All the Right Moves

No matter how high the stakes are for the big game — and they can be pretty high — sometimes it seems the stakes are even higher for your bar, especially as you try to attract crowds to your establishment to watch the action. Often, it comes down to how much value you can provide your guests while simultaneously entertaining them. Good food enhances the mood at your bar during any sporting event, enticing guests to stay longer and spend more while cheering on their team to victory. Here are some quick tips for maxing your bar food sales on game day:

Know Your Audience
Location dictates the type of sports fans that come to your establishment, and they are a diverse group who expect to not only be entertained but also fed some of your best fan fare.

Ohio State University games attract a range of avid Buckeye fans to Eddie George’s Grill 27 in Columbus, Ohio, so Bob McCarthy, vice president and founder of Eddie George’s and three other sports concepts, diversifies his menu to cater to everyone.

The varied menu’s bold and colorful presentation offers typical fare, such as wings and hamburgers, but it’s the lighter menu options — salads and wraps — that prove the establishment embraces all kinds of fans, especially women.

“For us, we feel the most critical aspect of our business is women,” McCarthy explains, noting that by catering to women and not marketing Eddie George’s as a sports bar, he’s able to expand his audience, business and profits.

Keep It Fresh
When it comes to sports food, guests crave the standards: hamburgers, pizza, wings and nachos. However, you can add value to your menu by allowing chefs to experiment. Using quality ingredients, locally sourced products and housemade sauces will turn these classic favorites into modern alternatives.

Because many downtown Denver sports bars surround Big Game Restaurant & Lounge, management differentiates the place by serving
familiar foods with a housemade element.

Big Game’s Executive Chef Leo Harvey says guests seek out comfort foods, but once you get them in the door, you can take their palates on an interesting ride.

“It’s all about taking traditional bar food and adding a twist that makes it creative and unique,” he explains.

For example, the seven varieties of specialty hand-cut French fries — a best seller on game day — include Chesapeake Bay Fries (Old Bay Seasoning, white American cheese), Thanksgiving (sweet potato fries, marshmallow, candied pecans), Big Game Fries (Monterey Jack cheese, mozzarella, bacon, ranch and blue cheese) and more. With housemade wing sauces that include Buffalo, Golden Honey Mustard, Japanese and Barbecue as well as bison meat for hamburgers and sliders from Colorado’s Bear Mountain Ranch, fresh ingredients create flavorful fare and value for game-day patrons.

At the two Southern Hospitality locations in New York City, the menu is chock-full of Southern favorites. Chris Russell, director of operations, says patrons are “primarily in there to watch the game,” but he pays close attention to the menu because “food and drink are secondary in importance.”

That’s why the restaurants’ So-Ho Pork Sliders are made from pork shoulder that is cooked for 14 hours before serving, while the Smokin’ Hot Wings are marinated overnight in housemade spicy wing sauce. Additionally, a local vendor supplies pickles for the Deep Fried Pickle Chips.

There’s an App for That
Most sports bars rely on delicious appetizers to tempt guests into ordering more. In fact, patrons have a proclivity for purchasing appetizers to share with their friends while they watch the game.

“The cool thing about us is they sit down and get comfortable and order a lot of apps for the table to share,” Harvey from Big Game says. “We see large groups of 20 that come in and already know what they want and order apps, then get burgers and steaks later on.”

On game days at Eddie George’s, McCarthy notices groups specifically order the National Champion Nachos, marketed as “big enough to feed the offensive line” for $9.99, made with three cheeses, angus chili, sour cream, salsa, jalapenos, scallions, lettuce and black olives. They’re “the biggest plate of nachos you’ve ever seen,” he quips, but McCarthy is more interested in the dish’s marketing-value component.

“We run a high food cost. It’s part of the marketing of the brand. We overdo it in terms of that. We don’t do discounting, but we’ll do an item like that and go over the top for word-of-mouth advertising,” McCarthy explains.

Get It While It’s Hot
Highly anticipated games can cause an influx of customers at your establishment, and bars and restaurants need to be prepared for those crowds.
“When you’re super busy, it’s a lot easier to not be producing as many items, so you can make sure that when someone sits down and orders, they’ll have their food in 10 to 15 minutes rather than an hour, which can happen if you really get behind,” Zach Chodorow, co-founder of Big Game explains.

Chef Harvey concurs, noting that even on their busiest game days, especially Super Bowl Sunday, they make sure dishes hit the table within 15 minutes.

The management at The Tavern Downtown, also in Denver, sees crowds grow exponentially when its outdoor patio is open; with
Coors Field in the periphery, baseball season is a coup for business.

To keep hungry customers from waiting around too long to eat, The Tavern Downtown’s staff sets up a “Burger Bodega” on the rooftop patio.
Patrons who want to catch a few innings of the Rockies game can order a quick burger, hot dog, turkey wrap, bratwurst, chips and/or water without having to wait or miss any important plays.

“It’s so great to have, especially on busy game days,” Helen Wood, director of marketing for The Tavern Hospitality Group notes.
During home Houston Astros games, Tate Powers, co-owner of Stats Sports Bar in Houston, Texas, and his staff combat the overflow by offering $1 hot dogs and discounted beers.

Additionally, by sponsoring a Houston Texans tailgate, football season allows Powers and his staff to spread their food offerings beyond Stats’ four walls by sending a staff member to every home game to cook Stats wings in its housemade sauces, pass out business cards and, at times, even hand out a complimentary drink card.

“That way everyone can try Stats wings,” Power says, and, with luck, stop in to Stats for the next sporting event.

McCarthy says Eddie George’s doesn’t offer a specific game-day menu, even when big Ohio State University games are on and hundreds of fans show up and start ordering food, all at once. Although it seems daunting to execute and deliver food in a timely manner, especially when all 75 menu items are offered, McCarthy has a plan.

“What we do is we don’t train on a table turn with a traditional dining experience. Guests can stay, and we kill them with kindness. If they’re not ordering or if they have their meal and sit there for four hours and have a great experience, the money we’re not making on that table turn on [NFL] Sunday, we’re picking it up outside of the sporting event” when regular customers return on non-game days or on holidays, such as Valentine’s Day.

If you want to keep sales in the win column at your sports bar, provide your guests with smart, efficient and fun fare along with updated menus that will have them sharing food and ordering more during sports season and game-free days, as well. NCB

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