Bar classics like wings will probably never disappear from menus. But one-time pub standards like breaded mushrooms, fried mozzarella sticks and spinach dip are giving way to a whole new class of appetizers designed to keep patrons fed and festive during winter sports events such as the Big Game, March Madness and Stanley Cup hockey playoffs.

These days, game-day diners are more likely to see appetizer menus that rely heavily on creative plant-based mash-ups, cheese-centric choices and plays on ethnic foods to keep sports fans happy.

A winning lineup may include some of these elements.

Loaded fries, piled high with the likes of cheese sauce, lobster, fried pork belly, gravy, bacon, kimchi, pastrami or chili are trending up on menus, jumping nearly 10% over the past year according to Technomic’s MenuMonitor.

Cheese is a no-brainer when it comes to bar bites. These days the biggest story is queso, a universally popular and eminently shareable dip that’s busted out of its origins at Mexican restaurant concepts. Start with Casa Solana Queso Seguro and add in beer, chorizo, crawfish and other embellishments that layer flavor and boost perceived value.

Bold global flavors are mixing it up on appetizer menus. Emerging items include Korean barbecue, Indian samosas, pot stickers, coconut shrimp, poke, cross-cultural tacos and many others.

Health halo vegetables such as cauliflower and Brussels sprouts are ditching supporting roles as sides to star as bar bites. Roasted or Buffalo-style cauliflower, crispy fried Brussels sprouts with Sriracha aioli or chimichurri sauce, or roasted artichokes with a trio of dipping sauces all appeal to revelers who want to feel a little better about what they’re consuming.

Marketing Tips

Owning a signature preparation of an already popular dish is a good start, but simply creating a craveable app won’t necessarily get sports fans piling into seats.

Well-styled food photos along with advance game-day social media promos, however, can do the trick. An over-the-top queso, mile-high loaded fries or a trio of variations on a slider theme – especially when tied to the specific event – can launch a conversation and help set the wheels in motion for sports fans seeking a place to meet up for the big day.
Customer Spotlight

At Swig & Swine in Charleston, South Carolina, Chef Anthony DiBernardo points with his signature pimento cheese dip served with seasoned chicharrones. This craveable southern inspired dish with a twist pleases crowds and is optimized for sharing, making it a great snack game day or any day.

“Pimento cheese and chicharrones are the chips and dip of the south. Pimento cheese is a definite crowd pleaser, and a dish that’s easy to make ahead of time, making it great for any occasion!”

– Chef Anthony DiBernardo