It’s very easy to keep tabs on the money coming into your bar, but what about the hidden pounds that you’re throwing away? Laura Foster finds out how to cut down on waste
‘I find the average alcohol loss in UK bars is around the 8% to 10% mark, though I have seen a couple over 25%. We usually initially aim to get the unknown losses under two per cent,’ says Anthony Ciavarella, managing partner of Barmetrix, a bar and restaurant consultancy group. ‘Given that profit margins can be pretty thin in the on-trade, a bar’s waste can be the difference between making a profit or going out of business. Plus, if you have nefarious staff, waste can also be used to hide theft.’
So what can be done to bring those needless losses down?
The art of organisation
Stock management and monitoring are key. Some decide to use consultants such as Barmetrix, while others would rather do the audit themselves.
‘I think it’s important for myself and the other managers to understand the workings of the business, so we can address issues as they present themselves,’ explains Gareth Evans, group bars manager for Jason Atherton’s The Social Company. ‘It makes me feel like I understand what we can improve and where we are in good shape. It’s a nice feeling to change something and see a positive outcome next time you get the P&L.’
For businesses that might not have the time to be able to regularly conduct a full audit, Ciavarella suggests tracking your business’ top 10 sellers.
‘They often make up over 50% of sales, so simply stocktaking these items will give you a good idea of the size of the problem,’ he says.
Staying on top of stock levels can also help to reduce the amount of perishable goods that are unnecessarily ordered and then thrown away.
‘I used to order fruit every other day and spirits once a week, but here we control everything on a daily basis,’ explains Evans. ‘We order what we need for the next day the night before, which means we can change the menu quickly and monitor stock, and this also ensures that all perishables are at their best.’
Organisation shouldn’t just stop at stock, either. ‘I had never gotten my head around paperwork until the kitchen drilled it into me,’ says Evans. ‘They are military in their organisation. The back of house for the bar has folders for everything: fridge temperature checks, ice machine cleaning schedules, allergen information, standard operating procedures. Everything is labelled and date-checked, and everything has a place.’
Counting the cost
‘The main cause for waste is human error,’ says Evans. And the best way to tackle this, everyone agrees, is through communication and training.
‘We look at wastage as a percentage against turnover,’ says Ciavarella. ‘If there is an upsurge in sales, this percentage should remain constant. Being busy is often used as an excuse by staff for increased wastage, but I have venues that sell thousands of shots a week and will be less than a bottle out.’
While turnover percentages may be useful for top-level staff to work from, it can be easier to communicate wastage in real-money terms.
‘All our GMs are set a monthly target for wet wastage,’ says Sam Fish, bars development manager for the Mojo bar group. ‘This is a monetary value. It works better when relaying information to your teams since they can picture how many drinks this works out as.’
‘Most staff don’t take into account overheads when they give away drinks,’ adds Ciavarella. ‘Telling them that a well-run bar probably makes a 10% margin comes as a shock to them. I use a pint as an example: on a £4 pint, a venue is making 40p – if they forget to take payment for a beer, they have to sell 10 beers to make up the lost revenue.’
As for training...
‘The best procedure to keep your waste down is to teach your teams methods of serving so they are working methodically,’ says Fish. ‘We work at such a quick pace and regularly multi-serve, so training is imperative; teaching your teams the best way to remember orders, regular cocktail spec tests and free-pour training is absolutely essential.’
Ah yes, free pouring. The free-pour versus jigger debate is, it turns out, something of a sticky one.
Ciavarella is a firm advocate of the latter: ‘I am yet to see a bartender free pouring more accurately than they do when they are using measures. A 10% over-pour on a 25ml shot can add up to thousands of pounds a year.’
Stuart Hudson of drinks consultancy Forgotten Hospitality disagrees. ‘I believe free pouring is quicker and more accurate during a busy service period,’ he says. ‘A jigger looks good, but most guys aren’t using them correctly. They’re not filling to the line, they’re spilling; that’s more messy and wasteful than a free pour.
‘You should be free pouring with one hand, while the other hand is doing something else,’ he concludes.
It’s worth investing in good quality speed pourers too, as Alex O’Brien from Lola Jeans in Newcastle and Tynemouth found. ‘We upgraded our speed pourers from ones that cost 75p to medium-flow speed pourers that fully enclosed the bottle and cost £1.99, and saved a case of vodka in two months,’ he says.
Training should run right down to bar backs, adds Fish: ‘Everybody in a bar team needs instruction; I’ve found that not training our right-hand people results in huge wastage in glassware through breakage and theft.’
And the beer?
Of all the stock, draught beer is singled out as particularly problematic when it comes to waste.
Ciavarella emphasises the importance of cellar management, ensuring that the cellar temperature is correct, the equipment is the right spec and working properly, and that the right gas is used to ensure it pours properly.
He doesn’t see so much of a problem with line cleaning, but Arlene Faller of The Columbo Group says that they’re currently trialling a line clean system from Beer Piper that ‘helps minimise the waste by capping the lines and cleaning them once they are empty’.
‘This can be done in stages across the lines rather than having a member of staff doing all the lines after the venue closes or in the morning and wasting what is in the lines,’ she explains.
Alternatively, bars could stick to bottled beer. ‘I don’t like using draught in the bar, but it depends on the style of bar,’ says Hudson. ‘I would always opt for bottled over draught unless I know that the business has a full-on beer training programme in place.’
Learn from the kitchen
‘The kitchen is miles ahead of the bar in terms of driving prices down and managing the waste and storage of stock,’ says Gareth Evans (pictured), group bar manager for The Social Company restaurant group. Here are a few of his top tips…
Everything can be used
‘We zest all fruit before juicing them so we can make syrups and sherbets, infuse spirits and so on. Separated egg yolks are vacuum packed for the kitchen so they can be used for pastry.
‘Walnuts that are infused into rum are dehydrated, candied and used for garnish, and butter we use to fat-wash whisky is used to make biscuits.’
Batching and mise en place
‘The biggest thing I have learned is how to operate a service like a kitchen. Anything we can batch or prepare before service we will do, so that all of the drinks can be made as quickly as possible.
‘We have all spirits, bitters and liqueurs batched together which ensures quicker service and consistency. This reduces waste and means we have much better stock control as we can see how many drinks we have before we need to order.’
The ‘pass’ system
‘On the bars we have one person who runs the bar and is guest-facing, responsible for the bar top, water, all the drinks ordered at the bar and for ensuring all bills are settled. The other person(s) are doing dispense but in a chef role – they get all the tickets, split the check up and instruct the other bartenders (who look after cocktails, spirits and mixers and softs), floor staff (coffees, hot cocktails and water) and the barbacks (beers, wines and blender drinks) what drinks to make and when.
‘They are responsible for ensuring all drinks on a check are made at the same time and in the right order. Each drink is seen by them before it goes to the guest. This means less double orders and mistakes, and ensures drinks are at their best when they leave the bar.’