In Part 1 of our look at your restaurant bar inventory, we discussed the three steps to building a menu of liquor and how cost control can make it profitable for you. But once you’ve determined what to stock, you need to manage how it comes through — and goes out of — your doors.
Getting a great deal on your purchase only means something if you are able to turn your entire product around and sell it at a higher cost to your customers. Effective inventory management, portion control, and theft prevention are three keys to ensuring that process is successful, and keep your bar running with its head above water.
1. Ordering and Tracking Inventory
There isn’t an appreciable difference between the type of inventory tracking you do as a manager for your food items as the tracking you do for liquor. Having a bar to stock just means you have twice as much of it! Twice the distributors. Twice the paperwork. And twice the responsibility. Training your shift managers on inventory control and ordering is essential to keeping your bar well-stocked and profitable.
Requiring the use of purchase orders on every invoice of alcohol makes tracking usage easier, both per shift and over time. It’s also another way to help ensure all your establishment’s purchases are accounted for and authorized.
Just like your food ingredients, liquor should have a specific person — usually a manager — designated to accept deliveries and check the actual stock delivered against the purchase order to confirm the match. Inventory should then also be tracked electronically, either in simple spreadsheet format or in a more sophisticated software designed for liquor inventory control.
It’s important is to determine what par should be, both for your overall stock and for your bar. Bartenders should never have to go to the stockroom in the middle of a shift –it leaves customers waiting unnecessarily and opens up the opportunity for both theft and inadvertent corner cutting on inventory tracking.
But by the same token, running out of an item crucial to your bar’s most popular signature drink is not an acceptable option either, and will undoubtedly disappoint more than a few customers.
2. Serving and Portion Control
Just as with plating in the kitchen, portion control when serving alcohol from your restaurant bar is critical for maintaining the profitability of your menu. Every glass of wine should be poured at precisely six ounces. Not five. Not seven. Not six and a quarter. When your profit is determined by the number of pours budgeted per bottle, even a seemingly minuscule quarter ounce, overpoured or underpoured, affects your business.
This kind of mismanagement of your restaurant bar inventory can cost you hundreds of dollars an evening. Training your bartender or wait staff on accurate (and speedy) pours is critical, but so is confirming that accuracy over time. It’s easy to get sloppy with pours as one gets more comfortable in a job — especially during high stress/traffic periods. But that’s exactly when overpouring will cost you the most money.
The wine glasses you choose make a difference, too. While the shape of your glasses will vary depending on the content, be careful not to serve your house red in a larger volume glass than your house white, for instance.
No matter how precisely you pour, customers will feel like they are not getting their money’s worth on the red. Complaints can lead to deliberate or unconscious generosity over time from your bartenders, who want to protect their tips and keep the customer happy. If your glassware looks and feels more full (and patrons get consistent servings on every visit) you won’t lose out on profit — or the loyalty of a return customer.
When serving liquor, whether in mixed drinks or shots, it’s important to go through the same rigorous training one might to prevent overpouring wine. One solution, of course, is to insist your bartenders use pre-measured jiggers instead of free pouring, but the reality is, this decision could set your bar back in efficiency while maintaining precision, which could hurt profitability if your bartenders get backed up. Every pour is then doubled, from the bottle to the jigger and from the jigger to the glass, resulting in half as many drinks in the same time. Bartenders should be able to do a count in their head as they pour, with every second equaling a quarter ounce of most liquors (some liqueurs are more viscous and require longer pour times for the same volume).
The trick, of course, is making sure every one of your bartenders is counting at precisely the same speed, and stopping the flow of alcohol at precisely the right moment. Training them to hold the bottle from the neck, not the base, helps maintain greater control of the flow.
There are also many different ways to twist, bounce, and wrist snap their motion, “cutting” the flow of the liquor in a style that’s both effective and entertaining. Train and test frequently, and be sure to watch the flow of alcohol (not the bartender’s hand) when you time them. That, combined with measuring the actual pour against a jigger, will give you the best sense of their skill.
No matter what style of pour you train your bartenders to use, one very important step to emphasize is ringing every drink up before it’s prepared or served. Making sure every order is recorded in your POS system not only protects your staff from absent-mindedness and you from inadvertent profit loss, it can help prevent deliberate theft as well.
3. Preventing Theft
The reality is, alcohol — particularly those high profit, top shelf items — is more subject to theft than almost any other item in your restaurant. It’s very easy for a bartender to double pour for their friends (or themselves) without anyone catching on. Unless you lock up your stock every night, your cleaning crew frequently can have unmonitored access to your liquor collection.
And since over half of all bars only take inventory once a month, there’s plenty of opportunity and not much ability to track precisely when an item goes missing. Managers should be checking fill lines on liquor bottles every morning as a matter of routine, especially on high cost items.
One way to compare sales and your accurately-recorded inventory volume is to maintain a separate trash container (or other clearly defined area) for empty bottles apart from the rest of your restaurant’s refuse — a container only one authorized shift manager can dispose of. That count can then be compared to the previous shift or day’s inventory totals and resolved against total receipts for each item in your POS system. If there’s more than a slight variance (which could be attributed to inevitable spillage or breakage), you may have to investigate further.
Your employees should have a place in the back of house specifically designated for them to put their clothes and bags during shift hours. Besides ensuring your bar space isn’t cluttered with bartenders’ personal items, it’s also a theft precaution on your part. It’s super easy for anyone with access to your bar to slip a bottle into their backpack if those are permitted to be housed there.
No one likes to suspect their employees — the people they spend night after night working alongside — of doing anything illegal or hurtful. So, it’s important to do your best as a manager to remove the specter of suspicion however you can. Close off as many opportunities for deliberate or accidental abuse as possible and temptation may be avoided as well.
Want more ideas on training your restaurant bar staff? We have your easy six-step guide to teaching your team how to sell wine: