January 1, 2015 |

Bar Bites

By Melanie Wolkoff Wachsman

ranalli's Bruschetta, appetizerDeveloping a bar, happy hour or late-night menu will only increase food and beverage sales


Whether you have a full bar or sell a small selection of beer and wine, designing a series of appetizers, small plates or specialty menu items appealing to those who imbibe will only increase food and beverage sales. Think happy hour, bar or late-night menus.

Robert Lumsden, founder of Flatbread Neapolitan Pizzeria in Boise, Idaho, says his bar menu drives sales during late afternoon and late night, adds top-line value, and more importantly, drives exposure and positive experiences.

“We look at happy hour as merely marketing for our brand, our environments, our service experience and our food and cocktail program,” he says. “The more people we can get in the door who leave happy, the more likely they’ll keep us in a top-of-mind position when they choose to dine with family and friends.”

From 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. the pizzeria offers 50-percent off cocktails, draft or wine. Weekly specials encourage more eating and drinking.

For instance, the “Monday Bundle” is $30 for any pizza, salad and two beer flights.

The happy hour menu features items like pizzettas and baked goat cheese. “Our sea salt and Parmesan flatbread is a bestseller,” says Lumsden. “Ricotta stuffed cremini mushrooms and fontina fonduta also sells well.”

The happy hour menu is displayed behind the dessert menu, which serves a dual marketing purpose. “We want it in front of our guests as much as possible. If they’re talking about it, they’re talking about Flatbread,” says Lumsden, who also promotes the program on custom beverage coasters, the restaurant’s Web site and through well-timed social media blasts.

Matthew Hyland, co-owner/executive chef of Brooklyn-based Pizzeria Emily, also utilizes social media to promote the menu.

“Matt is pretty active on instagram and usually posts a picture a day from the restaurant, oftentimes, he posts the specials,” says Co-owner and Operational Manager Emily Hyland.

Offering food and drink specials came naturally to the Hylands. “People drink and hang with friends at the bar, and they get hungry, so they eat,” says Hyland.

Their most popular cocktail is the Pond Point, which combines bourbon, Lillet, sweet black tea and bitters.

“We have some fun wines on tap,” Hyland continues. “People really enjoy our Cotes de Rhone, and we have a delicious Turley juvenile zinfandel.”

Popular small plate items include a kale salad made with dried cherries, pecorino and thyme vinaigrette, and a smoky carrot dish made with oven smoked carrots atop a bed of lentils and house-made ricotta cheese.

“The colony is a crowd favorite pie with pepperoni, pickled chilies and honey.” Says Hyland. “It is nice because it has a salty, spicy, sweet flavor combination. The Emily is another crowd pleaser. It is a white pie topped with pistachios, honey and truffle cheese.”

Meanwhile, in Chicago, Illinois, Wisconsin Badgers fans seek refuge at Ranalli’s. In fact, donning University of Wisconsin gear when a game is on even earns patrons a free pizza.

Ranalli’s also features game-day specials such as $4 Miller/Coors stadium cups, $5 Wisconsin craft stadium cups and $5 cheese curds.

Food and drink specials continue weekly. Mondays are half off pizzas, $3 select cans and 50-cent wings, and Tuesday means buy one; get one free pizza, $10 domestic pitchers and $12 craft pitchers, for example.

The bar menu is divided into two top sellers: burgers and pizza. Nine specialty pizzas adorn the menu in addition to a build-your-own option, different crust offerings and a specialty pizza that changes every two weeks. Past varieties included creamy mac and cheese pizza and Southwest turkey pizza.

Ryan Indovina, director of Ranalli’s parent company The Four Corners Tavern Group, says they don’t necessarily market their menu; rather they market to the neighborhood. Capitalizing on the community means capitalizing on profits.

“We also have a King’s Table that allows you to pour your own beer from your own table taps, which we purposely set up for large groups of friends to gather around,” Indovina says. “In the summer, our huge patio with TVs is another way we bring in crowds.”

At Wazee Supper Club in Denver, Colorado, guests order pizza slices and fried appetizers during the 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. happy hour. “Pizza slices, Buffalo wings, fried mac and cheese, and potato-and-cheese pierogis are the most popular items,” says George Dorell, assistant general manger.

“We find that having menus that appeal to a wide range of folks and making the menu simple for our guest to remember (and easy to repeat to their friends) is important in our industry,” adds General Manager Cole Kelly.

Wazee Supper Club even offers a late night happy hour menu from 10 p.m. to 12 a.m. “Our late night happy hour is offered every night, and its geared toward other industry people who work late and need a post shift hang out,” says Kelly.

After a long shift, who wouldn’t enjoy a drink and small bite to eat?


Ranalli’s Bruschetta

Yield: 5 pieces

5 crostini pieces
1 cup fresh diced tomatoes
1 ounce basil pesto
1 ounce balsamic vinegar
1 ounce shredded Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

Toast crostini. Top with tomato, pesto, balsamic and Parmesan in that order. Season with salt and pepper.


ricotta stuffed MushroomsRicotta Stuffed Mushrooms

Recipe courtesy of Robert Lumsden, founder, Flatbread Neapolitan Pizzeria
Yield: 7-8

32-36 cremini mushrooms, stalks removed

3 cups ricotta
1½ cups goat cheese, crumbled
2 lemons, zest of
1½ tablespoons red chili flakes
sea salt, pinch
8 clicks ground pepper
3 tablespoons fresh oregano
3 tablespoons fresh garlic, minced
½ cup parmano cheese

½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup Panko breadcrumbs
1 cup parmano cheese
sea salt, pinch
8 clicks ground pepper

Place ricotta, goat cheese, zest of one lemon, chili flakes, salt and pepper into bowl. Beat together until smooth. Fold in oregano, garlic and zest of one lemon.

Place oil, salt and pepper in a bowl. Coat mushroom caps with oil mixture. Carefully fill each cap with ricotta mixture.

Mix 1 cup each of parmano and Panko in bowl. Coat mushrooms with parmano/panko blend.

Lightly brush 6-inch cast-iron skillet with oil. Cook 4-5 mushrooms in skillet. Serve immediately.

Melanie Wolkoff Wachsman is a freelance writer in Louisville, Kentucky. She covers food, business and lifestyle trends.