November 25, 2012


Small steps can bring big improvements for your bar

By Robert Plotkin

It is never a bad time to make changes that will help your business grow. Industry expert and regular el Restaurante Mexicano contributor Robert Plotkin shares a few simple-to-implement tips that can get you started on the road to a better bottom line.

WHAT BARTENDERS SAY TO GUESTS MATTERS. Bartenders often convey subtle messages about your venue’s hospitality. Addressing a group of men and women as “guys” doesn’t acknowedge everyone in the group. Saying “No problem” when a guest asks for something indicates it may have been a problem, but in this case it’s not,  demonstrating that your hospitality may be conditional. How about taking a cue from the fine hotels and saying, “With pleasure” when responding? And saying, “Want another?” is far less professional than stating, “May I freshen your drink for you?” Use words and  phrases that underscore the fact you are glad they are in your place, and you’re happy to serve them. It will pay off in better guest satisfaction, which equals higher checks and tips.

GETTING MORE BANG FOR YOUR PROMO BUCK. Owners and managers may get an ego boost from comping a round of drinks, but guests are savvy enough to realize the tab doesn’t come out of that person’s pocket. That can diminish the gesture’s impact. At the same time, the bartender will likely be gnashing his teeth at the prospect of not getting tipped for the comp’d order.

But what if the manager or owner withdrew $100 from petty cash at the beginning of a shift? Then when the occasion arises to comp a few drinks, he can reach into his pocket and drop cash on the bar to pay for them. Imagine the lasting impression that would make! The bartender can key the transaction in as a promo sale, then take a 20 percent tip. At the end of the shift the cash is returned to the back office and accounted for in the same manner as petty cash. Everyone wins, especially the house, which has earned big points with the guests and the bartender.

A BAR’S ACHILLES’ HEEL. Lipstick and other marks on a glass speak volumes about what’s happening behind your bar and in your kitchen—and it’s not a good message. To check on the cleanliness of your glassware, fill an empty glass with club soda. If bubble streams appear on the sides, you’ve got a less- than-clean glass. The carbonation in the soda will begin to form streams in a glass wherever there’s dirt, grease, oil or other foreign material. If the results are unfavorable, review your glass-washing program with your staff.

BAR BACKS TO THE RESCUE. Bar backs are bartenders’ best friends, and if they’re well-trained and engaged, they can be the owner’s best friend when a bartender calls in sick or doesn’t show up. Bar backs help lower labor costs and let bartenders be more efficient and productive. What’s more, investing time and money in training a bar back eventually pays big dividends when a staff opening arises.

BACKBAR MANAGEMENT. Whatever type of operation you’re running, the backbar is your principal and most effective marketing device. Make sure it has the right product mix and that it best supports your beverage program. Especially important in these challenging economic times is taking steps to reduce your inventory levels, which will free working capital and reduce your exposure to loss. Distinguish between underperforming products (those that take four months or longer to deplete) and dead stock (products that remain on the shelf longer than nine months). Underperforming products have low returns on investment, while dead stock are financial lost causes.

INJECTING COCKTAILS WITH FRESH INGREDIENTS. Muddling does for a  cocktail what high definition does for television. Each produces a crisper, more brilliant, more pleasurable experience. Drinks made with muddled ingredients are a slice above the rest, with generous bouquets and tree-ripened flavors. The technique also expands the list of ingredients that can be incorporated into drink-making, creating a selection ranging from ginger, cucumbers and peppers, to basil, mint and every type of fresh fruit imaginable. Factor in how it enhances production value and you’ll begin to appreciate why muddling has become a significant beverage trend.


great cocktails share is sessionability. The term describes a drink so engaging that people stick with it throughout  the course of a night. Success in this case depends on balancing the drink’s characteristics so they can be appreciated equally. A drink with too much  flavor will become overbearing; not enough and it’ll be a dud.

PRE-OPENING BOTTLES OF WINE. Getting a bar ready for opening is something like preparing for an invasion. One task on everyone’s list is to pre-open bottles of wine offered by the glass. The savvy thing to do is to pull each cork about two-thirds of the way out and leave it there. Not removing the cork keeps the seal airtight, which extends the useful life of the wine. The bartenders will notice no difference in speed of service. They’ll still be able to easily remove the cork and keep on pouring.

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November 25, 2012

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