Operating a Bar: Serious Business

Dram shop laws, underage drinking, over serving, altercation risk, staffing and training: operating a bar within a pizzeria can be a mess of liability. But managed effectively, a bar can enhance your pizzeria and drive traffic with not only alcohol sales but also food sales.

A bar is not something an owner enters into lightly. “Serving alcohol is not just a liability for our servers and the business,” says Keven Kinaschuk, owner of McKinners Pizza Bar in Littleton, Colorado. “It is our civic duty to serve it responsibly so we respect and protect our community. This is our livelihood…protect it.”

When it comes to managing his bar operation, Kinaschuk leads the effort personally at his small shop. “I place all orders, receive, write the checks,” he says. “I put it (stock) away, rotate the old stock with the new stock, and perform the EOM [end of month] inventory count and data entry. I price-check my bottle/keg costs and plug into a price matrix to make sure my liquor cost is working with my menu costs.”

Employees at McKinners handle the day-to-day serving and bartending. Where there is an alcohol product, there’s a threat of an employee swiping a bottle or providing free drinks for themselves or others. It’s important to have procedures in place to limit theft. Liquor is kept in a locked cage at McKinners, removing that temptation. “The only people that can get the key is the bar back and the bartender from their MOD (manager on duty), or I will pull bottles throughout the night.”

Kinaschuk says that he develops a strong relationship with his employees. “I treat them as responsible adults. So, with this, I expect accountability,” he says. But he’s also never far away. “I’m not an absentee owner.”

Training a good staff has become essential for making sure that McKinners follows Colorado’s liquor laws, from maintaining the appropriate hours of bar service to confiscating fake IDs.

Kinaschuk has instituted a solid training program, employee handbook and price list — removing all doubt of company policies. His employees have been certified through either a BARCODE or ServSafe class to give them the tools to help prevent intoxication, drunk driving and underage drinking.

“I train my employees to work as a team, being proactive rather than reactive,” Kinaschuk says. “They need to read guests, communicate and intervene sooner than later on any sign or indicator that relates to alcohol.”

Ultimately, Kinaschuk has the servers and bar staff include him in the decision-making process, but there are times when it’s not possible. “I rarely get angry at a decision they make,” he says. “Sometimes I coach them that there might have been a better way.”

Jeff Constance, COO of St. Louis, Missouri-based Pi Pizzeria, also thinks it’s a good idea to take some of the liability away from a bartender or server to stop serving an
intoxicated person.

Pi’s policy does not allow a bartender to cut someone off. “They have to get a manager involved,” he says. “It removes them from the situation because it could be their guest. It allows the manager to make the final decisions. The managers are all trained in our systems of when to make those decisions.”

Missouri allows establishments to give away free drinks and run two-for-one specials, something that many states do not allow. Pi dedicates a small percentage of its bar budget to courtesy drinks. “From a hospitality standpoint, I would rather my bartenders honestly give something away than try to hide it from me,” he says, adding that a manager must approve the offering. “We do that on the front end, so that takes away the idea that they may want to do it for themselves to improve their tips or give something away and take the full tip for it.”

If theft is still too irresistible, Pi locations all have surveillance, making it easy to catch an employee skimming the till, offering up free drinks, or not carding someone who looks under 30, which is the cutoff age to ask for ID at Pi.

While guests see a bar area as a fun place to congregate, it’s serious business for the pizzeria and its employees. An onus on responsibility is fundamental to an operation’s success.

Helpful State

Many states have taken an active role in assisting businesses in developing alcohol policies, procedures and training. Maine has produced “A Guide for Bars & Restaurants Serving Alcohol” to help state businesses comply with state policies and promote best practices from hiring and training staff to alcohol promotion and advertising. While state-to-state rules may vary, the guide suggests considering the following measures:

  • Alcohol cannot be given away; this would also cover “buy one, get one” type specials
  • Do not use advertising, which contains either subject matter or illustrations, which may induce minors, young people, or high-risk groups, such as college students, to drink excessively.
  • Do not plan contests or activities that encourage or contribute to excessive alcohol use.
  • Do not use advertising that would be inappropriate or offensive to patrons.
  • Do not use advertising that depicts a person in the act of drinking alcohol.
  • Do not have specials or contests that require the purchase of alcohol or award alcohol as the prize.
  • Check with your state agency to see what resources can help you comply with state liquor laws.

Denise Greer is the associate editor at Pizza Today.