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Open Bar: A Case for the Consultant

There are many reasons why bars fail—lease issues, lawsuits, theft, inadequate cash flow—but most often management inexperience is a major cause. One may be knowledgeable about many of the financial details required to start a new business, but mastering the skills specific to bar management is the true mountain to be climbed. Burying an ego and buying into expert advice may be a new bar owner’s best move.

Smart Start-Up

If they are to succeed, bar owners must start by making adept decisions across the board well before the bar is ready to open. Bar design, product knowledge, cocktail preparation, and staff management will make or break the operation. For example, does the manager know how to place the stainless steel, coolers, and POS behind the bar for maximum speed, efficiency, and sales productivity? How about matching up the style of ice cube with the glassware selection? How does one attract the desired clientele and maintain repeat business?

These start-up decisions and many more are critical in ensuring that the doors continue to open day in and night out, capturing that elusive buzz that grows clientele and business volume. But often the details are too much for one person to handle, regardless of experience. Hiring an expert is often start-up money well spent.

      A professional consultant can take some of the load off the new owner and prevent many common errors from derailing a promising new bar operation. The consultant implements the owner’s vision, working with a bar designer to create a functional bar, integrating that vision into creative cocktail offerings, providing comprehensive staff-training materials, and teaching management how to hire and train expert staff. Here are some common mistakes novice bar owners make and how consultants can help:

Settling for a poorly designed bar.

Owners often pay inept contractors thousands of dollars to design a bar that either needs correction later or permanently impedes service. To use an analogy, the beautiful lines, tires, and paint job of a dream car are of little value without a working motor. A designer strives to create a vision that is esthetically pleasing, while the consultant assigns purpose to every inch of space,  fine tuning every bar element to meet the expectations of efficiency, speed, and productivity. It is not unusual to see an imbalance of influence between these two vital services. Partnership of the design team with the consultant throughout each step of the process is imperative for success.

Investing in too many products.

As important as an attractive and efficient bar design is to a bar’s success, so too are the beverage choices offered. More labels don’t generate more sales; more products create too many choices to discuss with indecisive customers and more bottles collecting dust. Unless a new product comes with a national marketing promotion, the staff will be the ad campaign, with no payback for the establishment.

Aside from the physical bar and space, the beverage and cocktail choices define the bar. A good consultant will work with bar owners and managers to choose a mix of beverages, suggest appropriate promotions, and create classic and original cocktails at an appealing price that will attract the target clientele.

 Mismanaging staff.

To a great extent people arethe bar operation, and hiring the right people is paramount for longevity. Often new bar owners hire too many employees. Overstaffing slices the tip pie into too-narrow wedges, which leads to lack of staff motivation. A consultant can help a novice bar owner or bar manager develop criteria for staff selection and if called upon assist in the hiring process.

Another of the consultant’s vital tasks is training staff. Unlike uninformed staff-training decisions made by inexperienced bar owners, which can cause waste, disloyalty, and even theft, reputable consultants bring real expertise. They can help with all aspects of initial bar service training and continuing education. A consultant will train owners, managers, and staff with useful techniques in the areas of product education, sales, consistent and proper drink preparation, customer relations, service standards, safety procedures, internal theft prevention, and responsible alcohol service.

If you are breaking into the bar business, you must recognize your weaknesses and seek expert advice. Hiring a professional bar consultant from the beginning can help your venue get off to a flying start and keep it soaring.

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