Pour Systems for the Real WorldMay 2, 2011 By: Matthew Mabel Night Club and Bar Magazine
Balancing Cost Control With Staff Relations and Guest Experience Makes the Most of a Pour System
You are an experienced industry professional. You know how to control your pour costs: use recipes; train, test and retrain your tenders, and track every bottle and sale. But for many operations — especially high-volume bars or those in which hand-crafted drinks bursting with house-made bitters and hard-to-find boutique spirits decidedly are not the norm — the cold, hard truth is that a machine can control how much is dispensed more accurately.
Pour systems are used to help achieve pour consistency, which, in return, reduces costs and increases quality control. But does a pour system fit into your concept, culture and operation? Based on your volume, is the return on investment sufficient to justify a purchase or lease?
Although no P&L statement has a line marked “opportunity costs,” most operations have hidden “what-could-have-been” costs in many areas, such as pour costs. If you compare your actual cost percentage with the potential cost percentage, you might find a pour system would be beneficial. Multiply the percentage of savings by your annual revenue, and you may be motivated to consider a lease or purchase seriously.
There are many different pour systems from which to choose, and each system has positives and negatives for each operation. For instance, some mechanical bottle tops dispense a set amount of fluid but don’t prevent bartenders from pouring twice into the same glass. Additionally, various automatic “gun” or “tower” systems can squirt a specific amount of liquor. Options abound.
The last thing you want to do is lower your pour cost and kill your vibe. In some bar operations, guests will not feel comfortable seeing a gun or tower dispense drinks. In my experience, discomfort occurs much less frequently than you’d expect, so balance guests’ impressions with your fiscal goals. I used my first pour system years ago in a very hip environment: the first multi-concept nightclub in Texas, which featured a 900-seat live room, a 600-person-capacity dance room and a 200-person-capacity video lounge. We were worried about buzzkill in the days before anyone even called it buzzkill; luckily, it was a senseless worry.
One suggestion for fast-paced, high-volume service bars is to use a liquor gun for speed and portion control, which
allows faster pouring and better customer service. Plus, liquor guns often boast simple installation and low maintenance. Their effortlessness, consistency and reliability save time while increasing customer satisfaction and creating larger profits. On the other hand, a computer
system works best for larger places, such as hotels or high-volume clubs and bars.
Many upscale hotels use removable, reusable pourers that can be inserted easily into each bottle and cannot dispense liquid unless they are used in combination with a special activator ring. Portion sizes are programmable, and pourers can be reassigned and reprogrammed at the dispenser without having to use a computer.
If you are in the market for a pour system, insist the vendor provide references for operations similar to yours. Visit the operations and determine how well the system fits into their establishments and whether the promises of savings are true.
It also is important to factor in staff concerns. When the staff members responsible for
customer contact are happy, they will attract regular guests and revenue will increase. Bartenders are rare employees in the hospitality industry — customer-service specialists who single-handedly take a customer’s order, prepare the product, serve it and take cash to the drawer — relying entirely on their own initiative for cash tips.
The relationship between management and bar staff plays a key role when using pour systems. Is your new pour system a real test of your staff’s goodwill and teamwork? Or could better management, hiring, training, motivation, development and supervision produce lower pour costs, even without a system? Focus on these issues. Keep in mind that employees who cannot be trusted are going to hate pour systems. Meanwhile, bartenders who are proud and honest are going to take it personally if they feel management distrusts them or thinks they cannot deliver a pour cost as well as a system. How you manage that reaction is crucial. Presented properly, a trusted employee can understand the business imperative to be consistent, accurate and thrifty. Plus, mentioning that a pour system will free them from worrying about basic issues and give them more time and opportunity to deliver great guest service — thus ramping up their tips — they’ll ultimately buy into the concept. NCB
Not sure what type of pour system will work for your establishment? Check out what these companies are offering, and let the savings begin.
• Alcohol Controls – From portion liquor spouts to free-pour liquor spouts, Alcohol Controls offers a range of options. For example, the liquor clicker portions every shot to an amount determined by management while tracking the number of shots dispensed.
Taking it up a notch, a shot-tracking system — involving a special spout that prevents liquor from being dispensed until the bartender inserts the spout on a dispensing ring — pours proper quantities as per drink recipes. www.alcoholcontrols.com.
• Alcohol Tracker – Claiming to stop liquor losses between 25 and 40%, these free-pour wireless systems are used for tracking and inventory purposes. The wireless spout fits all bottle sizes, has accurate pours at any angle and has a 48-event memory outside of its 75-foot receive range. www.alcoholtracker.com.
• Berg Company – Berg equipment delivers compact systems that record volume, count and sales value of all drinks poured, while working in conjunction with POS systems. Berg features all-bottle, a free-pouring system; laser, a quick-pouring gun system; and beer systems. www.berg-controls.com.
• Liquor Monitor – With its new wireless spout, Liquor Monitor allows real-time visibility of your inventory. All spouts can pour at any angle, have custom corks for all sizes of bottles and can be integrated with POS systems to manage sales. Plus, Liquor Monitor tracks liquor pours, as well as liquor, wine and beer bottles, so you’re always aware of your inventory. www.liquormonitor.com.
• Precision Pours – Made with durable virgin plastic, Precision Pour spouts reduce over-pouring and spills because they include a solid, one-piece bottom assembly, which prevents the spouts’ ball bearings from breaking free and falling into the bottle. The third ball bearing also allows for a smoother and more accurate pour. Precision Pour comes in myriad styles including standard, collared, fliptop-seal, collared-fliptop, heavy-cork-standard and heavy-cork-fliptop types. www.precisionpours.com.