Free pour. It’s a terrifying concept for bar managers everywhere, I’ll grant you – but it has many advantages along with a few cautions that you should pay attention to. Whether its really for your bar only you can decide. If you’re a bartender – feel free to use these points if you’re discussing the possibility of free pouring with your manager.
1: Its so much faster.
As far as I am personally concerned, this is reason enough to move to free pour in your bar. Its certainly faster than pouring into a jigger and then into the drink, as you’re cutting an entire phase out of the process, and don’t even get me started on optics – those things should be banned. Its impossible to jigger pour from multiple bottles simultaneously, which is another way it will slow down an experienced bartender.
2: It shows your bartenders you trust them.
Yes. Bartenders could pour more liquor in each drink than they should to deliberately steal from you. They could also pour doubles in a jigger and charge for singles, give out beers and ‘forget’ to add them to a tab or blatantly drink your booze on shift. If you’re worried that free pouring will make your bartenders steal from you, you have hired the wrong bartenders, free pouring is not your problem, its your human resources policy that needs fixing. If you trust your bartenders and give them the tools (such as training them to free pour) to do their jobs better, they will appreciate that. Also give your bar team the responsibility for making sure your drinks margin is right every week, and incentivise them well to make it happen, and you will never have to worry about this!
3: It makes your bartenders look professional.
When a bartender is working at full pace, confidently pouring drinks and chatting to guests, they look like true professionals and will make your guests enjoy their night even more. When a bartender is pouring one ingredient after another into the same jigger, cross contaminating one drink to the next, spilling liquor and keeping customers waiting as they can’t serve as fast as they should, the number of clients will drop to the number that can be served in a reasonable time, as those waiting too long walk out the door and take their money elsewhere.
4: Bartenders can interact with the guests more.
Assuming your bar is set up efficiently your bartenders will be able to serve with their head up, chatting to your guests, keeping track of who’s next and offering new drinks as soon as they get low. All of this means more cash in the till as your guests will be happy and stay in your bar longer, and feel like a friend of the bartender so recommend your place to their friends.
5: Your Bartenders are free to flair!
Its near impossible to flair with bottles and then pour into a jigger. It just looks silly. I was once hired to open a hotel in Dubai as a performance bartender, yet they insisted on the use of measures when we arrived – now this was a busy bar, we had to make 163 Mojitos in about an hour for a private party when one of the Sheiks and his friends parachuted into our bar! That’s the kind of place we’re talking about here. The owners were quickly convinced once they saw the accuracy and speed we could work with when free pouring the drinks.
Checks and balances.
Of course, as a bar owner, you can’t just decide that free pouring is the way to go and let your bartenders start that night. Free pouring accurately is a skill which takes practice to master and constant maintenance to keep accurate.
You will need to invest in a pour testing kit (these range in price from a few dollars to over a hundred, but still a worthwhile investment), implement a pour testing system for your bartenders to check themselves for accuracy and randomly check your bartenders yourself. Keep logs of how your bartenders perform and make it an incentivised competition to be the most accurate, and encourage the staff to use quieter periods to practice their pours, including multi bottle pours, bounce pours and cuts, left and right handed etc.
If your USP for your bar is serious mixology cocktails – maybe free pour isn’t for your bar, as many of these recipes are finely balanced and rely on perfectly accurate pours – while free pour should be accurate to within ⅛oz, in some cocktails that little can make a big difference, so consider this when thinking about free pour.
Also make sure you are aware of local laws which could affect free pour – for example certain spirits in the UK must be served in multiples of 25 or 50ml and use government stamped measures, though when these ingredients are included in a cocktail the same rules do not apply – and the definition of a cocktail is somewhat ambiguous! All I’m saying is be aware and do your research, this information is provided as is and I don’t take responsibility if you end up breaking the law where you work.
This being said, I personally love free pour, it works well in the bars I’ve worked, and in general I found that I could take around double the amount of sales as others on the bar who were jigger pouring their drinks. Double the sales. Managers, I’ll leave you to think about that one.