Ways to Streamline Bar Operations to Offset Labor Shortages

Labour pressures and supply chain challenges have forced bars to rethink their traditional operating models.

The hospitality industry has been hit hard, and many bars and nightclubs have struggled to hire enough employees to operate at full capacity—in fact, this industry lost over 81,000 jobs and is still struggling, according to Statistics Canada.

Bar operators need to consider making their operations more efficient without sacrificing service levels or adding to current costs.

Strategies for streamlining bar operations

Make batched cocktails

Pre-mixing popular drinks in large batches ahead of time can be an effective strategy to minimize labour during busy periods, but this requires some careful planning to ensure that these pre-mixed drinks provide consistent quality and taste. This type of automation might not be the best option for your specific business. For example, if you specialize in craft cocktails, pre-mixed drinks detract from the “craft” cocktail ambiance and might not be aligned with your brand and customer base — or require some creativity.

There are several ways that these pre-mixed cocktails can be prepared and dispensed, and bar operators need to consider the properties of the ingredients used in the drinks. For example, fresh-squeezed fruit juices may need to be clarified before they are added to batched drinks so that particulates in the juice don’t settle to the bottom of the mixture. Another consideration is the use of carbonated ingredients such as club soda or sparkling wine. These beverages will go flat over time in a batched mixture, so consider mixing them into drinks individually at the time of serving. Batched drinks can be stored in bottles or pitchers or can be rigged to specially designed kegs or taps powered by nitrogen or CO2.

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Cross-train staff

Training employees across multiple positions can help alleviate staff shortages when workers call in sick, for example, and staff who are cross-trained might also find work more rewarding and see it as an opportunity to advance their own careers. Cross-training employees comes with its advantages:

  • Contingency — Cross-trained staff can fill in for co-workers who call in sick, an increasingly important consideration during the ongoing pandemic.
  • Adaptability — Having staff trained in multiple roles enables bar operators to reassign staff to support various areas of operations as needed. For example, dishwashers can be trained to bus tables, and servers can be trained to back up bartenders.
  • Appreciation — Cross-training can also help workers develop skills they may need to advance their careers. This can make staff feel valued and give them the opportunity to pick up more hours.

Design more efficient layouts for bartenders

Investing in equipment and bar design that puts everything within arm’s reach saves steps and allows for more productivity.

It’s also important to design bar areas with both ergonomics and efficiency in mind. Bartenders are often on their feet for their entire shift, and forcing them to take too many steps not only saps their productivity but also their physical energy. Bar layouts that minimize steps are sometimes called “zero-step” or “pivot” designs.

  • Foot-pedal operated sinks — Sinks are among the most important fixtures in bar design, and if they can be used hands-free, it can eliminate some steps for bartenders.
  • Consider the placement of ice machines, refrigerators, and other storage— Refrigerators or freezers where cold glasses are stored could be placed at shoulder height, rather than under the bar, to increase efficiency, for example.
  • Bottle placement is also important — Design the speed rack (where the most commonly used bottles are kept) with drink ingredients in the order they will be used in common cocktails, such as placing tequila next to triple sec for making margaritas.

One of the best ways to design a bar is to seek input from the people working behind it. Check-in with your staff on the efficiency of their workspace and work with them to make improvements that help them work faster and easier.

Streamline the drinks menu

Amid the current staffing and supply chain challenges, scaling back the drinks menu can provide both labour efficiencies and ingredient rationalization.

Analyzing sales data through your point-of-sale (POS) and inventory tracking tools is one way to evaluate a drink menu and identify weak sellers. When evaluating drink performance based on sales, however, it’s important to consider the profit margin, including accounting for the prep time involved in making certain drinks. Obviously, the least popular drinks that also generate poor margins should be considered for elimination, but top-selling drinks could also be sapping profits and may need to be repriced or reformulated. One way to maintain variety while streamlining the menu is to feature seasonal, locally sourced fruits, as these are likely to be easier to procure than items that are imported or tucked across the country.

As operators seek to adapt to a “new normal” that includes a tighter labour market and potential ongoing supply chain shortages, they need to focus on retaining high levels of service. This requires careful planning so that new operating procedures don’t impact the customer experience.