By Len Panaggio
Here we are in March. Spring has hopefully sprung, we commemorate the end of poor Cæsar’s life, and between St. Patrick’s Day and the NCAA basketball tournament, bar business is likely booming.
Unless it is a special event, I always sit at a bar when dining and I can’t help but watch bartenders closely. The bar is a place where, despite all our efforts, theft or losses occur, intentional or not. Let’s start with the unintentional losses.
I often witness “regular” guests being treated to more than they are entitled to. There are ways to reward good customers, but over-pouring is not one of them. However, it is a legitimate concern, especially as today’s consumers want high-end spirits, beers and wines. When was the last time you had a bar staff meeting? Did you have them demonstrate their average pour? Is your pricing based on an ounce and a quarter, 2 ounces?
We encourage consumption of better products, but do the math on a $12 bottle of vodka versus a $40 bottle of vodka. You can’t get a proportionate amount of revenue based on price, so being off by even a half ounce will generate a significant loss down the road … believe me, those half ounces do add up rapidly. The same holds true for wines by-the-glass and beer; an ounce or two over or a bad draught system, e.g. foam going down the drain, is a loss no matter how you slice it (or pour it).
I also take issue with running tabs. Is the staff running them properly or is it guesswork at the end of your experience? I don’t care what they say, how wonderful their memory is, they can’t possibly be right 100% of the time. Often, I bring it to their attention that a drink or two is missing and half of the bartenders will say, “no big deal, it’s on me!” On me — since when did you become a part owner?
Spillage is always a problem, and investigating why it is happening so that perhaps it can be rectified is a good thing. Dropping and breaking a bottle will always happen. Grabbing the wrong wine, or opening the wrong beer happens. But, what happens to those items opened in error? There has to be a use for them somewhere along the way. Discuss the options with your team.
Moving on to the intentional losses. The big one is giving away drinks. It’s been going on since the first bar opened its doors, but it is a serious problem. Sure, with the advent of security cameras, perhaps some of this goes away, but do you really have the time to watch the tape the next day? Your staff needs to know that there are serious consequences if they engage in this practice.
I would be remiss if I didn’t address St. Patrick’s Day. In addition to training your staff properly to avoid losses, get them ready for the holiday. Beyond pouring the perfect pint of Guinness, this day will challenge your operation on many levels. Most guests will be young, and in some cases, too young to legally be served. Is your staff certified to serve alcohol responsibly? Do they check IDs? Are they willing to shut guests off? It’s your business that is at risk and your staff needs to understand that they, too, share in some responsibility.
March is a good time of year to perform a reality check on your bar program and bar staff. It wasn’t a good month for Cæsar, and if your bar program continues on a path of out of control practices, your fate may well end up the same as his!
Len Panaggio’s career in food and wine spans more than three decades as an owner and as a beverage director at some of the top restaurants in Rhode Island. Currently a hospitality consultant, Len is a graduate of the University of Rhode Island and has attended the Culinary Institute of America Master Sommelier program and the Sterling School of Service and Hospitality.