So you want to open a bar. Well, you probably already know that you need a great concept, a good location and a pile of money. What else do you need to know?
BarSmarts, a bartender spirits, mixology and service training certification program from Pernod Ricard USA, offered a one-day seminar in New York on April 9 as part of its Pioneers in Mixology series. Here are five tips from the event.
1) Have a real plan. That’s in a proper business plan, presenting a cohesive idea backed up with detailed research and development. You’ll need a solid business plan to get financing, plus “it helps to put everything down so you and all your partners are on the same page,” said panelist Susan Federoff, co-owner/managing partner of New York’s Flatiron Lounge, Pegu Club, and Clover Club in Brooklyn.
You don’t want to rush the process either. “It took us a year to write our business plan because we were doing so much research, talking to a lot of people and fleshing out ideas,” said Stephanie Schneider, owner of Huckleberry Bar in Brooklyn. During that time she also looked at other people’s plans and had them look at hers to make sure it was on the right track.
2) Read your reports. Your report form should come from your business plan, said Francis Schott, owner of Brunswick, NJ, restaurants Catherine Lombardi and Stage Left. And you should be able to take action immediately if your numbers are out of whack, such as if you see higher labor costs than projected, or too much overtime, he said.
The report numbers can also point to opportunities, Federoff noted. In the first years of the Clover Club, they noticed they were selling a lot of juices. The bar is located near family-friendly Park Slope and Cobble Hill, she said, “so there were a bunch of pregnant ladies running around.” Clover Club quickly jumped on the opportunity and put together a mocktail list and began selling them for $9.
3) Hire wisely. When you hire someone to work at your bar, you’re really asking them to be you so the right fit is important, said Andy Seymour, a partner in the consultancy Beverage Alcohol Resource (BAR). “Our job is to provide them with the tools they need to succeed.”
Keep in mind there is a huge investment in training new employees, and that “it cost more to fire something than to hire someone,” Seymour said.
And if someone you’ve hired isn’t a fit for the culture, you have to let them go, said Schott. In staffing your bar, “you are setting out to start a religious cult, and you have to hire for that,” he noted.
4) Solicit guest feedback. After Clover Club opened, Federoff said a group of customers began coming in regularly. So they owners would call them a few days after they’d been in to ask if they’d had a good time and how the service was.
“The feedback we got was invaluable,” she said. Most of it was good, but when it wasn’t, the customers would let the owners know why. With this information, Federoff said, “we could move to correct it, rather than wait for the bad Yelp reviews.”
5) Offer more than guests expect. “Give them what they want—plus one,” said Schneider. This could be pouring them a taste of a new gin or a sample of a new cocktail on the menu, or anything that gives the guest more of an experience than they expected, she said.
Schneider gave the example of Eleven Madison Park in New York, which was not selling many cordials. So the restaurant changed the way it sold cordials.
Servers began putting out the whole of liqueur bottle with two glasses and telling customers to pour as much as they want. Interestingly, customers would pour themselves less than the bartender would have, she added.