By Izzy Kharasch
Many highly successful bar owners don’t hold degrees in hospitality management. In fact, of the 700+ clients I’ve worked with over the last 30 years, only a few have industry training. Often, bar owners are successful entrepreneurs who have dreamed of owning a venue and leveraging their business expertise to manage their operation.
Is that enough? Sometimes. However, the hospitality industry is unique—and uniquely challenging. Even a hard-earned MBA can’t prepare you for some of its stickier problems.
For example, it can’t teach you how to update a drink or appetizer menu to increase average check size—a challenge many owners currently face. Or how to streamline traffic flow from the kitchen, if you serve food, to the front of the house.
There’s a reason why 60% of bars and restaurants fail their first year. This is a tricky, complex business. That said, industry knowledge is out there for the taking—if you know what you need and where to look.
Some elements of the business are easier to pick up than others. In my experience, these are the key areas that require more specialized education.
It’s not enough to understand a P & L statement, although it is important. Those who can truly read a bar’s books can pinpoint at a glance what’s working and what’s not.
For example, theft is a pervasive industry issue. By comparing liquor purchases to sales—i.e., the cost of goods sold—pros can tell at a glance if theft is a problem.
Food and Beverage Management
This is another area of operations that’s less straightforward than you’d think. You may understand purchasing and inventory management, but here, you must also factor in perishability and predict demand—a moving target that is affected by multiple factors.
Similarly, menu planning may sound fun, but it’s really a science. Right now, bar owners should be updating their post-pandemic menus—removing less-frequently ordered items and those that require special ingredients, while adding strategically chosen snacks and appetizers to increase order averages.
Service Quality Management
Service is a big issue right now, particularly given the industry-wide staffing shortage. As customers venture back into a venue, it’s critical to wow them with a great service experience. Every detail matters, from how they’re greeted to how long it takes to order and get that first drink to the servers’ speed and attentiveness.
While this seems like common sense, it’s not always clear how to measure each component of service delivery, identify the problems, and, most importantly, fix the problems in real time.
Where to Pursue More Advanced Knowledge
There are a number of ways that bar owners can advance their executive education.
For those that choose to go the formal route, there are a growing selection of colleges and universities that offer courses and degrees in hospitality management, in-person and online.
In addition, trade associations, including the National Restaurant Associations, offer classes and other learning opportunities. And for those seeking one-on-one guidance, bar coaches and consultants are a tried-and-true option.
In short, while there is no substitute for on-the-job training, in the bar industry, the learning curve can be steep and costly. In my experience, the most successful bar owners know what they don’t know—and, one way or another, will take steps to acquire that knowledge.