The Art & Science of Successful Bar Management: A Complete Guide

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Art, science, and managing a bar! Three things that don’t seem like they go well together, but in order to have a successful bar, you need to know how to do all three and do them well.

Whether you want to run a small hole-in-the-wall bar or a bar that has an entire franchise to its name, you’ve got to master a few key skills, and that is what this guide is for. Here’s all you need to know to get started.

This article is going to assume that the logistical part of getting your bar is done. You have the building, all the licenses, suppliers for food and drink, and a customer base even if it is small. This article and guide will focus on managing a bar that is already going, not building one up.

Purchase and order smart on your liquor

Take a look at the busiest days of your bar. How many people are coming? What are you selling at your bar? What are you running out of? What doesn’t seem to be selling?

These data points might change in the future, but if your bar looks like it is stable in its growth, then take them and see what drinks you might need to order more of and what drinks you might need less of. 

Constantly look at your invoices and see how much you have received of a certain type of liquor when compared to how much you have used.

Then compare that to your par level- which is the bare minimum of a certain liquor that you have to have in stock at all times! If you get 50 gallons of beer, sell 40 gallons, and need to have 10 gallons in stock, then you are perfect and might even need to get some more beer to handle emergencies.

However, if you find that you are constantly running out of beer during the month, then the numbers won’t just show you that you need to buy more, but also that you are losing proceeds from not selling that beer.

Speaking of the proceeds your bar makes, you might need to relearn how to price liquor because you could be losing some money.

If 50 gallons of beer costs you $200 to buy and ship to your bar, and you are only selling 40 gallons of beer at a total of $150, that’s a -$50 that is coming right out of your own pocket. That means that you either need to find a cheaper supplier for beer or raise the prices of your liquor.

These numbers are a bit hypothetical and your situation will likely be different. Plus, some types of alcohol might just be expensive and you need to accept that and make arrangements for it.

Still, while you can’t break even on every single relationship you have with your liquor, you should be able to look at the data and make sure that you aren’t sending money down the drain and spending more than you are making on everything.

assorted bottle on table

Make sure your bar is clean and optimized

While a sawdust-covered floor, a few drink rings on the counter, and a couple mysterious stains can lend an atmosphere to your bar, too much of that can cause customers to shy away and post negative reviews. If your bar is seen as unhygienic then people will not go there, full stop, so you need to make sure you stay on top of the bar being clean. 

Figure out what you need to do for daily cleaning (such as wiping the bar and tables down), weekly cleaning (such as cleaning the bar stools and emptying the fridge, and taking out the trash), and monthly deep cleaning activities (pest control, flushing tap lines, and cleaning machinery).

Taking time to get all of these tasks done whenever they need to be done will keep the bar clean and also keep your customers happy.

Optimize your bar

You could have the best food, the coldest drinks, the greatest ambiance, and the best staff in the world for your bar. However, if you’ve got very poor optimization, then none of that matters.

If you don’t have a smooth line from your customer’s orders, to the kitchen or bar, to the table, then you will be hard pressed on quiet days and totally overwhelmed on busy days.

Make sure to figure out how to take orders effectively, manage large groups of customers, and ensure that everything doesn’t hit any snags with your staff. They need to be able to move quickly and act decisively on busy days, and you also need to have a plan in place for dealing with problems.

Too many bars and bar owners have a well-oiled machine inside of the bar, as long as everything goes right. But if just one problem happens or something doesn’t fall into place, then the entire system gets gummed up and goes down.

In order to mitigate this, you need to teach your staff how to handle and clear problems quickly without slowing up the rest of the process too much. 

While nothing will prepare you for things going wrong while you are overwhelmed and understaffed, having at least a few contingencies in place will ensure that it doesn’t bring a halt to your entire bar.

Prepare for closing time

While your guests decide where they want to go, because they don’t have to go home but they can’t stay at your bar, then you need to have a plan to get them out the door and then clean up after the hours of operation are over.

Ensure that all the immediate problems are cleaned up and that you count up the profit you made during the day. Then close your doors and get ready to do it all again tomorrow! Once you master the art and science of managing a bar, then you will be able to master any challenge that comes your way!

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