Sponsored by Conagra RO*TEL

You have a dinner menu. You have a lunch menu. You have a brunch menu, a function menu, a cocktail list, a wine list, a beer list, and about 20 more slates of options. Creating another specialized menu probably gives you a little apprehension but rest assured that a properly planned and executed gameday menu will relieve far more headaches than it causes.

RO*TEL Fire Roasted Pepper & Chorizo Queso RecipePicture your sports nights. Whether it be football, college basketball, or the Olympics, there should be throngs of hungry and thirsty guests packing your building. You need quick food, but not “fast food.” The difference always boils down to quality. Anyone can take frozen, prepackaged, ready-to-eat dishes and heat them up in the blink of an eye. You’d be hard-pressed, however, to find a group of people excited to spend a Sunday afternoon watching the games while eating the exact same meal they can get in a thousand other locations – or even at home.

What differentiates you from every other restaurant is why your guests visit your location. You never want to sacrifice the quality just to move plates out of your kitchen a little faster, but a little bit of cherry picking and focused marketing efforts can give you a leg up. Sure, you may have a fabulous baked haddock recipe in your arsenal, but a 20-minute pickup while your bar is three deep and every section is flat sat will kill the kitchen’s rhythm and send the rest of your team spiraling.

Your Sports Bar Needs a Gameday Menu

A consolidated gameday menu — rolled out during your busiest times — allows you to exercise more control over your ticket times, food cost, labor, and overall guest experience. When success and failure are measured in minutes, every second is a potential Jenga block. Either building you up higher or bringing it all toppling down.

Start where all your hospitality decision-making should start — with your guests. While it may seem like you’re limiting their choices by presenting a streamlined menu, in actuality you are simply placing your best foot forward.

Your gameday menu should be comprised of your most popular and most efficient items. Think about fun shareable plates such as like quesos, wings, etc. It should be fairly scientific to determine those dishes through sales records, outside reviews, and conversations with your kitchen hierarchy. These efforts will hopefully produce a menu that spends less time in your guests’ hands, therefore getting their orders into the kitchen earlier.

The Business Benefits of a Gameday Menu

In the kitchen, the benefits are plentiful. A smaller range of dishes allows your line cooks more space in their station to keep backups of their mise en place. Making room for extra third pans full of burgers or containers of nacho accoutrements will keep your cooks on the line rather than running between their post and the walk-in. It goes without saying that your cooks cannot cook away from their stoves, so the less time they spend off the line, the sooner the food gets to your guests.

From a financial standpoint, controllable items are variables. The fewer variables you need to account for, however, the more predictable your bottom line becomes. Predictability lets you pinpoint your labor needs, product ordering, and menu pricing.

Another benefit to stability in one of your most normally fluctuating areas, is that it allows you to take risks where you may normally play it safe. Use a few slots on your gameday menu as canaries in the coal mine to try out new ideas before implementing them full-time.

What Do Your Guests Want?

Remember, these are hungry sports fans at your door. While no group is a monolith, you’ll have quite a few “red-blooded American” archetypes packing your booths and barstools. These guests aren’t necessarily averse to trying new things, but it’s a careful process. Don’t be afraid to challenge their taste buds, but you don’t want to scare them off, either. Your menu should at least feel familiar to the eyes before you surprise their mouths.

From a cuisine standpoint, globalization and multiculturalism have made eaters more adventurous than ever. African, Thai, and Peruvian flavors are the current tastes du jour. While you shouldn’t overhaul your menu to look like a PBS travel documentary, adding the occasional touch of international flair can add the right amount of contrast. Subbing out your rice for couscous, tossing your chicken wings with sweet Thai chili sauce, or adding empanadas to your appetizer selection can prove to be just the right amount of different.

Balancing old with new while keeping your kitchen humming will give you a proper mix of comfort and excitement that will parallel the gameday experience as a whole.

Stay tuned as we continue our month-long discussion of creating the perfect gameday menu.