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Bar Management Guide: How to Run a Successful Bar

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Holding hands, you and your bar sit looking into each other’s eyes. Later, you and your bar sneak into a movie, giggling. Ah, bar management. When times are good, it's like young love.

We want that for you and your bar. To get you there, we’re gonna walk you through three crucial parts of running a profitable bar and efficiently. Those are smart ordering, bar cleanliness and organization, and making your bar a great place to work. Then we'll look into bar manager salaries and cover some top bar management tips to help you become a successful bar manager.

If you choose to read along and take it all to heart, it’ll be the start of a beautiful relationship.

Purchase and Order Smart

Running a bar well is all about being smart with your ordering. And successful liquor ordering is all about consistent liquor inventory management, strategic purchasing, choosing the right distributors, and keeping your invoices organized.

Take Inventory Regularly

If you consistently take inventory, you’ll have a large set of data you can depend on. Then you can make confident ordering and purchasing decisions that address the specific needs of your bar. You can also keep your happy customers and make big bunches of money.

However often you choose to take inventory for a product, daily, weekly, or monthly, make sure you stick to it.

Consistency makes your inventory numbers reliable, and that’s the most important part. That’s the only way for you to manage a successful bar. You must figure out exactly what items your bar needs. It's so important, in fact, we included it on our list of the 6 most important bar manager duties.

Figure Out What Your Bar Needs

To order your liquor just right, you’ll need to consider two things from taking your inventory: inventory usage rates and par levels. Here’s how it shakes out:

  1. Grab last week’s invoices. Compare those to your inventory usage (read about calculating inventory usage). This will help you figure out how much you received versus how much you used.
  2. Look at the par levels. This is the minimum amount of inventory you should have on your shelf for any product at a given time.
  3. Considering steps 1 and 2, create new order totals for your wine, beer, and liquor. You’ll need to do this for every individual product you have.
  4. Contact your reps place the orders.

But before you contact a distributors, make sure they’re a good fit for you.

Choose the Right Alcohol Distributors

There are a gajillion distributors, and there are a few things to consider when choosing them. It’s not always about the lowest price. You should also think about:

  • Delivery costs. They vary and can be a rude awakening if you’re not expecting it. Be aware.
  • Extra services. Some keg distributors will clean your taps for free, for example. If you ask. And it doesn’t hurt to ask.
  • Delivery schedule. You may need weekly deliveries, you may not. Do you need Prosecco to come in on Friday mornings only? Maybe you sell a bunch of it over the weekend and have no shelf space for it on other days. Make sure the schedule works for you and your bar before committing.
  • Breakage fees and volume discounts: Pricing can often depend on how big you go. Some distributors will charge a fee if you order less than case, also known as a breakage fee. Some will also drop the price if you order bulk.

Luckily, BinWise EasyList makes finding distributors a breeze. Distributors use EasyList to digitize their catalogs and make all their products and services discoverable by bar owners and operators everywhere.

What’s more, you can use EasyList to compare prices across suppliers, and learn how other buyers have priced those products. That way you know exactly what you’re getting into.

Once you find the right distributor, it’s essential that you keep a detailed record of everything you buy from them.

Bar Invoices

You need an invoice history to figure out the next order to place. Without it, you won’t know how much product is coming in, and you’ll screw your inventory up. And that means inaccurate usage, pour cost, and par levels.

That means you have to file your invoices, one-by-one, and make sure they’re organized and accessible. Which can be a major pain.

It’s worth noting that bar inventory software like BinWise Pro can do it for you. It smoothly tracks your inventory, orders, and invoices, and keeps everything accessible at a moment’s notice.

That’ll allow you to spend your time making creative, profitable decisions, instead of goofing around in file cabinets and spreadsheets. Just sayin’.

But your purchasing records aren’t the only thing you need to keep clean and organized. Once your liquor is ordered, it’s time to sell it. The easiest place to do that is in a tidy bar that’s running like a well-oiled machine.

Optimize Bar Operations

85% of customers won’t go to a business if it has negative online reviews about its cleanliness.

To stay on top of your bar’s hygiene, your operations should be process-driven and your physical space organized. That means using bar cleaning and opening/closing checklists, creating a bar operations manual, and paying special attention to the layout of your bar.

Bar Cleaning Checklists

Bar cleaning is a lost art. Do you know when your wine by the glass bottles were opened? How about the last time you cleaned your beer lines?

The key to answering these questions, and others like them, is using bar cleaning checklists. For everything. Running a bar's FoH bar operation well is all about standardizing your bar management processes, and that’s what checklists were born for. We've even got a free bar cleaning checklist you can download.

Different bar cleaning duties require different intervals and, thus, different checklists.

Here’s what you need:

  • Daily bar cleaning checklist (e.g., wiping the bar down, cleaning the bottles in the speed wells)
  • Weekly bar cleaning checklist (e.g., wiping down bar stools, cleaning the refrigerator)
  • Monthly bar cleaning checklist (e.g., flushing tap lines, pest control)
  • Bartender duties checklist (e.g., bartender-specific opening, bar closing checklist, and side work duties)

Nail down a cadence for everything you need to clean and your customers will thank you for it.

Bar Opening and Closing Checklists

In addition to daily, weekly, and monthly bar cleaning checklists, use bar opening and closing checklists for your bartender and barback duties.

  • For bar opening checklists, think setting out chairs and floor mats, squeezing fresh juices, and setting out bar towels
  • For the bar closing checklist, set washed glasses up to dry, make sure everything is stocked, and date any wine bottles opened
  • Not only will these keep your bar’s operations humming along, but it’ll keep your staff focused and prioritized.

Check out our free bar opening and closing checklist to get started!

Your Bar Operations Manual

The bar operations manual is the source of truth for everything related to bar management. What are the bar closing procedures? Bar operations manual. What’s the dress code for staff? Bar operations manual. What do I do in case of an emergency? Bar operations manual.

As a quick reference, your bar manual should include, at the minimum:

  • Cleaning checklists
  • Opening and closing procedures
  • Bar staff training manual
  • Uniform standards
  • Staff contact list
  • FAQs
  • Emergency protocols

It’s an important resource, and a lot of care should go into creating and updating it consistently.

Keep Your Bar Organized

Big picture, a good bar layout makes a bar a pleasure to work and drink in. Designing a commercial bar layout is an entire topic on its own. But once you get there, you gotta keep everything in its right place. Or your staff will go insane.

Here are some quick bar management tips to keep your bar organized and everyone happy:

  • Arrange liquor bottles of the same type together
  • Use speed racks if you’re not already
  • Label all your storage shelves
  • Try to store dry goods and other bar inventory separate from alcohol, to make finding and grabbing a new bottle a cinch
  • Use this bar supplies and equipment checklist and follow these bar equipment layout tips
  • Take advantage of a bar management software like BinWise. It can help you identify which bottles fly off the shelves where and keep them stocked and ready to go

Now that your bar is stocked and everything is organized, you need people power.

Make Your Bar a Great Place to Work

Now let's talk about how to hire bar staff! Making work a fun, positive place has effects from the straightforward, like employee retention, to the less precise, like building a strong workplace culture.

To get there, you’ve gotta find the right people, keep ‘em trained, give them a voice, and lead by example.

Staff Your Bar with the Right People

This is arguably the most important, and controversial, part of hiring: You should hire for personality.

Of course, hiring someone with literally no experience may not be the best way to go. But we're talking about hiring someone who has the enthusiasm to learn. A growth mindset. Bars are supposed to be fun, and nothing sucks the life out of one like an unhappy employee.

In fact, Claremont University recently found that personality is a valid predictor of many aspects of job performance, like leadership and lower counterproductive behavior.

So, how do you hire for personality?

First, it’s important to understand that personality is not the first impression the candidate makes at the job interview. It's also not how well they get along with the hiring manager. Hiring for personality is about uncovering what makes the candidate tick. Think about how their character can contribute to a successful bar. Ask questions that get at how receptive they are to feedback, how flexible they are, what their aspirations are, and how important teamwork is.

Alternately, a lot of professional psychologists have already put a lot of time into coming up with questions like these. Look into including an existing personality test as part of the interview process.

Consistently Train Your Staff

All the checklists, training materials, and operations manuals in the world won’t make a difference if nobody uses them. Don't rely on your entire staff to take initiative and learn your processes on their own. It would be nice, but it’s not realistic. Instead, integrate learning into each shift. Make it a part of the workplace culture.

Here are a few bar management tips to make sure your bar staff stays trained up:

  • Have pre-shift meetings and go over prepared pre-shift notes.
  • Have tastings and informational sessions where staff can engage with the products they’re selling and get excited about them. It’s way easier to remember things you actually care about.
  • Encourage education, like any of the sommelier certification levels. Investing in continuing education gives your staff a sense of identity and shows them you care. TAM is a common one.
  • Create a cocktail bible. Standardize everything, even simple classics like a gimlet.
  • Train your staff on standard wine pours and standard liquor pours
  • Give monthly quizzes on policies and procedures. This is a good way to teach, but it’s also a step up from casually going over information in pre-shift meetings. Try to make it fun, not a reminder of high school.

Give Your Staff a Voice

Letting employees anonymously submit suggestions is a great way to empower them to speak their minds and feel involved in the bar management process. You can set up an anonymous Google form and have employees submit their suggestions online, or opt for a good ole’ physical suggestion box. Then you can bring up suggestions at pre-shift meetings.

Another good way to loop in your employees is crowdsourcing decisions to the group. Changing up your wines by the glass or switching POS systems, for example. If you’re on the fence about something, put it to the team.

You can also turn your bartenders into mixologists. Encourage your bartenders’ creativity and let them know that the cocktail menu is open for business. If they create something amazing (with a low pour cost), you’ll see how it does on the menu. Let people be contributors, and they’ll feel that much more ownership.

Lastly, think about a pulse survey, which is an employee satisfaction survey given at regular intervals. Some staff members won’t submit suggestions or speak up at pre-staff meetings, but still have valuable insights.

Lead by Example

Workplace culture represents the personality and values of your organization. It’s the environment your staff live in every second of every shift, and its importance can’t be overstated. To manage a bar, you need to live it.

If you want to make your bar a great place to work, be a boss that:

  • Cares about your staff’s professional development. Encourage, and even pay for, certification. Have conversations about career paths and how you can help. Generally make it obvious that you’re invested in their future. They will appreciate it.
  • Encourages team-building and actual fun having. Create team outings, recognize staff for achievements with callouts or prizes, or have daily or weekly contests. See who can sell the most bottles of the 2010 Riofava Barolo.
  • Understands workplace culture comes from the top. Roll up your sleeves and get behind the bar. Volunteer with other team members and show up to team building events. Most importantly, be open to feedback, be curious, be inclusive, and be kind.

In other words, be a great boss.

Bar Manager Salaries

There's a lot of upward mobility in bars. From bar back to bartender to bar manager and beyond, once you're behind the bar, there's a career path waiting for you. One important consideration behind the decision to move from bartender to a bar manger job is the average bar manager salary. So let's look at the national average of bar manager salaries in the U.S.

We calculated our own national average for a bar manager job by averaging the bar manager salaries from the five largest nationwide employment websites. The national average for bar manager salaries in the U.S. is $45,383. So, considering that number along with the average amount bar managers work per week, bar manager salaries break down to about $14.55 per hour.

Of course, this depends on years of experience. Often, bar managers will move on to other jobs like GM, beverage director, or an in-house wine specialist. But it's safe to say that an average salary is aligned with a mid-career level of experience, which is about 5–7 years. But moving up in your job requires that you be great at it. So let's look at an overview of the habits of a successful bar manager.

The 8 Habits of a Successful Bar Manager

We have an extended list of 16 bar management tips, but here we're only covering what we think are the 8 most important of them. These are the ones you absolutely need to know if you want to succeed in your bar manager job.

Consistently Hold Trainings

Everyone involved with your bar or restaurant is an expert—including all your staff. There's a ton of experience right inside your bar and you need to leverage it. Hold trainings every week or month on menu items, processes, mixology, or anything your staff members are passionate or knowledgeable about. You can even ask a wine or liquor rep for a quick training on their newest products. Or the sous chef to give a training on food preparation! Ask a wine rep to give a training on their newest products. Or a line cook to give a training on food preparation.

Put Together a Great Team

Hire for personality, culture fit, and passion. Then consider skills and experience. An enthusiastic learner can be taught anything. Building your team is the construction of an entire social dynamic, so it must be thoughtfully done. What makes work a happy place or a sad place all hinges on this: will your employees like coming to work or dread it? That all depends on the people they're surrounded by.

Lead by Example

When the place is getting slammed, be visible. Get behind the bar, drop menus and greet tables, clear plates, run a bus tub, do something. Your staff will feel better about working hard if they don’t think they’re the only ones doing it.

Give Employees a Voice

Let employees know that they can provide feedback, both asked for and not. Set up an anonymous online form or suggestion box. Ask for feedback in huddle-ups and shift meetings. This is great for two reasons: your staff will feel ownership over the decision-making process and you'll get lots of good ideas.

Be a Resource for Your Staff's Professional Growth

Talk to every staff member of your bar and make it known that you care about their professional development. If they want a career in hospitality, work with them on a career road map. Then help them progress along it. That may mean helping them find the right online courses, guiding them toward certifications, giving them work experience that fits in with their road map, or helping them network.

Embrace Empathy

Empathy is the best indicator of job performance. Listening and responding with empathy is the best way to communicate, as it communicates to your staff that you care about them. And that makes them far more willing to work toward the organization's vision and mission.

Take Bar Inventory Often

Taking bar inventory regularly gives you the single best chance at succeeding as a bar manager, because it gives you the best chance to increase your bar's profitability. And that's ultimately the number one indicator of your effectiveness as a bar manager. Using your inventory numbers is how you'll determine prices, menu structure, sales strategies, and what to order from vendors.

Plug In to Industry Trends

Hop online and get familiar with what other bar managers are doing in terms of menu design, marketing, layout, hiring, happy hours, etc. There's an entire community of folks out there trying to succeed at the thing you're trying to succeed at, so join forces with them. There are conferences, professional associations and societies, Meetups, and social media groups. Get involved!

And That’s How to Run a Bar

Your orders are made. Liquor, wine, and beer move in and out of your bar like a Swiss timepiece. The bar is clean, well-run, and organized. Your team is happy because you are a good bar manager and your bar is an awesome place to work.

Time to completely check out, sit back, relax, and do nothing until retirement.

Kidding!

Like a relationship, running a bar is about consistently working to grow into something special. Keep at it and you'll figure out exactly how to run a bar. Refine the bar management tips in this guide for your specific business. Also, start using a bar inventory system to automate your inventory and reporting, and one day you and your bar will get that fairy tale ending. Book a demo and an expert will walk you through exactly how BinWise helps.