By Donna Hood Crecca & Robert Plotkin
Running a bar or nightclub isn’t easy. Keep your establishment afloat by knowing what works and what makes money — creative bar menus, relating to and understanding your staff, regulating alcohol consumption and looking for new products all make your venue stand out. Based on the standing-room-only “50 Ideas in 50 Minutes” session presented by author and beverage management guru Robert Plotkin and NCB Publisher and Editorial Director Donna Hood Crecca during the Nightclub & Bar Convention and Trade Show in Las Vegas in March, here are seven tips for running a successful, money-making bar. This is the last installment of the 50 Ideas — check back next week for all 50 ideas.
Old School Practices Best Left in the Past – Doubles and Post-Shift Drinks
As society continues tightening restrictions on the consumption of alcohol, once accepted practices have become outdated and fraught with liability. On-premise operators need to reevaluate their pouring policies from a risk/reward perspective. A prime example is the service of “doubles.” Any way you look at it, doubles are more than twice as potent as regularly prepared drinks. Complicating matters, people consume doubles at the same rate that they do other cocktails, which increases the rate the alcohol is absorbed in bloodstream by a factor of two.
When a guest requests a double, a bartender need only respond that house policy prohibits serving doubles, and then ask if he or she would care for a regular strength drink.
Equally outdated is the practice of giving bartenders and servers a post-shift drink and allowing them to drink at the bar. While it may seem a hospitable gesture, there’s a natural temptation for bartenders to over-pour, undercharge and over-serve their co-workers. More importantly, prohibiting this practice reduces the possibility of employees becoming intoxicated at work or leaving under the influence.
Drink Menus – What Works, What Doesn’t and What Consumers Want
In the on-premise arena, we know people are going out less frequently and spending less money when they do. However, getting a glimpse into what consumers are thinking would certainly help matters.
To find out, Nightclub & Bar Magazine commissioned Mike Ginley and Next Level Marketing to conduct a consumer research study into how the recession is affecting on-premise beverage trends. They interviewed more than 1,000 people who frequent nightclubs and restaurants and who had ordered alcohol on-premise within the past 30 days. What consumers told them may affect how you manage your business.
What motivates people to order a particular cocktail or drink is of particular interest. Ninety percent of consumers read drink menus in a bar or restaurant, and for a quarter of them it’s how they decide what to order. More than half of the consumers said they prefer a standalone drink menu compared to 17 percent who rely on drink listings on tabletop cards and 11 percent who rather the drinks be promoted within the food menu. Nearly six out of 10 surveyed said they want the drink menu to be left on the table at all times, while about 15 percent would rather the hostess or server hand it to them.
The research also looked at attitudes toward ordering premium brands. More than 80 percent of those surveyed strongly agreed that cocktails made with premium brands taste better than those prepared with house brands. When asked how much more they expected to pay for premium products, the consumers said they expected to pay, on average, $1.50 more for premium beer, $2.21 more for premium wine and an additional $2.80 for a branded cocktail.
More than 80 percent of the consumers said it was important that drink prices be listed on menus, followed closely by beverage descriptions (68 percent), pictures of the drinks (50 percent) and listing of the brand name products used in making the drink (40 percent). According to the research, it’s clear that if your marketing strategy doesn’t include a well-conceived drink menu, you might be spinning your wheels.
Don’t Be Your Own Worst Enemy – Leave the Jaguar at Home
To be perfectly frank, working for blowhards is a bummer. Their caustic temperaments inevitably create toxic work environments, which in bars or restaurants, dissipate staff morale, undercut performance and foster the conditions for theft. Were there a set of commandments governing the conduct of owners, the tablets would certainly include the following:
• Get With the Program
When the doors are open, rank has no privileges. An owner needs to think of himself as part of the crew and work within the established chain of command. Few utterances can derail constructive communication more effectively than the phrase, “As the owner, I think I have the right to...” Aside from stating the obvious, it’s typically followed by an emotional outburst. Especially when doors are open, rank has no privileges.
• Leave the Jaguar at Home
It’s a cruel fact, but most bar owners and restaurateurs don’t live paycheck to paycheck like the rest of us. So how about leaving the Jaguar at home and driving the family sedan when stopping by? Likewise, don’t hold the staff holiday party on your yacht or palatial estate. Flaunting your good fortune can spark negative consequences.
• Required Skill Set — When the doors are open, an owner can usually only perform one useful function, namely schmoozing the guests. Like a virus in an organism, when the owner strolls into the place, he or she is certain to attract attention from the staff, but shouldn’t that be lavished on the guests instead? So how about you meet and greet the guests and then leave the heavy lifting to the pros on-duty?
• Heavy-Handed Comp’ing — Doling out free drinks is expensive. It deprives the bar of sales, depletes product, increases liability and, more often than not, results in the bartender getting stiffed on a tip. Owners looking to make a lasting impression should hand out cash instead.
Garnish Better than the Competition – Talk to the Chef!
Stroll back into the kitchen and nose around, ask questions – the kitchen talent is a great resource for creative garnish ideas and techniques. Garnishes that are visually appealing, aromatic or just downright unexpected can put your Martini head and shoulders above the one served across the street. Take the time to learn the tricks and tools of the culinary trade, and watch your bar business increase.
Wines from Emerging Regions – Juice With Huge Value
Today’s wine drinker knows it doesn’t have to be expensive to be good, and they also know it doesn’t have to be from Napa or Bordeaux to be fantastic! Look to South America — Malbec from Argentina, Carmenere from Chile and Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand are just a few gems awaiting discovery. Also South Africa, Greece and, here at home, Virginia and New York have great varietals. With a little sleuthing and sipping, you might surprise yourself, your guest and your bottom line with quality, cost-efficient finds.
Photos on Drink Menus – People Drink With Their Eyes
Studies show pictures of drinks on menus sell more drinks! What if you can’t show every drink? No worries — in fact, that’s better. Show the drinks you want to sell — the ones that make you a stand out or that make you lots of dollars. People see, people drink (although a little creative description doesn’t hurt, either).
Attend the NCB Show!
Yes, a shameless plug! Taking place March 7-9, 2011, the Nightclub & Bar Convention and Trade Show is the largest one of its kind in the U.S. and presents hundreds of products and services that bar and nightclub operators need to grow sales. The educational program is packed with ideas (like these 50) and insights from experienced experts — bring a notepad and pen and you’ll come back chock-full of ways to attract more guests, keep them in your place, make them happy, keep them spending and then get them to come back time and again. Check out the top clubs and bars while in town and network with other pros. And remember, though they say what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, you’ve got to bring ideas from the NCB Show back to your business!