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behind the bar       By Kyle Branche & Kellie Nicholson
Open Bar:
A Case for the
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?
IIIThese 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.
IIIA 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. 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 are the 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.
IIIAnother of the consultant’s vital tasks is training staff. Unlike
uninformed staff-training decisions made by inexperienced bar
owners, 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.
IIIIf 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.
> Kyle Branche is a Los Angeles-based private bartender working
150 celebrity events a year.  His Cocktail Art product line
communicates bar knowledge with text, audio, video, photography
and specialty drink cards.

> Kellie Nicholson is a bar consultant in Southern California
specializing in daily bar operations.  She trains bar managers and
bartenders at 15 Los Angeles-area colleges and online
West LA College
Chaffey College
LA City College
Palomar College
Citrus College
Nobleza Tequila
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City College of San Francisco
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