Seeking any and all advice on the day-to-day operation/managing of a bar in NYC.
June 2, 2011 12:42 PM   Subscribe

Seeking any and all advice on the day-to-day operation/managing of a bar in NYC.

I will be opening a bar (also serving burgers and the typical bar fare) in Brooklyn in September and would love some advice from those currently in or retired from the bar business - whether you've owned, managed or bartended. Anything you wish you'd known before opening? Valuable lessons learned?

We're all set with financing, licensing, etc. Mostly interested in advice on the just-before and post-opening details: hiring, managing inventory, scheduling, distribution, etc. Small detail stuff on any topic would be greatly appreciated!

Thanks in advance!
posted by staveitoff to Food & Drink (9 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Don't let your friends tend bar. Unless I move to new york in which case can I tend bar?
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:55 PM on June 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

I own a few places on the lower east side and am in process on one in brooklyn. How big is your spot? That will determine quite a bit about method of operation. I'm assuming that there's at least one person involved has bar experience; that's probably the most important factor in a successful place, otherwise, it's a pretty forgiving business.

Memail me more of what type of information you're looking for. I've had mostly bars, but also a restaurant here and there.
posted by newpotato at 1:08 PM on June 2, 2011

A friend of mine had a bar in Brooklyn. It was cool, fun, etc. Then, after a month or two he realized that if he or his partner weren't there, they lost money. They changed bartenders a couple times but still, they had to at the very least be there for the last two hours, every night, or it all went out the door - sometimes in buy-backs sometimes just right out of the till.

Bar closed after about three months. They never re-couped from initial losses and neither really wanted to be there every single night.
posted by From Bklyn at 1:19 PM on June 2, 2011

Ive worked my whole working life of 25 years behind the scenes in restaurants, bars/pubs and hotels as a Bookkeeper. From my experiences the general things I think you should know are.

You can have friends or staff you can't have friends as staff.

Paperwork is important don't loose it. Invoices, stocktaking, reconciling accounts before paying are boring but important things to do .. do it if you can't do it properly get someone to keep track of these things for you now, leave for 2 years then call in a bookkeeper to sort out the mess, you will make her cry.

Have systems in place for handling money, paperwork etc, make sure the staff know them and keep them. It is easier when you are busy to have this things be routine.

Do not ignore the Bookkeeper when she says so&so's float is not balancing every night because he is your "Buddy/mate", your Buddy will end up stealing over $5grand from you before you actually catch him.

You know those boring monthly reports, do them and read them they will give you important information. If they are not showing a profit that is important, not reading the reports does not mean you are suddenly going to be making a profit. Same goes for stocktakes, they are boring, everyone hates doing them but booze goes walkabout very quickly if its not tracked.

If you get good staff, fight to keep them, especially in bars how your staff interact with customers is a HUGE part of why people drink there. They are the face of your business and nickel and diming them to save money will cost you in the long run when they leave.

Hope that's not too general for you. But your question was pretty open, if you have any specific things you can memail me and I can offer what advice I can from an Aussies POV.
posted by wwax at 1:20 PM on June 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

Close friend owns a bar in Brooklyn (4th Ave pub).
Make a good and relatively lenient rule about buybacks and discounts for special people/regulars so the bartenders don't go behind your back to give their friends free drinks. It will help you with accounting, too. When people have a legit way to give people stuff, they will be responsible about it and more likely to record it than if they are doing it under the table.

Get enough staff that you don't have the same person Fri and Sat night and so that they can take time off without screwing you over. Also, don't have the same person close one night and open the next day. If you treat staff well, they will be loyal to you and bring their friends. The early days of ownership can be tight on actual cash flow, but make sure you always pay your staff in full and on time, even if it has to come from your own pocket. Places get really bad reps for not paying their people.

Decide how you are going to handle day hours, will you have free wifi? Do you want people to come and work/drink there or just eat and get out? If you have a bookshelf and outlets and wifi, you will attract a lot of freelancers.

If you want good free publicity, host events at your bar like trivia, game nights, theme parties, or open-mic nights with prizes, and try to get in NYMag and TimeOut listings.
posted by rmless at 1:33 PM on June 2, 2011

my best friend is a bartender (7 years in nyc,5 of them in brooklyn) and i've been working at a bar with bar food for a while. I'm sure not an expert, but i hang out with a lot of them.

The best owners are the ones that are around. They have systems in place- how many buy backs are ok (also YES to what rmless said about the buybacks), a list of who to call if there is trouble- (backups in case you can't be reached). Don't mess with your good staff or just hire pretty girls to staff the bar- brooklyn bar tenders are all friends and know how other bars are run. There are a few bars that can't get anyone with any experence to work there because each and every bartender gets fired without cause.

If you have time to spend in other bars in your neighborhood, it's a good idea to get friendly with other owners and staff. There have been a few instances where a good staffer will do someone a favor and warn against a hire, or let them know when a really good bartender is looking for more nights.

good luck, and let us know where it's going to be. I'll come down when it opens.
posted by Blisterlips at 1:47 PM on June 2, 2011

Owners of small bars in NYC seem not to understand credit cards or munchies.

I'm always amazed at the way that bars in the LES, EV or Brooklyn will so often be cash only or go out their way to discourage credit card use (like with high minimums or refusing Amex). People spend more on cards, sometimes a lot more, and there's less cash in the register to tempt the staff. The fees are trivial compared to the incremental take. Successful charge-backs for a regular bar -- i.e., not trying to sell $300 bottles and $1000 magnums at table service -- are not going to be an issue.

A bowl of pretzels or generic potato chips will cost you a dime when bought in bulk. You may think your target customer is too cool or carb-averse to snack while drinking, but that's far outweighed if even one in thirty persons who takes a bowl of pretzels buys one more $3-margin beer as result.
posted by MattD at 4:30 PM on June 2, 2011

Oh -- find a special interest to which to cater. Not full time, but occasionally. Find a college or foreign sports league that doesn't have a "home" bar in Brooklyn, and become it -- most days it won't matter, but when UC Santa Barbara is in the NCAA Division 3 finals of something, or the German professional basketball league is having its finals, you'll coin it.
posted by MattD at 4:32 PM on June 2, 2011

Recommending a soft open (friends, family, maybe some coworkers from your last "real" job) that gets you to at least half your capacity. Then you can see how your various employees (especially BOH) deal with a rush, and also to get a peek at what the general dynamic of the FOH is going to look like.
posted by kuanes at 4:41 AM on June 3, 2011

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