Ask TrueGuest: Best Methods for Pouring Alcohol

Logo_Mark-Five_Diamond_HospitalityDear TrueGuest,

I can’t seem to get our liquor costs under budget.  What is the best control for measuring the bartender’s pours?

Good question!  There are a few different methods for pouring alcohol such as free pour, jigger, or measured spout.  Which one works best depends on your bar.

Typical lobby lounge – If your bar is typically slow, usually a measured jigger works best.  Just be sure to have plenty of jiggers on hand so the bartender always has one within reach.  We like the measured jigger because it is easy for your supervisors to monitor from across the bar.  Also, customers are accepting of a jigger in most cases.  Of course, the down side is that it is easy for the bartender to overpour using the jigger.  Most bartenders we see using a jigger like to run a tail with each pour.  Here is a good video on basic jigger techniques:

High volume bar – If your bar gets pretty busy and the bartenders need to crank out drinks fast, we like the measured spout.  The ball bearings in the spout automatically pour the exact amount and then stop.  The bartender would have to tilt the bottle back a second time to be able to overpour with these spouts.  Here is a good video of how the Precision Pours work:

Free Pouring Method – We really do not like any bars to use the free pour method.  It is both dangerous to your profits and to your customers.  Our mystery shoppers have reported time after time instances where they were poured a drink that had over 4 ounces of alcohol when a bartender free poured.  You can easily see how pouring 3 times the correct amount can be very dangerous.  But if you must free pour, at least have a good counting system in place and a system to test the bartender’s pouring skills.  Here is a good video:

Cocktail Server Internal Controls

drink trayWith all the focus on good bartender practices and internal controls, what about those “other” employees? All good practices should extend to anyone who has the words, “Serve Alcoholic Beverages”, in their job description. With cocktail servers so prevalent and necessary to provide good service in lounges everywhere, cocktail servers should be held to the same standards as all bartenders. The temptation and the opportunities for a cocktail server to steal are enormous because they work independently and self bank. Dishonest cocktail servers use a variety of methods to take advantage of their situations.

These methods can include:

Short-Changing – Stealing by not returning proper change to a guest. This happens as the guest can become less attentive as they become more intoxicated.

Overcharging – Charging more than necessary for a certain drink and stealing the difference. This usually happens when guests have no intention of seeing a receipt and the server quotes the drink price to them.

Substitutions – Charging for a requested premium liquor, but ordering a well brand from the bartender.

Representing Checks – Presenting the same check to two separate guests/transactions with the same order, then pocketing the cash from one or both transactions.

Fake Walk-Outs – Alleging that a party walked out, but pocketing the cash instead.

Altering Checks – Voiding or adding to checks. Usually goes hand in hand with representing checks.

With the following controls in place, you will curb the chance that your cocktail servers have to steal.

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Bottle for Bottle Exchange

All bars have an inventory system, but most bars overlook an important aspect that should be as controlled as any other process. Imagine that your bar revenue begins to decline; more notably, your cash sales. You begin to do your research and your business levels seem to be consistent and all of your costs seem to be in line. You even do a full inventory mid-period to find any discrepancies. Everything seems fine.

Can someone be stealing your customers? That person might be right under your nose.

liquor-bottlesYour typical bar will carry a variety of different alcoholic selections, almost all of which can be found in grocery stores. There are no distinctions between the bottles you receive from your liquor broker and the bottles you can buy in the grocery store. What will prevent a shrewd bartender from bringing his/her own bottle of Absolute vodka from the store, and pouring and serving to customers out of it, and pocketing the proceeds without a trace? Your bartender just opened his/her own business in your establishment.

Obviously, you cannot have a manager watch each bartender all night looking for any suspicious activity. There is a much easier method that allows you to control this aspect of your liquor operation at a glance; Ensure that you are using a proper bottle for bottle exchange program in your liquor inventory system.

An effective bottle for bottle exchange consists of just a few steps. First, obtain a stamp or a set of stickers that is original and difficult to reproduce. Secondly, mark all of your bottles with the stamp or sticker (discreetly on the back of the bottle to maintain appearance) to show that they are the bar’s property. Lastly, add the bottle for bottle exchange to your requisition process.

This bottle for bottle method requires the bartenders to save finished liquor bottles and exchange them for new bottles during requisition. The bar will not receive new bottles unless an accompanied empty bottle with the proper stamp or sticker on it is received in return. The manager then properly disposes of the empty bottles so that they cannot be retrieved.

With the new changes, managers can easily do spot checks to see if there are any bottles in the bar without stamps or stickers on them. It also provides some additional benefits. Your bar should not run short on any types of liquor anymore as any missed requests in the requisition process will be mostly eliminated due to bottle for bottle exchange. You can be certain that your bar par levels will always be maintained. Any missing liquor inventory will now be the sole responsibility of the bartenders and cannot be blamed on the process. Managers should also consider taking it one step further and disallow personal belongings such as purses or bags behind the bar. This will prevent the use of a personal bottle of liquor to refill the bar’s bottles. Also be sure to use separate stickers for the different outlets you may have so that you do not mix or confuse the bottles with each other.

The bottle for bottle exchange will definitely add some extra work and time to your bar’s inventory process. However, it will be worth the peace of mind you will receive knowing that you are making it tougher for bartender’s to steal from you.


Restaurant Menu Engineering

menuTake a break from working on your budget to catch up on a new law that will have a huge impact on your gross operating profit . As you may have already read, on September 12th, 2006 Governor Schwarzenegger approved a bill to increase the minimum wage. The bill calls for two raises to the minimum wage over the next year and a half as follows:

-On January 1, 2007, the minimum wage for California will increase from $6.75 per hour to $7.50 per hour.

-On January 1, 2008, the minimum wage for California will increase an additional 50 cents to $8.00 per hour.

To read the bill, click on the following link: http://www.dir.ca.gov/IWC/iwc.html

The biggest area the new law will impact is in the hotel’s food and beverage departments. Most restaurants only make a profit of about 10 percent. With server and bartender labor to increase 11 percent to $7.50, it could easily squeeze out the entire profit. Hotels with high benefits (especially high workers comp rates) will be hit the hardest. Now is the time to examine your menus and consider any price increases. There is a great article on menu engineering available at http://www.restaurantowner.com/public/330.cfm . There is also a menu engineering worksheet available for download to help you out. It is also a great time to examine your labor productivity. Make sure that you have a productivity number for each position and those numbers are used to forecast, schedule and report each week.

The earlier that you can prepare for the increase, the easier it will be to absorb the expense. It is critical to examine what positions that it will affect and have a plan for them. Typically any position under $10.00 per hour will be affected by this minimum wage increase. You may want to consider raising the wages on those positions immediately rather than waiting until January 1st. As the word about the minimum wage increase gets around, employees will start looking around to see what other hotels are paying. The hotels who wait until January 1st could risk losing some good employees to their competitors. Also, a large increase before the government requires could be a great boost for moral, especially in December when hotels are slow and work is scarce.

Link provided with permission from RestaurantOwner.com. For more information, visit http://www.restaurantowner.com/.