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:

Ask TrueGuest: Bartender Selling Techniques

Dear TrueGuest,

I am a food and beverage manager at a hotel with two bars.  Can you tell me some ways that we can increase our revenues?  We are obviously a little bit slower lately, but is there anything that we can do to help?

mixed-drink1The selling area of a bartender’s service is always overlooked. These selling standards are extremely important to generating higher revenues. Bartenders can come across as uncaring and unfriendly if they just approach and ask guests, “What can I get for you?” They also will not sell much more than the minimum guest order. Most hotel bars are not like the bars or nightclubs that stand alone.People usually expect more from a hotel bar.The service of a bartender should be similar to that provided by servers to a table of guests that are eating.There are many selling standards that should be in place for each time a guest arrives at the bar.This includes practices such as offering your drink menu to guests whether they know what they want or not, providing a food menu, suggesting any specialty drinks, offering more beverages, and offering bar snacks.Each of these practices has its own effect and benefit on your bartender’s guest service as well as revenues.Here is a breakdown.

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TrueGuest Service Tips for Every Hotel!

Logo_Mark-Five_Diamond_Hospitality copy2We are very fortunate to be able to stay at some of the top hotels, including some amazing five diamond properties.  While your hotel may not have the staffing budget of a five diamond hotel, there are still plenty of service tips that everyone can learn from the five diamonds.

Here are some tips for providing five diamond service that does not cost much:

  1. Teach all of your associates the phrase ‘my pleasure’:  When a guest says ‘thank you’, associates at top properties always respond with ‘it is my pleasure’.  Other properties respond with ‘you’re welcome’ or ‘no problem’.
  2. Every associate must be guest focused instead of task focused:  At a three diamond hotel, a housekeeper held up the elevator that I was in to wait for her friend so they could go to lunch together.  The next day at a five diamond, an engineer who happened to be walking near an elevator saw me walking down the hallway and automatically pressed the elevator button.  The engineer was aware of my need as a guest.  The housekeeper was only aware of her own need for a lunch break.

Finally, Some Solutions to Control Your Banquet Bars… and Increase Sales!

micros1_fullWe often gets calls from hotels whose banquet bars are out of control. Whether the liquor pour cost is high, the employees are stealing cash or clients have complained about being overcharged on a host bar, the main culprit is usually a poor system for recording sales.

While our hotels all have the most advanced property management systems at the front desk and the most advanced point of sales systems in our restaurants and bars, our banquet bars have cheap cash registers purchased from Costco! Or worse yet, the old adding machine tape next to the cash drawer!

Finally, technology has caught up with the demand. Most hotels use the MICROS 3700 or the MICROS 9700 point of sale system in their restaurant and bars. Now it is very easy to add on an affordable, portable terminal and put in the same controls in your banquet bar as you have in your restaurant bar. The terminal runs on wireless internet and connects to your existing point of sales system so it is ultra portable. All that it needs is power. Depending on the size of your hotel’s banquet space, most hotels can get by with only one or two terminals.

How will adding a point of sales system to your banquet bar increase sales?

1. Your hotel will now be able to accept credit cards at a banquet event. People tend to spend much more money at a place (especially a bar) when using a credit card.

2. Many people at a business event will not purchase drinks unless they can use a company credit card and get a receipt. If you have ever attended an HFTP event, you have been in line behind a group of Controllers that want to pay with a company credit card and need a receipt for the expense report!

3. You will greatly reduce your risk of employee theft. You may be losing 20 percent of your revenues to theft right now. With a POS, the bartenders will have to ring up each item and present a receipt. More of the hotel’s money will make it into the register instead of ‘accidentally’ going into the tip jar.

If you have installed a Point of Sales System in the last few years or are planning to install one in the future, be sure to consider incorporating a banquet bar terminal. It will pay for itself in no time!

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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Servers and Bartenders Split Checks (and steal) in a Blink of the Eye

It never amazes us to hear about all of the ways our Mystery Shoppers see servers and bartenders stealing from their hotels. With the advancement in technology, especially point of sale systems, you would think that it would be harder for servers to steal. However, in many ways, it actually makes it easier.

micros1_fullWith the advancement in technology, a server can make a guest check in seconds. That means they can easily manipulate a guest check in seconds. Here is one example our Mystery Shoppers see. A server serves 2 breakfast buffets and presents check number 101 to a customer. The customer pays $40 cash. Instead of closing the check to cash, the server pockets the cash and goes back and splits that check and creates check number 102 for 1 buffet and check number 103 for 1 buffet. Now the server has two open checks for very popular items that he/she can do many things with. He/she can present a check their next customer who orders a buffet or they can add additional items to the buffet or transfer it to another guest check. The opportunities are endless.

This not only works with buffets but with any items that are not prepared by the kitchen such as beverages, deserts, and especially alcoholic drinks.

How can you protect your restaurant?

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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.