Profits, Meet Practicality

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“Operationalize your drink program,” urged Tobin Ellis during the 2019 Nightclub & Bar Show. He was joined by award-winning operator, bartender and podcaster Erick Castro and high-volume master Tim Rita.

Last week we touched on the panel’s best strategic advice for making money with draft cocktails. Boiled down to its essence, the trio strongly advised operators to keep things simple and move forward methodically.

That advice doesn’t apply to just one drink category—it goes for the entirety of operations.

To drive the point of simplicity home, Ellis asked Nightclub & Bar Show attendees to participate in a follow-the-leader singalong. He started with an easy melody consisting of just a few notes which he sang and then asked the audience to sing. Easy—everyone nailed it. He then spat 8 bars of a ‘90s rap song, asking the attendees to repeat it back to him. It was a mess.

Operators don’t need to make their drink programs needlessly complicated in the hopes that they’ll increase guest counts and be able to charge more per cocktail. If a drink is complicated, consistency can quickly become a problem from bartender to bartender. Fail to deliver consistent cocktails and the possibility of driving away guests becomes very real.

Instead, using draft cocktails as an example as the panel did, do one thing well when adopting something new, get known for it, do it for 12 months and make money on it, and then move on. What this means is, perfect one draft cocktail rather than adding four or five mediocre offerings to the mix, let word spread (helping it along with marketing and promotions), and rake in revenue.

Read this: Dominate with Draft Cocktails

Speaking of marketing, Ellis cautioned operators against believing social media and marketing are magic bullet answers for generating profits. He said that “marketing is not the answer,” asking if people really thought it was a great idea to encourage droves of people to rush into their bars to try their mediocre product just so they could complain about it online. Owners, operators and managers should nail operations, service and menu items first.

Operationalizing a drink program requires tracking flow through, understanding P-mix (product mix) to maximize profits, avoiding an à la minute approach, paying attention to and enhancing workflows, and spending money wisely.

To that last point, the panel used a bar’s floors as an example. If an operator spends a large amount of money on a fancy floor, that operator’s janitor thanks them. Why? Because only the operator, their employees and the janitor who cleans the floors ever see the floor. As Ellis pointed out, if the guests have time to admire the floor, the bar isn’t busy enough. Money not well spent.

Read this: Crowdfund Your Way to a Bar Brand Empire

The same goes for choosing glassware. Eclectic glassware can certainly enhance the guest experience but it can also add up. Glasses will be broken. Like anything not bolted down, glasses will be stolen. While Ellis said that he’s had success scouring second-hand stores for vintage and otherwise unique glassware, he recommended choosing SKUs that have been around a while and remain available. Of course, as Castro said, glassware is important and whatever is selected should tie into the concept.

An operationalized drink program is simply a practical program. Keep things simple, get to love flow-through analysis and other reports that help maximize profits and lower costs, be patient with new items and strive to perfect them before offering them to the public, and run lean wherever possible.

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