Bar Management Tips [Conformity is Contagious]


Let’s get something out of the way right now:  Bar owners and managers suck! I mean, not you of course. I’m sure you’re awesome. But all the other ones suck. That might sound mean and nasty, but Christ, have you taken time to witness some of the blatant apathy and negligence that goes on in bars and restaurants today? Probably not. But you should, because besides lack of financial backing, the #1 reason bars fail is poor management. Why the negative outburst?

This morning I had a conversation with a bar owner in Boston, MA which caused me to reflect when I first started Bar Parol back in the winter of 2010. At that time I was boldly walking into bars and restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area. I was shiny and naïve and thought every owner would want a fast and affordable inventory system that would help prevent the hemorrhaging that was going on in their bar.

After all, if you’re a business owner, a REAL business owner, why would you not track everything going on in your business? However, during those first few weeks when I was walking into bars (hundreds of bars) to talk to bar owners/managers about their inventory and cost control systems to see if they needed help, I discovered exactly what I was up against.

At around 11:00 a.m. on a Tuesday morning, I walked into a Greek restaurant in San Francisco to talk with the GM, who also happened to be the owner’s wife. I asked her a few probing questions about their pains and struggles, and then moved on to their beverage program and how often they took inventory, their entire process to see how much time and money we could save them.

I then went on to explain what we do at Bar Patrol and how we help put a system in place that is faster and easier and helps track their inventory to see how accurately the bartenders are pouring so they can help improve their bottom line. To this she replied: “Oh no, we couldn’t do anything like that here. The bartenders have been here for years and they wouldn’t like it.”

“Oh, ok,” I said, “So…wait, what?”

“Yeah, if they knew that we were monitoring them, they would probably quit. They wouldn’t like it if we watched them like that, and we’ve been very lucky here to be as busy as we have been.”

At that moment, I couldn’t decide if I should use my pen to take notes or simply jam it into my neck to end the anguish of listening to this person tell me that the bartenders wouldn’t like it if someone were to keep track of how much they were stealing from the business. No, I guess they wouldn’t like that. They wouldn’t like that at all.

After all, systems that keep you honest can be a real thorn in the side when attempting embezzle people’s money. Turns out, this is not uncommon in the industry. 7 out of 10 owners/managers I speak with tell me, “Oh, we factor in shrinkage for the bartenders over-pours and waste. We know they’re going to give a little away, but they’re pretty honest for the most part. You know how it is.”

Yes, in fact I do know how it is. Over the past nine years I have run thousands of inventory variance reports for bars, and no, the bartenders are not “pretty honest for the most part”. The average mid-sized bar is losing 27% of its products and around $5,000 – $6,000 per month of real money.

Before moving on, let me take a minute to clear something up: I bartended for 15 years. I’m no angel. I know exactly “how it is” in this industry. For years I did exactly what I now try to prevent, like a former convict who helps troubled teens. I wouldn’t say I was excessively stealing, but to say I wasn’t pouring heavy for good-tipping guests or hooking up my friends would make me a hypocrite.

The point is: Conformity is contagious. It’s just a fact. When you’re new behind the bar, you do what others around you are doing, especially if the senior people are doing it. Not to mention the bars down the street, in the next city, across the country. We’re talking EVERYONE in the bar industry hooks up good-tippers, friends and other industry brethren.

And if you think they’re just doing it a little bit and that your staff is more honest than most, I’d like to sell you a nice bridge located in the heart of beautiful downtown Brooklyn.

I left the Greek restaurant that day a little dazed. I had started Bar Patrol to help owners and managers be more successful and give them a better way to track their inventory, but it wasn’t until after walking into bar after bar and speaking to hundreds of them that I began to realize the hard shell of beliefs I was going to have to crack.

They all believed that THIS was the way it was supposed to be or that they didn’t have time to manage this part of the business, and it’s not until they either go out of business or wake up one day and realize how mediocre their business is financially that they understand what a horrible mistake they’ve made. What’s the point to this babbling brook I’m spewing on to the computer screen?

The point is, I’ve made it my Mission Impossible to make a wrinkle in an industry that has been brainwashed into thinking that losing 25% of its products was just the way it had to be. It’s my mission to help managers too intimidated to confront their bartenders for fear of being thought of as “un-cool”.

Let me tell you something right now, whether you own the bar or are managing the bar: Running your business and micro-managing your staff is not un-cool. Losing money day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year because you are afraid to confront your staff is un-cool. It’s not only un-cool, it’s down-right lunacy, and I can’t imagine that you feel good about being that sort of leader. In fact, if you feel like you might be one of those owners or managers who always feels the need to be in the friend zone you might want to watch my video on being the boss.

Click here to watch “It’s Ok to be the Boss”.


My final plea to you today: don’t be like everyone else in the industry. Not just for inventory management, but for everything you do. Conformity is contagious and you have to buck and fight to rid yourself of it, or you will wind up as plain and mediocre as they come, and that’s the biggest disease of all.

Cheers, until next time.


Leave a Comment

Join 10,000+ Owners and Managers

Get awesome tips, tricks and strategies to help you become an undisputed expert at running your bar & restaurant.