Beverage and Bar Innovation
The bar and nightclub business has taken off in the last 10 years. Bottle service, all-night parties, and celebrity DJ’s rule the scene. In many regions around the country, liquor sales have surpassed gaming and hotel revenues by a large margin. While there is a ton of money to be made in the bar, it’s a widely known fact that bartenders steal, over-pour, waste, and generally get away with a lot more than they should.
I have spoken to many bartenders on the Las Vegas strip who tell me that if they don’t make $1,000 per night, they feel they’ve wasted their time. Some of these bartenders commute from cities like L.A., San Francisco, and San Diego. They come in the form of professional mixologists, flair bartenders, and professional models. They are usually hired for one of those skills or traits depending on the concept of the bar. They work to make money and not minimum wage – they want to clear a few thousand in a weekend.
It’s not hard to imagine that bartenders who are struggling to make their personal goals, even if they aren’t expecting a thousand-dollar night in tips, will find and create ways to optimize the amount of money which ends up in their tip jar. This covers everything from over-pouring drinks in an effort to charm the customer, giving drinks away, over-charging customers, or simply stealing money during the point-of-sale (POS) transaction.
For many years, we have seen many new technologies in and around the bar to control pours and also ensure the transaction has been executed properly.
Bar guns have been around for about 30 years and they continue to very popular. They do a pretty good job of mixing CO2 with soda syrup and also distribute well liquor to create fast and accurate drinks. The guns also interface to the POS to ensure correct amount is charged. The bar gun was probably one the most powerful innovations ever made in the bar.
While bar guns are fine inventions and have served their purpose, there has been a trend in recent years to go back to the free-pouring standard.
In recent studies, the hospitality industry has learned that bar patrons prefer to see their drinks poured out of the bottle. Beer drinkers enjoy draft beers served right from the keg. This is not really a surprise, people like to see the source of their beverage and they like to talk to the bartender about the drinks as they are being poured. There isn’t really anything particularly attractive about a drink being sprayed out of a gun. When I sit at a bar and order a whiskey and ginger ale, I like to see the bartender pour the whiskey and open a fresh bottle of ginger ale from the reach-in refrigerator.
As you are reading this you are probably thinking; “problem solved, my bars all have jiggers to keep the bartenders from over pouring.” That’s all fine and dandy, but nobody wants to think they are getting a perfect shot, they like the impression that they are getting more than they are supposed to. I love it when bartenders bring their arm way up in the air and then back down when doing a free pour, it gives the dramatic appearance that more liquor is being poured. Also let’s not forget that the jigger doesn’t account for completely free drinks or theft.
For many of you, this technology has been around for years and you may have even deployed early versions that were weak, ugly, temperamental, or too expensive. Whatever the case may have been, those problems have mostly been eliminated by a few of the major companies in the beverage space. Now RF sensors that snap right onto the existing spouts are commonplace. These RF systems have interfaces to POS and inventory systems to automate the entire beverage and sales analysis with the ability to quickly see liquor costs on the fly. The really innovative companies have now integrated with surveillance video which one beverage integrator refers to as the “Holy Grail.”
The “Holy Grail” is the RFID technology integrated with POS and Video Exception Reporting technology to show bar management and loss prevention analysts exactly what activities need to be reviewed. These include overpours, free drinks, removal of spouts, and other illicit transactions that occur at the bar and point-of-sale terminal. The technology will integrate with the existing POS systems and surveillance cameras to leverage the business and security systems many casinos and hotels have already invested in.
There is a common belief that all bartenders steal from their employers and while that may not be far from the truth, even the ones who don’t steal may have a “light elbow” that keeps their arm in the air too long during a pour.
The goal with these new systems is not to find everyone doing wrong and terminate them. The objective is to use the data and video to create conversations between beverage managers and bartenders. When a police officer pulls you over for speeding on the highway, sometimes he lets you get away with a warning – that is just as powerful as a ticket. The next time you are on the highway, you will remember how lucky you were to get away with a warning and you will likely change your behavior. The same is true for many bartenders; if they know that you have a way to see their mistakes and scams, they will be less likely to engage in that type of activity.
Don’t get me wrong, sometimes you will need to have more than a conversation and sometimes terminating the bartender will be your only choice. The reason that this radar gun mentality is more realistic is that employee turnover is expensive and time consuming and the end result of this process is a vicious cycle of firing bad bartenders and likely replacing them with more bad bartenders. Having this new type of information is a powerful way to improve profitability by changing behavior. Those bartenders who do not change their behavior will likely leave on their own or they will become an easy target for termination.
Christopher Swanger is a technology veteran in the gaming industry and has worked both as a vendor and an operator. He is a Go-To-Market expert who helps companies establish relevance and value within the gaming and hospitality sector. As a proponent for innovation, Chris writes for Gaming & Leisure Magazine to help tell the stories that his technology partners and colleagues deem important to the betterment of the gaming industry. More about Chris at http://www.ChristopherSwanger.com.