Implementing a bar program as part of a new opening (or to your existing operations) is an exciting as well as stressful endeavor. A foundational challenge is inventory -- knowing which wine, beer, and liquor to stock and how much you need on-hand. Luckily, Jaime Roth, a leading Sales Representative at Southern Wine & Spirits, has some insider tips to help alleviate these concerns when setting up your bar.
What spirits do you need to have on-hand when opening a bar? Which are essential vs. nice-to-have?
The short answer is, you don’t "need” any particular brand. You should choose what brands are best for your concept and your customers. That said, as spirit categories are concerned, you should cover your bases with vodka, gin, rum, tequila, whiskey, brandy, basic cordials and mixers (e.g., vermouth, triple sec, various bitters, flavored schnapps, amaretto, etc.).
Pro-Tip: Start with small orders. Then, see what your customers are asking for and fill in the gaps. It’s always better to need more than to be sitting on inventory that you own but isn’t selling.
How about wines?
As far as wine is concerned, the options are endless, especially in places like New York, where there are so many small, independent suppliers and distributors. If you’re opening a casual bar, you might only need one or two white and red options, plus one rosé and one sparkling wine. For a wine bar or wine-heavy restaurant, you will need to carry a more extensive range. If you are looking for options, but not a huge list, opt for the most popular varietals from various locations. You might also want a couple of port or sherry options, but that would depend on restaurant and clientele.
Pro-Tip: For concepts centered around wine, consider having a sommelier on-hand from the get-go to craft your list.
How much inventory do you need to invest in to get your bar fully stocked for opening night?
How much you should carry is very subjective and depends on the size of the space and the items themselves. Generally, for the wine you sell by the glass, house spirits, and liquor you are using for cocktails, you should have one or two cases on hand for your friends and family opening night. For wines that are only on the list, three or four bottles of each will suffice for an opening.
Pro-Tip: Be prepared to place a lot of fill-in orders in the first weeks after opening.
What information and licensing do you need to set up an account with a distributor?
Licensing and requirements vary by state and sometimes city. For example, New York is governed by the State Liquor Authority (SLA), and each vendor needs an active and valid NY State Liquor License to do business with distributors. Once you have a valid license, each distributor will have an application, and run a credit check to determine if there is a credit limit or if the account will operate on COD terms.
Pro-Tip: Consider seeking the counsel of a “liquor lawyer” who specializes in facilitating the otherwise the slow and drawn-out process of setting up – and obtaining -- a license.
How often should you plan to place orders? How much lead time should you expect between ordering and receiving?
How often you order is based on your individual needs, which are often dictated by the storage space at your location and how fast you move through certain products. I have customers that order once a month, along with many that order two or three times a week. Generally, if you can order larger quantities, you will almost always get better discounts, and save money on your well, cocktail and wine by the glass items.
Pro-Tip: If you can afford the larger order, but don’t have space, Southern and other vendors can offer what is called a “bill & hold”; meaning, you buy the goods at a discount, and vendor stores them, releasing them as needed.
What are best practices for tracking inventory?
There are a lot of online systems that help with inventory tracking and ordering, so it depends on the size of your account and the breadth of items you carry. Bevager and Accubar are a couple of well-known inventory systems.
Pro-Tip: If you’re not ready to invest in an inventory tracking system yet, you can create your own spreadsheet indicating the items you stock, pars, price, discounts, and vendor.
What types of training/additional support can suppliers offer?
At Southern Wine & Spirits, our distributor/sales representatives are educated and equipped to handle basic staff training for both wine and spirits. We often go into detail when training on what to expect taste-wise with various products, along with history and other information about our brands.
About Jaime Roth
Jaime waitressed and bartended her way through college and into her early twenties, as she was studying for and then pursuing a career in Opera performance. Ultimately deciding to sing just for fun, Jaime jumped at the chance to work for Premier Wine & Spirits in 2004. Two years later, Southern Wine & Spirits (now Southern Glazer’s) disrupted the New York market by purchasing Premier, and 15 years later Jaime is still at it. Throughout her career, she has sold every product in the Southern Glazer’s Portfolio, and is currently in the Sapphire On-Premise division, servicing 130 bars and restaurants around Manhattan, Brooklyn & Long Island City.