Too often, a select service hotel bar is an afterthought for owners and managers looking to pinch every labor penny. But with careful menu planning, space management and hiring, your food and beverage team can turn an afterthought into a real profit center.

At the 138-key Hampton Inn and Suites Jekyll Island, we’re generating more than $400,000 a year in bar sales with a food prep area the size of a walk-in closet.  Here’s how:

Seal it with a K.I.S.S. Keep it simple & smart. Guests choose select service hotels for their convenience, affordability and relevant amenities.  Approach your menu the same way.  Choose a select number of menu items that will satisfy most people and prepare them well.  Burgers, wings, tater tots, a good sandwich, salads and a few appetizers will meet the needs of most.

Multi-Taskers.  One piece of equipment, a convection oven or a Merry Chef oven, handles all of our hot items.  Pre-programmed selections and the ability to handle different dishes simultaneously keep average cooking time short and preparation easy for associates who are not trained as cooks. A cold-prep station and reach-in refrigerator handle all of the chilling needs, and an under-the-counter high-temperature dishwasher keeps glasses and dishware clean.

Sharpen Your Presentation Skills.  Look for ways to simplify service. We chose two simple items: stainless steel beach pails and stainless steel baskets lined with paper, to speed service and clean up.  When we make menu changes, we only consider items that will work with our existing service ware.  Limiting your service items also saves on storage space, a key consideration.

Hire for Personality.  Having the right person behind the bar will make or break sales, and with tight quarters, you want to get it right.  Choose people with big, friendly personalities who truly enjoy working with people and let them own the bar experience. Make sure the cooking procedures are simple and mapped out step by step.  They will find their rhythm quickly and you’ll both start raking in the revenue.

One Step at a Time.  To ensure product consistency, we have step-by-step instructions starting with removing the product from the refrigerator and placing it in a pan, right through to serving the guest.  Detailed instructions and lots of practice ensure we can move from placing the order to serving the order in under five minutes.

Prep for Success.  That old saw about success being 90 percent preparation and 10 percent perspiration is certainly true here.  Prepping and pre-portioning are major time savers and allow you to still serve a quality product.  You can serve a hand-formed, Angus burger in your bar, instead of a previously frozen patty, as long as it’s ready for the bartender to place in the pan.

Kick it up a Notch.  Whether you’re serving La Crema Chardonnay or Booker’s Bourbon, your markup should be based on the product not your margin. In other words; price your product to sell, not to achieve a target margin.  Remember, the more you sell, the more cash flow you have and the less you sell the more inventory you carry, which equates to unused capital.  Yes, you have to ensure profitability, but be smart about it.  You can sell a $6 drink and have a 20 percent cost and make $4.80 per drink, or you can sell a $14.00 glass of wine with 35 percent cost and bring $9.10 to the bank.  Look at “dollar cost contribution margin” not just your beverage cost margin.  Our selection of wines, beer and spirits start just a few levels above average and it is amazing how much of a difference those incremental gains can make.  For example, if your current select service hotel bar has wine by the glass ranging from $6 – $12, try offering a better product and starting at $8 with the top end under $20. The extra dollar or two per glass adds up over the course of a year, and guests are pleasantly surprised to see a better quality offering in a select service hotel bar.  Similarly, skip the bargain basement spirits in favor of ‘mid-shelf’ brands for your standard well drinks and charge accordingly.  No one ever refused a Tanqueray & tonic because they wanted no-name gin & tonic for $2 less.

We opened this hotel estimating the bar would do $250 per day, and with some thoughtful product and process engineering, we consistently exceed $1,100 per day with only one additional part-time bartender.

We’ll drink to that.

by: Vince Barrett, Vice President Food & Beverage