Big Brother is Pouring: Technology Stops Profit Loss at the Bar

By Dorothy Creamer, Managing Editor | June 06, 2013

At Tilted Kilt (www.tiltedkilt.com) in Peoria, AZ, labor issues were having a direct impact on the restaurant’s bottom line. General Manager Randee Potter admits that heavy management turnover left room for bartenders to find ways around the bar’s inventory and POS systems. “They were either not ringing drinks in, they were giving them away, or they were over-pouring and not charging at all,” Potter recalls. “It was showing in our liquor costs, but we weren’t able to nail down where the problems were because of the level of turnover.”

Potter turned to BarVision (www.barvision.com) to address the issues after hearing that another Tilted Kilt location had utilized the system and saw costs drop about 3 to 4 percent. Tilted Kilt implemented the BarVision system and saw immediate benefits stemming from real-time visibility into every liquor transaction. Drink recipes are logged into the system, and bottles are equipped with micro-chipped spouts that link to the POS and record pours. “It’s easier for us to get the reports every day and see where issues lie,” Potter explains. “We can see who was stationed on which wells, enabling us to hold specific people accountable as opposed to not knowing which person to address.”

Tilted Kilt has beat its liquor cost goals just by utilizing the reports and ensuring management stays on top of everything happening behind the bar. “We were running at about 25 to 27 percent liquor costs prior to BarVision, now we are at 19 percent,” Potter notes, explaining that savings like those could amount to $250,000 annually.

Lowering bar costs was also the goal for Dana Caswell, food & beverage director for Mineral Palace Hotel & Gaming (www.mineralpalace.com), when he began looking for a different pour system in 2010. “In a casino you have a lot of comps and give away a lot of liquor and it’s hard to track unless you have a really good system,” he explains. Caswell found a solution with Liquor Monitor (www.liquormonitor.com). This free pour, wireless system allows managers to see real-time reports of what bartenders are pouring, solving the issue of busy bartenders forgetting to log comp’d beverages.  Spouts with microchips link to the POS and managers can zero in on dozens of different reports, by station, shift or bartender. “When I first came to Mineral Palace, bar costs were high ­— we were running about 40 percent,” Caswell recalls. “A lot of that was pricing that we had to adjust, but now with Liquor Monitor, we are down to 33 percent.”

Replacing manual inventory
For any bustling bar, taking inventory by hand can be both labor-
intensive and prone to inaccuracies. Vince Barrett is vice president of food & beverage at New Castle Hotels (www.newcastlehotels.com), an ownership management group based out of Shelton, CT, and a preferred franchisee of Starwood, Marriott and Hilton. The company has 30 hotels throughout the U.S. and Canada with about 43 food and beverage operations. Barrett admits he’s seen a lot of time spent on manual inventory and on-site calculations. In fact, inventory at his full-service hotels could take 10 to 15 hours per month. The company implemented Accubar (www.accubar.com) and is now able to complete the process in two hours or less, a month. “The labor savings alone is huge,” says Barrett, adding that the ease-of-use and removal of guesswork is another positive feature. “You match up the mark on the bottle to the mark on the PDF, zap the barcode, hit enter and the system does all the calculations for you,” he says.

When Hristo Zisovski became beverage director/chief sommelier for Ai Fiori (www.aifiorinyc.com) in New York City, he knew that he wanted to run a tight beverage program. For the self-professed “systems guy,” this meant implementing a technology that would do everything. BinWise (www.binwise.com) proved to have all the capabilities he wanted. “It helps to keep everything on one platform,” Zisovski contends. “It’s like a living breathing inventory — a wine list that you populate — of items that you have, and you update it daily when you receive new product, and remove product based on sales. As far as recording all information, it is the only software I need.”

Making better bartenders
Operators are finding that monitoring systems also help with training. Potter stresses that the BarVision system doesn’t affect how bartenders are pouring or how they hold the bottle, but managers can pull a detailed report from the POS, in this case Aloha from NCR (www.ncr.com/industries/hospitality), and see what is being rung in versus what is being poured, and even determine how it is being poured. This has helped empower bartenders at the Peoria Tilted Kilt to correct their pouring techniques.

BarVision also provided different spouts that can be put on bottles for training purposes. Managers can take a laptop out to the bar area, put spouts on bottles filled with water, and let servers see how many ounces of liquor they are pouring. “That has helped a lot — having staff actually see what we are seeing,” Potter explains.

Barrett has found training benefits with Accubar as well.  Managers are able to see inventory discrepancies by running a report against the POS. This helps to identify training issues, theft and waste. “You can set up tolerances in it as well, so if you’re off by one drink, that could be just a bit of an overpour, but if it’s three or five drinks,  that can signify an issue,” he explains.

Customer-facing meets back office controls
Ultimately bar technologies are about creating a better experience for the customer which translates to more sales. While many of the capabilities of newer systems control back-of-house matters such as inventory, there is a connection between that and the guest experience.
 
Several years ago, Rick Erwin, owner of Rick Erwin’s West End Grille (www.rick
erwins.com)
and Nantucket Seafood (www.nantucketseafoodgrill.com) was in search of a tablet-based wine menu. In particular, he was intrigued by putting his extensive wine lists on tablets. When none of the available technologies met all of his criteria, he decided to create his own and TopCellar (www.topcellarapp.com) was born.

“This new tech on the iPad offers an incredible amount of information,” Erwin describes. The app includes pictures, tasting and pairing notes, Wine Spectator ratings, and search capabilities with a strong filter function. After initially rolling out TopCellar in his restaurants, Erwin has since brought the product to market and this past January it launched on iTunes. Rick Erwin’s restaurants have enjoyed increased sales and server retention. “Servers now have a confidence level that helps them sell more wine and make more tips,” he says.

Brian Carmody, COO of JK&T Wings, which owns and operates 34 Buffalo Wild Wings (www.buffalowildwings.com) found U.S. Beverage Net (www.usbever
agenet.com)
to meet several of the franchisee’s draft control needs. “Our stores have upwards of 34 draft handles and do a significant amount of business in draft beers,” Carmody reveals. “We like to provide our managers with anything that can help them manage the daily cost of draft beer.”

U.S. Beverage Net tracks actual ounces poured versus what is being rung on the POS.  Thirty-three of Carmody’s stores run on the HSI Solutions POS (www.hsi-solutions.com). “I always say, it doesn’t manage your waste — it shows you your waste,” Carmody explains. “It’s up to your managers to proceed with documentation and training.”

Beyond the profit-loss capabilities, the greatest benefit of U.S. Beverage Net for Carmody’s Buffalo Wild Wings locations is quality control. Managers will be alerted if a certain cooler spikes in temperature or a draft may be pouring poorly — not due to human error but because the keg seal ruptured.  A pulsating device attaches to the actual tap and measures the amount of liquid coming out. The system is calibrated on each line because different types of beer flow at different rates.

The proper pour is extremely important to beer aficionados and Carmody utilizes U.S. Beverage Net to help train bartenders to master the art of the pour. “U.S. Beverage Net allows us to monitor our bartenders’ techniques and accuracy with our POS,” he explains. “We emphasize the proper pouring techniques, making sure that the beer is breathable and that there is a collar of foam on the top so that it releases the Co2 and the gases in the beer, ensuring that the guest gets the best possible draft beer.”

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