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Bar Inventory Management: The Complete How-To Guide

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Bar inventory management software

A gifted mixologist wastes hours staring at liquor bottles ... taking bar inventory. A sommelier fritters away the evening in a dark cellar ... taking bar inventory.

These grim scenes repeat over and over again in restaurants everywhere.

Talented and creative people spend lots of time on a necessary evil. Wrestling with inventory management.

It can be difficult, tedious, and error-prone. And it takes lots of time. If you do it poorly, your profits will evaporate. And if you do it well, you will increase your bar's profitability. But it's low-hanging fruit. It seems like a monster task, but it can be made so much easier (for example, by implementing a bar POS system).

This guide is going to help you get there.

Bar Inventory

Fundamentally, taking bar inventory is the process of counting everything you have in stock twice.

Then you use those numbers to calculate how much product you used during that time, which is your inventory usage. That number, in turn, allows you to calculate a whole host of other useful metrics. Metrics you can use to make profitable decisions.

Things like setting par levels, reducing excess inventory, and determining pour cost and pricing structure. All dependent on inventory numbers. It is, in fact, the single best way to drive operational efficiencies and profitability in a bar.

Inventory usage numbers allows bars and restaurants to:

Identify Product Variance

Here’s the formula for calculating your bar’s variance:

Variance ($) = Cost of Goods Sold ($) - Inventory Usage ($)

And to find the percentage:

Variance (%) = Variance ($) / Inventory Usage ($)

Let's say a product's variance is 30%, it means that, of all the product used, 30% is lost and not sold.

There are many causes of high variance. And it usually has to do with standard liquor pours and standard wine pours slipping. But comps, theft, and spills contribute, too.

Calculate Pour Cost

To calculate liquor cost, take that product’s inventory usage in dollars and divide by that product’s total sales.

Pour Cost (%) = Inventory Usage ($) / Total Sales ($)

It's typical for a bar to shoot for an average pour cost of 20%.

The products with the lowest pour cost are the most profitable. And knowing which items are your most profitable opens up pricing and marketing avenues that wouldn't otherwise be open. From psychological pricing to where bars get their alcohol to profitable drink menu engineering.

But there’s still one more important way to use your inventory usage rates to save money and boost profit. Par levels.

And finally, par levels.

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Setting Par Level Inventory

Then you set par level. Par level inventory is the minimum amount required to keep a product in stock. It also helps cut down on sitting inventory. Par level is uses past inventory usage data.

Let's say inventory usage for 1 month was 17 bottles of wine. Let’s say our usage the next month was 12 bottles, and our usage the following month was 19 bottles.

Par Level Inventory = (17 Bottles + 12 Bottles + 19 Bottles) / 3 Months
Par Level Inventory = 16 bottles

16 bottles is your par level inventory. That means this wine has an average inventory usage rate of 16 bottles per month over a 3-month time frame. It also means that 16 bottles is the safest minimum number of wine bottles to keep on hand per month. That ensures you’re meeting demand but not sitting on too much unused product, or sitting inventory.

Cutting Down on Sitting Inventory

Sitting inventory is all the stuff on your shelf or in beverage storage that ain't selling. Worse, it may be spoiling and going bad. You don't want to find out the hard way can wine go bad. It ties up money and takes up space. Space that could be used for items that do actually sell.

But accurate inventory can help you reduce it by setting accurate par levels and allowing you to embrace strategic purchasing from your suppliers. It can also help you figure out how to stop shrinkage. With accurate variance numbers, you can pinpoint weak links on staff, in training, or in policy.

How to Do Bar Inventory

Here's a whole post that details how to do liquor inventory. It covers these basics aspects of the process:

Count Everything

If you're not using bar inventory software, you'll have to count every individual product you have on hand. You'll also have to count the volume of liquid in those bottles. Doing this once gives you your starting inventory. Doing it again at a later time gives you your ending inventory. You'll need both of those to calculate usage rates.

Calculate Inventory Usage

Calculating inventory usage is straight-forward and mega-important. It’s the beating heart of every successful beverage inventory system. Because it shows you how much of an item you’re selling.

There are four components to calculating inventory usage:

  • A time frame
  • The starting amount of product
  • The amount of product received
  • The ending amount of product

Let’s consider an example: a time frame of one month and our bar’s Barolo wine.

At the beginning of the month, we have 8 bottles in the wine cellar. Our starting inventory is 8 bottles. During the month, we receive another case (12 bottles) of the wine. At the end of the month, we have 3 bottles of Barolo in the wine cellar. Our ending inventory is 3 bottles.

Inventory Usage (Bottles) = Starting Inventory + Inventory Received - Ending Inventory
Usage = 8 Bottles + 12 Bottles - 3 Bottles
Usage = 17 Bottles

It was a good month for Barolo. To find your monthly usage in dollars, multiply the usage by how much the bottles cost the bar. If a bottle of Barolo cost you $20 from the distributor, then:

Usage ($) = 17 bottles X $20
Usage = $340

You'll slowly get a good grasp of the usage for every product you sell. Then you can start drawing conclusions based on usage rates. Those conclusions will save your bar money.

Bar inventory management ebook

Mastering the Art of Bar Inventory Management

Now you know how to do bar inventory, and you know that it can lower costs, increase profit, and save time.

But to make sure you’re getting it right, you need to take inventory consistently. You should also train your staff properly and experiment with your process.

Be Consistent

Take your bar inventory consistently. You should do it on the same day, whether it's done weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly.

In addition to when, pay attention to how and where. Make sure your inventory is taken in the same way each time:

  • Start in the same spot in the same room
  • Progress throughout your bar the same way each time (from front bar to back storage room, etc.)

The more reliably you take inventory, the more reliable your inventory numbers will be. That makes your decisions based on those numbers as effective as possible.

Train Your Staff

Your staff is the last touchpoint between your inventory and its fate. Loss or profit. Training staff on the rule of tenths, how to identify shrinkage, and your bar's beverage inventory management processes will help in a big way.

First, train your staff to begin or end shifts by visualizing each bottle in 10 parts. Then have them estimate how many tenths of the bottle is still left and record it. If the bottle is half full, they’ll record 0.5. If the bottle is 9/10ths full, they’ll record 0.9. And so on.

You’ll have rotating beginning and ending inventory counts to calculate usage with.

Next, teach your staff to identify shrinkage. Typically, this means reiterating the:

  • Need to record breakage, spillage, and drinks made incorrectly
  • Correct quantity for a standard wine and liquor pour
  • Comp policy

Finally, your staff should be very comfortable with the process for taking inventory that your bar uses. This includes the actual counting method you use. Along with how to figure out usage, pour cost, variance, and par levels. The more your staff understands how their daily tasks affect the health of the bar, the quicker they’ll notice where improvements can be made. Then staff will have ideas for management about how to do bar inventory better.

Experiment with Your Process

Thomas Edison is one of the most successful people to have ever lived. We know him for the light bulb and the phonograph, but he had over 1,000 patents for inventions. And many of them were failures. But to become one of the most productive, successful people ever, he tried things again and again until they worked. The same goes for what inventory management process works for your bar.


  • What day of the week and time of day should you take your inventory?
  • How many employees should you ask to help?
  • What’s worked well in the past?

Every time you take your bar’s liquor inventory, note what worked and what didn’t. Solicit feedback from those involved. Constantly update your process until it’s working just right. It may take a while, but everything worthwhile does. Following these steps will get you well along your way to an optimized beverage inventory management system. There are, however, some special considerations if you're dealing with wine and beer.

Wine Inventory

Every time a great bottle of wine swirls down the drain, a sommelier somewhere sheds a tear.

It's the very definition of sommelier. Here are some wine inventory management tips to make sure you’re keeping eyes dry.

  • Store your wine labels out, if possible. Turning the wine too often can interrupt the natural aging process.
  • Cork is important for the development of the flavor profile. Store bottles lying so the cork is in contact with the wine.
  • Keep wine out of direct light. Wines are happiest in places like cellars, where light and the resulting oxidizing is at a minimum.
  • Keep a separate wine log or wine inventory spreadsheet. Wine has unique characteristics like vintage, varietal, vineyard, etc., that are helpful to record and review as time goes on.

Beer Inventory

There are many different types and shapes of keg sizes, and draft beer inventory is a different animal. Here are 3 ways to go about it:

  • Tenthing AKA the “lift-n-guess” method. Good news, everyone! The rule of tenths is back, but this time you can’t see anything! But seriously, you can still use the rule of tenths to estimate the amount of beer in a keg. You have to lift the keg up and do it by gauging its weight.
  • Get a keg scale. This is a lot like the option above, but with machine precision.
  • Use the Keg Check. It’s a torque wrench designed specifically to measure the amount of beer left in a keg.

Another useful tip to make beer inventory management easier is to adjust the bar inventory spreadsheet into a beer inventory spreadsheet by customizing a few fields. Like the wine spreadsheet, it will capture a lot of things unique to beer. Draft, bottle, domestic, imported, brewery, style, etc.

Recording such specifics can help you determine the exact type of beers your customers like. Let’s take a look at all this good stuff in action using an example.

bar inventory management software

How Bar Inventory Software Can Help

Doing everything we’ve described manually with a spreadsheet is a huge task. Doing it all manually, consistently, and accurately is almost impossible. Bar inventory management software can make it easier and save you time and money. It automates the whole process, speeding up counting and quickly providing all the reports and analytics you need. To see why using software instead of spreadsheets is a win-win, let’s look at what bar inventory software does. And how it improves things over manual inventory.

What Bar Inventory Software Does

Most inventory management software often comes with the features that streamline your inventory process.

Like these:

  • Generates a database of all liquor, alcohol, and beer that you own—be it bottles, cans, kegs, cases, etc. See our bar liquor inventory list.
  • Creates a printable or digital wine list, beer menu, or cocktail menu. All of which can be modified or updated quickly.
  • Scans inventory during the counting process
  • Records exactly where bottles are stored
  • Logs all brands and flavors of wine, liquor, and beer you have in stock
  • Stores which distributor you ordered from, when, and for how much
  • Knows which bottles have been used, sold, and which ones need to be restocked
  • Keeps a running total of how long each bottle has been sitting on the shelves
  • Catalogs which bottles are selling fast and where
  • Documents tasting notes and other relevant information

The Benefits of Using Bar Inventory Software

Speed Up Counting

To speed up the counting process, beverage inventory management software typically has barcode scanners or barcode scanner apps. BinWise Pro’s can scan over 50 items per minute. If a scanner isn’t your thing, you can use the BinScan bar inventory app. And turn any smart device into a scanner.

Finally, with multi-user inventory, team members can collaborate on taking inventory using multiple devices at the same time, and it gets even quicker.

Eliminate Mistakes and Errors

Bar inventory software records inventory far more accurately. Because it automated everything. The benefits of that have a ripple effect: all of the figures you get from taking inventory, like pour cost, liquor variance, and par levels, are all as accurate as possible as well.

Bar inventory software integrates with your POS to automatically deplete inventory as it’s sold, otherwise called maintaining a perpetual inventory system. Say goodbye to the errors that screw up your liquor inventory numbers. Say goodbye to wasting hours upon hours causing those errors.

Seamless Reporting and Analysis

Any beverage inventory management software worth its salt will pull reports based on your inventory counts. A good bar inventory software will also track all the places in your bar or restaurant were inventory is sold and used.

This further helps you isolate exactly what products sell, or are wasted, where.And it’s usually as easy as pressing a button. There are dozens of built-in reports that make figuring out numbers like pour cost and variance a cinch. Then you can easily export the data to your accounting system.

Avoid Deadstock

One of the biggest benefits of using an inventory management software is having all the important information on your items stored in its database, making reviewing your inventory and how long you’ve had it only a few clicks away.

The system can alert you when certain items have been sitting on your shelves for too long, and are not selling fast enough. This way, you can run specials to get rid of those items, and know not to order them in the future.

Reduce Variance

If your staff is prone to spillage, breakage, or giving away free comps, the software helps keep track of those incidents. Then bar managers can isolate what the problem is. Maybe a certain drink recipe isn’t being made to spec.

Maybe a bartender isn’t clear on the comp policy. Knowing what causes variance puts bars in the best position possible to lower it.

Never Run Out of Stock

A bar cannot be successful if it runs out of essential items and ingredients. At the same time, it can be difficult to keep track of inventory in a high-volume, high-traffic bar that’s moving thousands of bottles.

Luckily, a bar inventory management system helps monitor it all. It sets up par levels and alerts you when items are running low so you can take action immediately. No more 86ing.

Improve Your Sales and Profitability

Making life easier is great, but that’s probably not why you’re running a bar. You’re trying to make more money. That is, in fact, the single biggest reason why bars today should embrace bar and restaurant inventory management software programs and apps.

Making the most profitable decisions possible depends on having consistent, accurate data. Using software to count your inventory then turn that inventory process into actionable insights is why bar inventory software matters. You’ll be running a business that always knows its variance, its par levels, its pour costs, its inventory usage.

And when you know those things, you can start turning the screw on each of them and improving things. It’s not just using a smart technology within your bar, it’s making your entire bar a smart operation.

What About a Liquor Inventory or Bar Inventory App?

Most bar inventory software will come with an app version or be able to be used on mobile devices. If you're ready to commit to a bar inventory platform, make sure you ask about mobile usage. BinWise Pro, for example, can be used on mobile devices and syncs with BinScan2.0, our mobile scanning app.

Frequently Asked Questions About Bar Inventory Management

The task of doing a bar inventory is quite a large feat. While the body of this article covers most of the finer points, there may still be questions you have before you take inventory. Some of these common questions include:

When Should I Get Set Up With Bar Software?

You may think that you don't need a bar software program like BinWise until you've opened your bar. In part, that's true, you won't need all the features when you're still creating your bar business plan and opening the doors. That said, bar software and inventory management is something you'll be using for the entire duration of owning a bar, so getting a head start by choosing your bar software and getting set up before you open the doors will give you a leg up.

How Often Do You Need To Take Inventory?

This will depend on your quantity of inventory, how well it stays organized, and how you prefer to count it. Some places only do inventory once a month. While there's nothing wrong with monthly inventory, a weekly or bi-weekly inventory count will help you stay organized and avoid miscounts and mistakes.

How Do You Manage A Bar Inventory?

A bar inventory practice takes a lot of work. When it comes down to it, managing a bar inventory requires you to always be a step ahead. That's where a program like BinWise comes in handy. BinWise offers the support you need to make inventory a breeze, so you can focus on the selling and let the inventory practice work for you.

Do Yourself a Favor: Use Bar Inventory Management Software

There’s a theme here: the calculations associated with liquor inventory aren’t too hard. What’s hard is doing it repeatedly. For every product. Accurately again and again, and then recording that data so you can make decisions with it.

That’s what BinWise Pro does. As an automated bar inventory system, it speeds up liquor inventory counting, automatically adjusts your inventory levels in real time, and keeps a running stream of historical data. All of that helps you make the most impactful decisions possible.

Let your mixologist get back behind the bar and blow everyone's minds with incredible cocktails.

Let your highly-trained sommelier charm the dining room and sell some wine.

Stop the horror show.

Reduce inventory counting time by as much as 85%. Schedule a demo now:
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