Get Geeky

The age of information finally has arrived behind the bar, and for many bar and club operators it comes just in time. Every cent counts these days, so the need for accurate data has never been greater. Until now, compiling detailed information about what transpires behind the bar has been a time-consuming and labor-intensive process. However, computer-chip technology now is primed and ready to wrench order out of inventory control chaos, changing forever the way the bar industry does business.

In some cases, technological advances solve one problem by creating another more complex and expensive one. Other times, a new device or system can increase profitability, leaving you wondering how you ever operated your business without it. While the “cool” factor of these inventory systems is indeed enticing, the most important step is determining what data is of value to you in your business, how you need the information delivered and how much of an investment you’re able and willing to make. Following are a few innovative systems designed for use in restaurants, nightclubs and bars that merit a closer look and evaluation against your own list of criteria.

The Human Element

If it’s true that knowledge is power, then Bevinco — an independent auditing service — represents a considerable asset. Armed with laptops and electronic scales, Bevinco auditors are capable of generating management reports that provide detailed depletion information for each piece of inventory. The reports also analyze each product’s actual sales and profits and compare the results to their respective optimum outcomes.

Owner and operator of Bevinco’s Arizona franchise since 1996, John Hennessey has spent about 15 years “behind bars.”

“Corporations, the military and even Congress have auditors with independent oversight,” he says. “That’s my function. I weigh the kegs, open bottles of liquor and count every bottle of beer and wine. I let owners know exactly what’s happening behind their bar right down to the last shot. I’m like a walking CAT scan.”


Bevinco auditors use scanners to track every ounce of alcohol in a bar or club.

Handheld Devices

AccuBar, an established inventory-control technology manufacturer, creates handheld barcode-scanning devices that operators can use to identify the UPCs on every piece of their inventory. The encrypted information is downloaded wirelessly to back-end software and a powerful Web database.

“AccuBar has thrived on the belief that you almost can’t do inventory often enough,” Dave Grimm, a founding partner in the company, says. “The more often you count your stock, spot-check your staff and track your losses, the smaller those losses will become.”

Barcode scanning is the go-to method for fast, accurate inventory tracking. AccuBar delivers a full suite of reports that drive loss prevention, cost controls, just-in-time ordering and staff accountability. After 10 years in operation, AccuBar is effective in operations ranging from neighborhood bars to resorts with multiple outlets to upscale restaurants with expansive wine cellars.

Additionally, Toronto-based FreePour Controls offers operators several technological solutions to help better manage their inventory. ScanChecker is a handheld device capable of scanning barcodes and weighing 10 bottles per minute. The data is downloaded to software that calculates theoretical usage and compares it to actual usage to derive brand and category variances. The system’s versatility affords operators the option to spot check well bottles or any number of “hot items” that typically have large variances. ScanChecker accommodates daily or station-specific audits.

Draft Monitoring

Because it can be challenging to monitor actual depletion, losses on draft beer run about 20% industry wide. FreePour Controls’ DraftChecker uses flow sensors in beer lines to measure accurate draft-beer usage in real time. The proprietary software highlights any discrepancy between poured and sold ounces. Even if draft beer constitutes as little as 10% of your sales, the system can pay for itself in months.

For its part, TapDynamics offers a keg-to-glass evaluation and delivers recommendations on changes needed to improve draft management for optimal profits. Based on those recommendations, flow meters are installed on each tap and TapAdvisor monitoring units are located on keg boxes and coolers; all of the data is transmitted to a secure server. Data from the bar’s point-of-sale (POS) system is integrated and analyzed with the draft data, and daily reports highlight where losses are occurring and note potential reasons for the loss. It’s like having a beer manager on duty 24/7.

BevManager, from US Beverage Net, involves flow meters and POS integration to reduce variances between ounces poured and ounces sold as well as improve accuracy in inventory management, ordering and receiving. Data is accessible in real time.


TapDynamics’ TapAdvisor system improves draft-beer management.

iOS Applications

Operators with an iOS device — iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad — may want to consider using the Barkeep liquid-inventory tracking application to produce basic cost-analysis reports through Excel software. iOS devices featuring built-in cameras with automatic focus can scan inventory barcodes; the app then allows users to track the inventory at multiple locations, such as during receiving and transfers, and monitor waste and empties.

Tim Eicher developed the app to operate the way a bar manager thinks.

“I opened a bar after 15 years working for Oracle as a software architect. I quickly realized that I had to do something to better manage our pour costs. Finally, the geek in me took over, and I decided to build a better solution. I looked to create a system that was highly accessible, easy to use, fast and affordable,” he explains. “I spend a lot of time working with my own bar managers to optimize the product and add features to make the job easier.”

The Barkeep app is $40 and can be installed on any number of devices.

Automatic Real-Time Systems

Beverage Metrics takes an entirely different approach to eliminating operational pitfalls. The company’s monitoring technology attaches a radio-frequency-identification device (RFID) to every bottleneck in an establishment’s inventory. A wireless, Web-based system then is able to track each bottle from its point of delivery through its life cycle behind the bar. The small, tamper-proof RFID tags also determine the exact amount of every pour by analyzing how long the bottle was inverted and precisely at what angle it was held. After the pour data is captured, the software automatically reconciles with the POS terminal, matching depletion information to register receipts.

According to Beverage Metrics CEO Alain Piallat, the wireless technology system can identify variances between actual and potential costs.

“The system produces customized reports and trend charts to reveal what’s actually happening behind each of your bars,” he says. “Beverage Metrics can show you exactly what your pour costs are with hard data gathered through the monitoring of your beverage service.”

The BarMaster system from Clear View Technologies also uses RFID tags. RFID stickers are applied to bottles upon receipt and scanned using a handheld device; bottles are tracked via wireless readers — from storage room to backbar, from full to empty. The system then generates reports on stockroom, backbar and multiple-bar inventory as needed. Custom speed rails fitted with sensors can detect bottle-volume changes of up to 0.05 of an ounce; similar sensors can monitor a backbar’s top shelf.

Integrated with the POS system, BarMaster correlates pours to rings and, thanks to corresponding video, identifies the who, what, where and when of variances. Detailed, real-time reports are readily accessible to management via alerts or from any Internet-enabled device. Although Big Brother is watching, the RFID stickers and sensors are small; they are not readily visible to patrons and do not interfere with bartender tasks.

Return on Your Investment

Running a bar requires making a significant investment in inventory — liquid assets that can disappear at an alarming rate. In fact, inventory levels change with every flick of a bartender’s wrists. Recent advancements in technology make it easier and less time-consuming to protect working capital and ensure that you’re realizing the necessary return on that investment. In other words, tap into the tech geeks to eke out a better profit margin. NCB

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