Owner Presence At My Business
January 15, 2014 3:56 PM   Subscribe

My bar / restaurant I opened is in its 2nd year of operation and it's running smoothly while turning a profit. Can I take a step back or should I continue to put in long days at the bar because that's what I'm supposed to do?

Since the beginning, I've been super present and worked hard together with the staff. I do everything from paying the bills, managing the staff, and dealing with vendors to scrubbing the floors and slinging beer and running food when we're busy. I'm pretty much always there when we're busy so that I can lend a helping hand, usually behind the bar, but I step in wherever I'm needed most.

I still plan to be there when we're busy, but when it's slow, I find myself running errands around town and taking personal time. While I'm gone, the bar runs smoothly, the staff knows the protocol, and should any questions arise, we handle them over the phone or I come in. However, I feel guilty about taking the time off. I feel like I should be putting in countless hours day in and out, because that's what I'm supposed to do, right? Or is it okay to take the time to myself and let the staff handle it as they're trained? I could theoretically cut staff hours and take a shift for myself, but I'd rather let the staff have the hours, especially considering we're turning a profit while paying myself a salary.

Side question: is it wrong to buy wine from the bar at cost?
posted by masters2010 to Work & Money (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
congratulations, fellow business owner! *high five*

step back a little. you sound like you're good at delegating and that you have a good, responsible and communicative staff. that's wonderful. if it's slow, relax and let your staff handle it: i'm sure they'll only get in touch if something really serious is happening :)

from the customers' side, it's always cool to know that "the boss" knows you and is there for you. by being there when it's busy, you're earning customers' respect (and business) and you're earning your own time off, in a way.

congrats and hope you can ride this out well!

(no straight answer to your side question, though, sorry. i'd say that as long as your buying isn't messing up your accounting or your customers' enjoyment, it's cool.)
posted by raihan_ at 4:03 PM on January 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

The only way you're going to grow is if you can reduce the amount of work you're doing around the bar. Obviously you should avoid losing touch with the bar, but you have the processes in place, and the staff is staying motivated and excited (and you're auditing them to make sure that the guy with the coke habit isn't skimming off the till), then damned straight you should take a step back.

If you feel the need to keep your nose to the grindstone, is there a way to scale up the bar? Open a second location? Find another owner who's struggling and helping them get their business ironed out?

I know at least one local community spot that was struggling because the owner was focused on the community and didn't know how to run a restaurant. He brought in a partner who already had a restaurant and now both of their establishments are doing better, the one got the restaurant-business sense, the other got the community live music meet-up sense.

So, yeah: If the staff is as good at something as you are, let 'em do it. Do what you're good at, and enjoy your success. And if enjoying your success is taking a stint behind the bar and chatting with customers, that's okay too.
posted by straw at 4:04 PM on January 15, 2014

Side question: is it wrong to buy wine from the bar at cost?

Legally? No idea. Ethically? Not if you offer the rest of your staff the same deal.
posted by Etrigan at 4:26 PM on January 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Ethically? Not if you offer the rest of your staff the same deal.

Disagree entirely. I don't think there is an issue at all, ethically. There's no requirement at all to offer the same 'deal' on the wine as the owner gets, ethically. The OP isn't part of 'the rest of staff'. They're the owner so aren't an equal and don't need to be treated as such.

Legally I doubt it is an issue at all as well (although I'm thinking of this logically rather than from a tax knowledgeable perspective). The wine is purchased at cost, so you're not even dodging taxes really (because it is not a 'free bottle' perk), just not paying retail. The business owner has decided just to not make a profit on that bottle.

Can I take a step back or should I continue to put in long days at the bar because that's what I'm supposed to do?

It's a job for you, too. You're working hard, you're running the business and as long as you are keeping the staff happy, paying decent wages and supporting them as a business owner I think this is the point of a successful business, isn't it? It's a guilt trip because you have rationalised working all hours as 'normal' so anything less than that feels like slacking. It isn't as long as your responsibilities as an owner are fulfilled.
posted by Brockles at 4:34 PM on January 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Side question: is it wrong to buy wine from the bar at cost?

Check with your local liquor licencing authority. It is the case--or used to be--in at least one place I've lived that it was flat out illegal to sell alcohol at or under cost. A profit must be made--even if it's only a penny.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 4:40 PM on January 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

> Side question: is it wrong to buy wine from the bar at cost?

Aside from the licensing nonsense alluded to by FFFM above (which is probably born out of the typical wine/liquor wholesaler protectionism that gets built into everyone's liquor laws over time), the chief drawback I see of this would be if your books in any way have budgeted to make $X profit from the wine; you'd be throwing a wrench into that plan, and the budget could tilt out of balance.

However, I think that this practice, in a typical, moderate rate of wine consumption, probably wouldn't rise above the noise level (typo: nose level) of spillage anyway, so I say enjoy. If you were inclined to excessive wine consumption, you probably wouldn't've made it this far anyway, or had ethical qualms to begin with.

On the topic of how much work to do, I would step back from the day to day; as the most powerful employee, your time essentially the most valuable, so you should spend less time on low-level problems that just need a warm body (or maybe a trained warm body) to solve, and more time on high-level problems that're actually challenging at your level: existential threats to the business, outlier employee issues, business development and re-investment. Also take the time for empiricism-based cocktail/menu R&D-- you've earned a little fun!
posted by Sunburnt at 5:02 PM on January 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've worked in a few non-chain bar/restaurants and the ones with over present bosses who didn't feel we could do out jobs was a real buzz kill after a while.

Even if they thought they we could do our jobs but were just always hanging around, it was kinda weird.

Take a step back and relax a bit. Then when you come in to help now and then behind the bar it'll still be a fun thing and not "OMG will boss just get out of the way?" Even if they've never said to you.

If you're feeling comfortable with your staff, and it sounds like you are, let them do their thing and make you money :)
posted by sio42 at 5:25 PM on January 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah, this is the fun part. If you have things running well and a staff you trust that's able to keep things going even at decent stretches when you're not there, but especially during slow times, now you get to shift focus on enjoying yourself, and then on coming up with ways to further the business.

Come up with loyalty plans, fun themed meals/events, marketing ideas, and maybe more for getting media to keep writing about what you're doing, with an eye towards possibly expanding or opening additional locations.

As others mentioned, your time is the most valuable: no one else is going to watch out for your food and other costs and make sure that you're keeping your margins up and your covers high. Spend a bit of time on further optimizing things and investing little bits here and there to tighten how the ship is run. You have a well-oiled machine, but there are probably few things you can do to get it even tighter.

If you're considering in finding a new location, now's the time to start doing the legwork for that. Even better that things are running so well. So now you get to document. I assume you have some processes documented already for onboarding and the like, but here you improve those documents and work a bit on documenting the other stuff, like how you'd consider expanding the concept.

This all depends on if you have an eye towards several restaurants, or even franchising.

But if nothing else, enjoy yourself. You've taken ALL of the risk, you need to take some of the reward, even if that's a bit of kicking back in a way you don't feel totally good about. It's part of being a type-a entrepreneur where you punish yourself for having a live/work balance, but it's more important than almost anything else and it's what will keep you operating at your best, keep your employees happy and employed, and keep your sanity intact.

Side question: is it wrong to buy wine from the bar at cost? Um, no. Assuming you're not running afoul of liquor licensing requirements as mentioned, you can do whatever you damn well please. It may not be wise to eat and drink yourself and all of your friends into oblivion, but for occasional imbibing, it's a perk of OWNING THE PLACE!
posted by disillusioned at 5:29 PM on January 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

main question: a qualified "yes" depending on how much you trust the staff, and particularly your manager when you're not there. i learned from representing several absentee bar owners that not all bar managers are honest.

side question: if you're allowed to comp drinks for people like me, you're allowed to comp yourself, just don't do it too many times before driving home.
posted by bruce at 6:28 PM on January 15, 2014

"Side question: is it wrong to buy wine from the bar at cost?"

In Louisiana an off-premise retailer has to maintain a minimum 6% markup on alcohol items. I don't know if the same applies for on-premise licenses, but I would assume it does. It's probably unnecessary to write that out for on-premise consumption as the state assumes you're going to be doing a 300% markup on a full bottle of wine, and more than that with liquor being measured out per drink.

It's likely that your state has some law on the books about markup (though I hear Florida does not / did not) but the chances that your local alcoholic beverage board will come dig through your books to track every bottle you've sold ... well, I'll let you decide what level of risk you think that might be.
posted by komara at 10:16 PM on January 15, 2014

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