Ms. Harralson

Food & Beverage

Key Points in Protecting Your Bar Profits

By Joanna Harralson, Vice President Operations, The Insight Group International

There are times we wonder just how important it is to constantly demand adherence to the rules we've put in place in our bars and lounges. For instance, just what can the negative impact be of a bartender becoming lax in reviewing servers' checks? To forget that guidelines such as this were established for definite reasons is, of course, foolhardy.

For one, when a bartender is diligent about 'redlining' or otherwise reviewing checks created from a server's drink/food orders, the server tends to be more diligent about maintaining accountability and accuracy with those same orders. By the same token, the bartender is encouraged to travel a straighter path, as well. And collusion between a bartender and server is not an unheard of scenario in many bars and lounges.

No Servers Behind the Bar

The same holds true when servers are allowed free access behind the bar, pouring their own drink orders or carrying orders they've prepared to guests in the lounge. Again, accountability is key. If the temptation to be a bit dishonest is present, what better opportunity than being able to operate freely, without bartender or manager oversight and sometimes, without having to transact guest checks.

On a similar note, bartenders should not be permitted to double as lounge servers. Servers should relay the orders to the bartender, who should then review those orders, which are finally delivered to the guest by the server. These procedures act as barriers to moral mishaps or plain old accounting mistakes leading to disappearing funds. And they keep things running smoothly.

Controls Imperative

Profits can trickle-or pour out in a flood-when controls are not in place. And dishonesty is not the only open door through which money can flee. Bartenders may make multiple transactions for several guest orders at a time, for instance. Perhaps Guest A was served three drinks but the bartender recalls only two, especially when he's counting orders for more individuals than Guest A. Enough of these instances and taking liquor inventory can leave any manager scratching his head in confusion.

And what about the register cash drawer being continually left ajar? Is this for convenience only? Or does it leave a possibly dishonest employee with easy access to cash because some drinks are not rung up, even though the guest makes payment? This becomes not only cash drawer accountability, but transaction accountability, as well.

No Cash Commingling

Also, there can be no cash accountability when monies are mixed together. Separate bartenders must use separate cash drawers. Tips must be kept in tip containers and not with other monies on the bartop. Strict adherence to bar policies and procedures will be of major benefit in the long run.

Keep Your Backbar Free of Clutter

Our agents often note that backbar work areas are cluttered with checks, folders and other papers /debris. Aside from giving a disorganized appearance, backbar clutter holds anonymity for cash handling abuses: with the cover of backbar clutter comes the anonymity to make notes or use counting devices to keep track of drawer 'overs' or 'shorts.' Encourage staff and Management to keep the bar area clean, tidy and clear of unnecessary clutter.

Loose Cash in the Register Area is a Red Flag

By the same token, our field agents frequently note loose currency/coin in the register area, apparently set aside by bartenders for later transactions. In our experience, this is a recipe for carelessness at the very least and, more insidious, theft. Loose change anywhere on the bar counter or backbar work area not only projects an image of confusion but enables greater anonymity in mixing cash payments with cash tips.

In taking more of an active role, Bar Management can help to enforce cash handling policies with a quick survey of the register area: No currency or coin should be on the backbar counter, left in discarded check folders or anywhere in the register area, except for a designated tip container.

Don't Confuse Guests

Part of overall profitability for the long haul is ensuring guest satisfaction. One of the things to consider is making certain your bar/lounge has a pricing policy that all bar/lounge employees are completely familiar with. This means that not only are guests always charged the same amount for the same drink, but that one bartender doesn't supply free 'backs' (such as a drink with a free coffee back), while at the same bar, another bartender does not.

Safety and Social Responsibility

It is also important to keep in mind that financial gain isn't the only goal for a bar and lounge. In addition to cash controls, are safety and social responsibility.

In many bars, it is common practice for bartenders to use drinking glasses to scoop ice. What a poor and dangerous practice this can be, in addition to being in direct violation of ABC rules!

Serving Intoxicated Guests

And what about the foolhardiness of serving alcohol to obviously intoxicated guests? This is not only a question of financial liability, but one's responsibility to safeguard human life. A hotel/bar can lose its liquor license through revocation or suspension but even this is of lesser consequence that the fatalities which could result.

There is a regular, periodic need for re-education of bar staff in this area. Such education is deemed so important that throughout the United States, beer distributors sponsor alcohol awareness activities.

Staff Training Imperative

Since 1989, in the state of Washington, 3,963 servers have been trained by Washington wholesalers in responsible serving techniques to help them prevent alcohol abuse, drunk driving or underage drinking. In New York, the liquor authority provides training programs that teach bar and restaurant employees how to identify intoxicated patrons and intervene when these patrons appear to have reached their limit.

In many states, TIPS (Training In Intervention Procedures) holds regular workshops to teach bartenders, servers, hosts, and others how best to approach such guests and convince them, in the least disturbing way, that any further drink orders will not be served.

Any manager who feels the need for outside assistance in teaching these methods can most likely obtain the information from their local liquor boards/authorities.

In all areas, be it safeguarding bar profits or the safety of patrons, the key individual is the manager and the oversight he/she can provide. Diligence will pay off in profitability.

Joanna Harralson, is VP Operations with The Insight Group. She has visited over 500 properties as a group trainer/evaluator, director of field operations, client liaison to management companies and provider of training to newly hired investigative agents. Ms. Harralson uses her knowledge, insight and expertise to evaluate employee integrity and to help drive the company's goal of premiere hospitality spotting agency. Prior to The Insight Group, Ms. Harralson rose through the ranks in hotels, as front desk clerk, server, bartender, concierge, auditor and sales and marketing specialist. Ms. Harralson can be contacted at (562) 694-3250 or jharralson@theinsightgroup.com Extended Bio...

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