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1–2 July 2024
Olympia London

5 Business Tips to Successfully Manage a Bar

Your experience as a bartender has taught you the best place to source dried hibiscus, how to keep the glass washer from leaking and the ideal combination for a Boilermaker – but just how much has it prepared you for running a business?

‘So often, the people who are promoted to manage the bottom line of a bar are bartenders, but this skill set isn’t something bartenders are trained for,’ said Hannah Lanfear, spirits educator for the Wine & Spirit Education Trust and Imbibe's 2018 Educator of the Year. ‘It’s so important that we are teaching them how to actually manage a bar.’

This need for business training is something Lanfear has identified over her years in the bar industry, first as a bartender, then as the bar manager of venues such as London’s Milk & Honey. She now provides such preparation through her consultancy The Mixing Class, offering education to staff with an eye to improving GP.

In her session Marginal Gains at Imbibe Live, Lanfear gave us the rundown on what she refers to as ‘bar maths’ – how to make the most of your venue’s margins (it's more lively than it sounds, we promise!). Here are a handful of her top tips, so you can begin your education today…

Inquire about deals

This first tip might seem obvious, but there are some creative ways you can go about getting a better deal on your stock beyond your standard haggling. ‘Use multiple sites as a bargaining chip,’ Lanfear recommended. Alternatively, you can form a group with other venues in your neighbourhood.

If you’re flying solo, there are still ways to bring down costs. ‘Approach a rep for a discount on buying in bulk,’ she said, ‘or approach the makers themselves for a larger format, which can cut down the price and is more sustainable than using tons of bottles.’

Look beyond booze

Buying large format isn’t the only way that sustainability and a healthy GP can overlap. By squeezing every possible use out of non-liquor items, you can cut down on costs and limit your waste. Consider making sherbet from your spent citrus, or infusing spirits with the used coffee grounds from your Espresso Martinis.

Be boring. Always count

According to Lanfear, to stay on top of your margins ‘you need to become really fucking boring’ and always ensure that all wastage is recorded. What’s more, stock count needs to become a top priority, and all staff bevs need to be accounted for. ‘Without an accurate count, you could be losing stock unawares,’ she said.

Organisation and tidiness are key

Of course, to maintain your accurate count, you’ll need a solid organisational system.

‘Use bin numbers to make sure new staff are using the correct items. You can even use a sticker system for particularly high-value items,’ Lanfear said, recalling how Hawksmoor accidentally sold a £4,500 bottle of wine for a measly £260 a few months back.

You don’t always have to push your margins to the limit

‘Is it acceptable to take reams of money off your customers?’ Lanfear posed this question as food for thought, pointing out that huge margins aren’t the right approach for every business.

Rather than charging a guest an extortionate sum for a single whisky, consider a more modest price point that encourages them to step out of their comfort zone when they order a second or third drink. ‘Capping your profit margins can actually make customers excited to come to your venue and try new things.’

This article was updated from one that was originally published in imbibe live magazine on July 10, 2019