Serve Better, Not More
Succeeding in the face of a stricter legal limit. By Bill Asbury
Whether you agree or disagree with the passage of the .08 Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) law, it’s likely to impact your business on several fronts.
The most obvious is liquor liability. What won’t change is the fact that if your operation over-serves guests, it’s liable for their safety and the safety of those they endanger after walking out the door. What will change is the amount of alcohol it takes to exceed the legal limit.
Generally speaking, a 140-pound woman will reach.08 after three drinks in an hour. A 170-pound man will get there after four drinks in an hour. Over a two-hour period, a 140-pound woman will reach .08 after four drinks, a 170-pound man after five drinks.
How do you manage this liability?
* First, provide alcohol-awareness training for your wait staff, using a state-approved program and documenting each employee’s successful completion of it.
* Second, establish ironclad procedures for handling guests who have had enough. Consider displaying a poster or brochure that spells out the law and what it takes to reach the legal limit. Supply a breath-analysis test for guests at risk.
* Last but not least, make sure your liquor-liability check reaches the insurance company before the due date, then hope like hell that employees follow your established guidelines.
The .08 limit has fueled growing concerns about a probable decrease in per-capita on-premise consumption of beverage alcohol. In other words, you’re bound to take a hit on your P&L–unless you take steps to pad your profitability through alternative means.
One idea is to increase pairing food with beverage alcohol, employing suggestive-selling techniques that not only promote interest in snacks, appetizers and entrees, but also enhance guests’ overall experience at the bar. Pairing food has the additional benefit of slowing the absorption of alcohol being consumed.
Another profit-building strategy is to make recommendations that upgrade orders to premium and super-premium beer, wine and spirits.
With both approaches, it takes a well-trained wait staff to be successful. Consider incorporating this three-step game plan into your regimen of sales training:
STEP ONE: ASSUME THE SALE
To increase the persuasiveness of recommendations, servers and bartenders should try not to ask questions that can be easily dismissed with a yes or no response. Instead, they should assume they’re going to make the sale.
Wrong way: “Would you care for a cocktail tonight to start off with?”
Right way: “What can I start you off with to drink–a beer, a glass of wine, a cocktail, perhaps?”
Encourage your wait staff to be pleasant, never pushy, when attempting this selling strategy. It’s also a smart to punctuate recommendations with a warm smile.
STEP TWO: SUGGEST SPECIFIC FOOD
Finger foods, appetizers, even entrees–they all can profoundly grow per-person check average at the bar. The key is for wait staff to be specific and offer choices at the point of sale.
Wrong way: “Would anyone care for something to munch on tonight?”
Right way: “Okay, that’ll be a pitcher of Bud Light and four frosty mugs. How about some spicy Hot Wings to go with that or maybe an order of our Onion Rings, hand-dipped in beer batter, fried to a golden brown and served with three dipping sauces?”
By offering a choice, servers gently nudge guests into considering one appetizer or the other rather than deciding either yes or no.
STEP THREE: UPGRADE EVERY ORDER
Train your wait staff to suggest the best. Guests will get a better tasting drink. Servers and bartenders will earn a better tip.
That doesn’t mean to go over the top, trying to push the most expensive stuff. It does mean asking targeted questions to uncover what guests like and what they need to enhance their dining or drinking experience. It’s rarely wise to settle for the house pour.
Guest: “I’ll have a Manhattan.”
Server: “Would you like to try Crown Royal in that or do you have another preference?”
Notice the word try in the sales dialogue. It lets guests know that the premium pour will cost a little extra, but it’ll make the drink taste much better.
These are just a few ideas to help counter the effects the stricter BAC law may have on your profitability. They’re all about serving better instead of more, which in the long run is good for both you and your guests.