Tending To Your Bar
When it comes to managing your bar, are you covered?
When we think of what goes into managing a restaurant, oftentimes the kitchen comes to mind first. After all, when people plan a night out to eat, food is naturally their main motivator. However, a good beverage program is as important to the overall experience and no matter how thoughtful or extensive yours is, if you don't stay on top of it, you can easily fall behind.
One key thing is to be in the know with your product mixes so you're not over or under ordering
"One key thing is to be in the know with your product mixes so you're not over or under ordering," said David Toby, bar director for four Jack Allen's Kitchen locations and Salt Traders Coastal Cooking in Austin, Texas. "I never want to be out of any menu item, but I also don't want to sit on product I'm not using."
If you're setting up a new restaurant or bar, be a little less aggressive in your first rounds of ordering until you know what you're clientele will go through, Toby added.
"You can start modestly and not go over the top," he said. "Don't order more than you will go through that week. That's the rule of thumb. You may be able to take advantage of a bulk buy, but weigh out if that makes sense for you. If it's [sitting there] more than a month, it doesn't make sense."
Keeping track of your inventory and staying on top of ordering each week will ensure you always have what you need, but not too much. You can try to eyeball your stock, but that could get you into trouble. Run reports on what you sell each week using your POS system or set up guides in Excel or Google Sheets using appropriate formulas to easily track sales.
Space restrictions are another reason to not over order. Unless you have a 10,000-square-foot restaurant with ample storage, you can quickly run out of places to put your stock and, in turn, have more than you need.
The space dictates the quantity of what you have and the variety
"The space dictates the quantity of what you have and the variety," said Aaron Blakely, bar manager at Yves and Smith & Mills restaurants in New York. "If I only have room for 45 bottles, I can have three vodka, three gin, etc. But at Yves, we can have 10 of everything because we have space for 120 bottles."
Blakely said paying attention to what's moving versus what's sitting, will help with future ordering.
"If anything is staying on your inventory from the first of the month to the first of the next you have to take stock of whether you need that," he added.
At Chicago's Blackbird, bar manager Derek Mercer takes a "less is more" approach to his bar program. Some restaurants have an extensive cocktail list, but he feels those should be reserved for actual cocktail bars.
"For restaurants, I don't think you need you need more than five to eight cocktails; I don't know why you'd need 14 cocktails on a menu," Mercer said. "It also matters what people are asking for. If you don't sell a lot of beer, it doesn't make sense to have 13 beers on your menu. Sometimes people are confused by too many choices."
And make sure your bar program matches your food offerings. You want to ensure there is consistency and cohesion between the food and wine.
Have an innovative beverage program that's unique to your concept and clientele, but you have to design your beverage program that's in line with the concept of food
"Have an innovative beverage program that's unique to your concept and clientele, but you have to design your beverage program that's in line with the concept of food," Toby added. "You don’t want a premium menu where you have an $85 branzino and wine that's not over $10."
Like a kitchen, bars use perishable, seasonal products like citrus or herbs and produce for drinks. Don't let things go bad and use tape on house-made syrups and other similar products to denote dates when they were made.
"We practice 'first in/first out' in our coolers, storage and walk-ins," Toby said. "You have to rotate that dated product forward and everything is used day-fresh. You don't have to rotate liquor, but you have to rotate beer and wine."
Bartenders can make life easier for themselves by having a tight, workable bar where they can easily interact with customers and increase sales. Something that helps with that is having cheater boxes set up at the bar stations. Cheater boxes will have smaller bottles filled with frequently used ingredients in popular cocktails.
I don't always want to look for a full bottle when I only need a little bit for a drink
"I don't always want to look for a full bottle when I only need a little bit for a drink," Blakely said. "You don't have to move anywhere from your station and it helps get drinks out quickly."
Last, whether it's your own place or you're managing the bar side of the business, take ownership.
"The best piece of advice someone gave me is to run it as if it was my business or my bar," Mercer said. "Don't just spend whatever you want. I want to help make money." Isn't that what every business owner ultimately wants?