the Raven Lounge’s name and address, which customers use when calling from their cell phones to place orders. Each kitchen’s closing time is stated on the top of their menu. Some places serve food until 2 a.m., so customers can have food delivered here until we close. Restaurants deliver plates and napkins, and we always have extras on hand. When the delivery arrives, we help direct the delivery person to the table that placed the order, and the patron handles the payment transaction directly with the restaurant or delivery person.
NCB: What impact does this menu have on your business?
Hunter: Customers who eat at the Raven Lounge stay longer, which usually translates to more drink sales. It’s fun to see groups of people all order from different menus and watch all the deliveries come in at the same time to a single group or table. Everyone is getting what they wanted to eat, and then they wind up sharing and tasting. It’s definitely a draw for our place. It keeps people here, and it ensures they’re eating while they’re drinking.