The Complete Guide to Bar Management
Holding hands, you and your bar sit looking into each other’s eyes.
Later, you and your bar sneak into a movie, giggling.
Managing a bar is like a relationship. When time’s are good, it’s like young love.
We want that for you and your bar. And to get there, it’s all about making sure your bar management skills are top-notch and your bar is running like a dream.
How to Manage a Bar
If it’s not clear yet, we’re talking about how to run a bar. Successfully.
Being smart about ordering, keeping your bar clean and organized, and building the right team are all crucial parts of bar management. They’re also difficult to do well.
That’s why we’re gonna walk you through how to run a bar like a pro with some tip-top bar management tips.
Purchasing and Ordering
Running a bar well is all about being smart with your ordering. And liquor ordering is all about consistent inventory management, which helps figure out exactly what you need to order to meet your goals. Then all you gotta do is choose the right distributor and you’re off to the races.
Take Inventory Regularly
We’ve written at length about why taking your bar’s inventory is great and how to do it. But it should be repeated: if you consistently take inventory, you’ll be able to confidently make ordering and purchasing decisions that keep your happy customers and make you 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.
Figure Out What You Need
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:
- Grab last week’s invoices. Compare those to your inventory usage rates. This will help you figure out how much you received versus how much you used.
- Look at the par levels you set: this is the minimum amount of inventory you should have on your shelf for any product at a given time.
- 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.
- Contact your reps place the orders.
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. You may need your Prosecco to come in on Friday mornings, because you sell a bunch during the weekend and don’t have room for it on Monday. Make sure the schedule works for you and your bar before pulling the trigger.
- 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.
Lucky for you, 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, so you know you’re maximizing your profit margin.
Bar Management and Invoices
As stated above, you need your invoices to figure out the next order to place. Without them, you won’t know how much product is coming in, and you’ll screw your inventory up (and all the things that depend on your inventory, like usage, pour cost, par levels).
That means you have to file your invoices, one-by-one, and make sure they’re organized and accessible. Which is a major pain.
But BinWise Pro can do it for you. As the premier bar management software, BinWise Pro effortlessly and smoothly tracks your inventory, orders, and invoices, and keeps everything accessible at a moment’s notice.
So you can spend your time making creative, profitable decisions, instead of goofing around in file cabinets and spreadsheets.
Bar Cleaning and Maintenance
Once your liquor is ordered, it’s time to sell it. And the best way to do that is to make sure your bar is running like a well-oiled machine.
Bar Cleaning Checklists
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 top-notch FoH bar operation is all about standardizing your processes, and that’s what checklists were born for.
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)
85% of customers won’t go to a business if it has negative online reviews about its cleanliness.
Nail down a cadence for everything you need to clean and your customers will thank you for it.
Bar Opening and Closing Checklists
More checklists! Some people get seriously excited about checklists. Hopefully you’re one of them.
If not, at least get excited that checklists for your bar’s opening and closing procedures give your bar management the best chance to succeed.
In addition to daily, weekly, and monthly bar cleaning checklists, you need to drum up bar opening and closing checklists for your bartenders and barbacks:
- For bar opening checklists, think setting out chairs and floor mats, squeezing fresh juices, and setting out bar towels
- For bar closing checklists, think setting all newly-washed glasses up to dry, making sure bottled waters are stocked for the next shift, and putting dates on any wine-by-the-glass bottles that were opened that shift
Not only will these keep your bar’s operations humming along, but it’ll keep your staff focused and prioritized.
Your Bar Operations Manual
An operations manual is where all the important documents for bar management live. Yes, it includes all the checklists, don’t worry. The precious checklists will be safe.
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. You get the point.
As a quick reference, your bar manual should include, at the minimum:
- Cleaning checklists
- Opening and closing procedures
- Staff training resources
- Uniform standards
- Staff contact list
- Emergency protocols
It’s a super 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 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
- Take advantage of a bar management software like BinWise, which can help you identify which bottles fly off the shelves where, and keep them stocked and ready to go
Building the Right Team
Having the right team in place has effects from the straightforward, like lowering your variance, 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. 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 simply the first impression the candidate makes at the job interview or how well they get along with the hiring manager.
Hiring for personality is about uncovering what makes the candidate tick, and thinking about how their character can contribute to the success of the business.
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.
You can’t rely on your entire staff to take initiative and learn the ins and outs of the business, on their own, to your expectations. 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 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 certification. 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.
- 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. 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, like, let’s say, changing up your wines by the glass or switching POS systems. 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.
Make Your Bar a Great Place to Work
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.
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, and 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, like who can sell the most bottles of the 2010 Riofava Barolo.
- Understands workplace culture comes from the top. Lead by example: roll up your sleeves and get behind the bar, volunteer with other team members, show up to team building events, be open to feedback, be curious, be inclusive, and be kind.
In other words, be a great boss.
And That’s How You Manage a Bar
Your orders are made. Your liquor, wine, and beer move in and out of your bar like a Swiss timepiece. Your bar is clean, well-run, and organized. Your team is happy because your bar is an awesome place to work.
Time to completely check out, sit back, relax, and do nothing until retirement.
Like a relationship, running a bar is about consistently working to grow into something special.
Keep at it. Keep refining the bar management tips in this guide for your specific business, start using BinWise Pro to automate your inventory and reporting, and one day you and your bar will get that fairy tale ending.