Operating a successful bar isn’t all fun and games; implementing this advice, though, can make the hard work pay off.  

While we’d all like to run the bar on the television show “Cheers,” a convivial place where everyone knows your name, owning a bar and running it successfully involves long hours and hard work. Take advantage of these common-sense rules others have used to optimize their businesses. 

Make friends with your neighbors. Bar patrons can get a little raucous when a sports team wins a big game. Traffic on busy nights can cause parking problems or sidewalk impediments from people waiting to get in the door. Boisterous customers may forget some people are sleeping when they leave at closing time. And ejecting an overserved customer can place a potentially obnoxious and disorderly person on the street. Establishing good relationships with your neighbors from the start can go a long way toward smoothing over any incidents like these—as long as they don’t become common. Neighboring businesses also can provide insight on how to succeed in the area, and potentially be partners in special promotions. 

Keep your finances in order. Start-up money aside, running a bar takes ongoing working capital. While your inclination may be to comp a lot of guests when you first open to create goodwill and help promote your place, you’re running a business. Keep good books, and establish good relationships with investors and/or bankers in the event you need additional funding down the road for expansion, renovations or emergencies. 

Focus on hospitality. Treat customers like guests, and make sure the customer experience is positive at all times, from a greeting at the door to great service at the bar. Get feedback from customers often, through surveys or by simply asking them what you can do better while they’re there. Make sure that hospitality extends to your staff. Hire people who have a customer-first attitude. Train them both in service and product knowledge. Involve staff in solving problems if they arise. Treat good employees like the valuable resource they are. 

Manage inventory carefully. Invest in a good POS system that helps you track and order inventory. Analyze sales data to track trends, forecast inventory needs, and fine-tune your product mix.  

Keep the menu simple. A large drink menu can be confusing for customers and staff alike. And the inventory costs can be significant. If you specialize in something—frozen daiquiris, for example, or single malt scotch—list a half-dozen, and let servers provide information on anything else you have. Rotate offerings on and off the list seasonally. Test new drinks with a daily or weekly special.   

Create a signature drink. Let your bartender(s) come up with a signature drink exclusive to your bar. Create buzz for it on social media. Develop special promotions for it a few times a year. 

Leverage technology. Speaking of social media, try to make your bar and your drinks Instagrammable. Post your own photos and news often, and encourage customers to do the same. Systems and equipment like inventory management software or using tablets to speed ordering also can make you and your staff more productive. It’s critical to stay current on what apps customers are using before, during and after their visits, so you can find new ways to interact with them. 

Take liability seriously. Serving alcohol entails risk. Minimize your exposure by training staff to recognize and handle alcohol-related issues. For the safety of over-served customers as well as the safety of other customers and the general public, and the welfare of your business and employees, teach everyone how to detect fake IDs and prevent underage drinking and recognize signs of intoxication. Training resources are available from your state alcohol control board and the National Restaurant Association. And check your insurance policy to make sure you have liability coverage. 

Trust, but verify. The right staff can make or break your business. If you’ve done your homework when hiring and have programs in place to train and retain good people, they’ll reward you with loyalty and honesty. But don’t take anything for granted. Have systems in place to monitor both cash and inventory just in case you have a bad apple in the bunch. 

Empower your staff. Train staff to upsell. Provide incentives to learn, not just sell. You may have a future manager or wine director on your staff and not even know it. Communicate regularly with your employees and ask them what they need to do their jobs better.   

Up your wine game. Wine consumption in the United States is on the rise—as is wine education for those in the service industry. Encourage your staff to learn the proper way to serve wine—and watch your profits grow! 

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