Guarding Margins With Portion Control

For many operators, eliminating shrinkage could mean the difference between succeeding financially and not. Theft alone is an insidious source of loss. Opportunities are rife for bartender theft behind a bar. They steal from the bar and its customers because it’s easily accomplished, hard to detect and extremely difficult to prevent on an ongoing basis. The temptations posed by constantly handling large sums of cash and dealing with a liquid inventory can often prove overwhelming.

One significant source of loss is ineffective portioning controls. The sales price of a drink is hinged to a specified portion of alcohol, and if that amount fluctuates so will its profit margin. The fact that the drink now contains an additional 25% of alcohol only compounds matters. Serving potent drinks reduces the number of drinks people can consume safely and increases the risk of legal liability.

From an operational perspective, protecting profit margins behind the bar begins at the point of pour. Portion controls are a fundamental form of loss prevention. It impacts consistency of product, drink quality and responsible service of alcohol, as well as maintain the margins necessary to turn a profit.

Precision Pours are bottle-attached devices that offer operators a proven alternative to their bartenders free-pouring or measuring with a jigger. Not only are these low-tech control devices effective at reducing over-pouring, they also help prevent underpouring, an equally vexing problem bartenders use to line their pockets. “Bars are often nickled and dimed into bankruptcy, and it happens with almost every flick of the wrist,” says Rick Sandvik, president of Precision Pours. “The culprit is lax or nonexistent portioning controls.”

Overpouring liquor is a tried-and-true means of procuring bigger tips. Harmless as it may sound, it’s the house that winds up paying the bartenders’ extra gratuities.

“I was sitting at a bar in the airport in Philadelphia, and they had two gorgeous identical twins bartending,” Sandvik recalls. “When they made drinks for us sitting at the bar, they would pour over the top of the jigger and tail in almost an extra shot of booze. However, I noticed that when servers ordered drinks for people sitting at the tables, the bartenders underpoured the measure by bailing on it early.”

Having been in the bar business more than 30 years, Sandvik says he’s seen that maneuver frequently. He surmises the bar has tight inventory and that the bartenders were making up for the overpours by underpouring the customers sitting at the tables.

Portioning Controls

The downside to overpouring from the bartenders’ perspective is that it’s easily caught, but not so for underpouring. One reason bartenders underpour is to offset previous theft. Another is to rip off the clientele.

The intent behind shorting the portions in a series of drinks is to create a surplus of liquor that is then sold to the clientele; the proceeds then are pocketed. For example, a bartender underpouring four jiggers by a 1/4-ounce each creates a surplus of 1 ounce. The bartender then can sell the surplus shot of liquor and pocket the cash without affecting the bar’s pour cost. Often, to ensure the shortages go unnoticed, bartenders will prepare the drinks by pouring the liquor on top of the mixer — referred to as “top-pouring.” Even if the guest stirs the drink, the first few sips will taste as usual, perhaps even strong.

Sandvik considers underpouring an insidious form of theft. “It’s difficult to detect, won’t affect pour cost and takes advantage of the clientele by serving them weak drinks. If the guests notice, they’ll naturally place the blame on the bar, not the bartenders.”

Management directives alone won’t stop bartenders from stealing. Policies and procedures are only effective if they’re enforced. Additionally, they must be consistently and uniformly applied to all members of the bartending staff. Presuming that the bartenders are operating in compliance with the establishment’s directives invites larceny and financial strangulation.

Sandvik nods in agreement. “Just yesterday I had a call from the manager in charge of the concessions at one of the NFL stadiums. He said he caught his bartenders breaking the ball-bearing mechanisms in our pourers, which allowed them to overpour and underpour liquor at will. They’ve now had to implement a procedure where the pours are checked in and checked out for each event.”

According to Sandvik, Precision Pours’ control spouts keep honest bartenders honest and force thieving bartenders to look elsewhere to rip off the house. Although he does concede that wrenching the ball bearings out of pourers levels the playing field considerably.


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