State of the Bar

State of the Bar

Speaking with older bartenders and hearing their war stories we take in verbally painted images of the wild west. Told as a sexy story reminiscent of a Mad Men episode full of sexcapades and throwing money in the air while jumping into bed, the bars don’t feel that way anymore. There’s no denying a change in culture. A change in economic balances. A change in the countries moral over the last decade. But where has the wild west of bartending gone?

An older Irishman would tell me of innocently taking shots behind the bar with women of age while cracking rows of beers open all at once for clients. The Irishman spoke of lines outside the doors all the way down the streets. He told these amazing stories about walking out with $1,000 a night, including the weekdays. But then he spoke on other pieces that contributed to the downfall of bar culture.

We’ve stepped back from the days of forward movement and progress into a stale stagnancy as a country that used to invent. There are lawsuits opening for every misstep taken. Every opportunity available to cash in easily is being explored. We just can’t rip shots of Jameson all night anymore and comfortably measure our risk reward ratio as bar owners. DWI’s are at all time highs and bars are shutting down left and right. Lease terms built out in early years are ending and the price hikes in rent are impossible to come out profitable on the cash sheets. The Irishman told me that his days were great to him… He spoke about bartending as a thing of the past.

Investors set loose a sense of irresponsibility to the bar culture.

The “bar culture” is missing. Owners and investors swooped into this environment after seeing the profits in booze. They didn’t know anything about the business, but they were sold by the allure of flashy lights and “easy money”. Investors set loose a sense of irresponsibility to the bar culture.They didn’t teach bartenders how to respect the bar, clean the bar, or care for the bar. I walk into bars constantly to find barkeeps eating behind the bar and wearing hats. They remain glued to their phones even though there are guests sitting at the bar that could connect with a great conversation.

You see the average bar open up and close equally as fast. Sub par thought leads to an instant decline in sales. As a business you get one shot to create a lasting memory on your guest. If you don’t go the extra mile and present a better product then the next bar – you won’t find clients sitting in your bar a month from now. With a decline in traffic comes a decline in sales. Scrounging to take in more money to pay the overhead – cheaper and cheaper drinks are advertised to drum up business creating an internal price war. This is something that investors think they can solve by just “flipping the name”

But where is everyone going? Are the crowds simply thinning out because there are far too many bars? Was it the legal drinking age raise that has caused a slow of fraudelent IDs as law enforcement continues to crack down and IDs are harder to fake? Or is the youth smarter today with their money then they were years ago?

That Irishman was smart as he told me, “I’ve always saved my money from the good old days – we don’t have retirement packages as barmen”.


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