The Technology & Equipment Insights That Lead To Better Beverage Business

Craft Standard cocktails on tap

When those back-to-school commercials started popping up in mid-July, it was pretty jarring. How could it already be time to think about bookbags and lockers and kids home from camp when our guests were still lingering late over cocktails or cold beverages as the sun remained high in the sky?   Was summer fun really coming to a close soon?

We don’t think so.  We are still looking forward to another four or six weeks of warm weather dining and drinking al fresco or in a crisp dining room where the GM knows that a few degrees above cellar temp in the dining room is the perfect antidote to beat the heat.  But we’re willing to give in on one thing – it’s never too early to plan ahead for a successful fall season. So we talked with owners, manager and consultants around the country to see what technology and equipment they’re recommending and embracing to boost profitability and streamline their beverage business operations.

Natalie Freihon, founder of Strange Bird Hospitality, knows that there’s no such thing as a business operation without the funding to open your doors in the first place.  As the vision behind such popular spots in NYC as The Orchard Townhouse, Nat’s On Bank, Nat’s on Bleecker and soon Nat’s Mountain House Freihon has managed to run her business without outside investors, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t need liquidity and we all know how tough that can be to come by in the bar and restaurant business. So she’s partnered with In Kind, a new app that provides up front funding and marketing for bar and restaurant owners and engages with guests to create house accounts.

According to Freihon, it was built to be a funding tool for smaller groups that have a hard time getting funding.  In Kind doesn’t have the same requirements as a bank would, so funding comes through faster and with fewer hoops to jump through.  The benefit of working with In Kind as she notes is, “It’s great to get your name out there and develop a regular clientele. Guests pay up front which encourages them to come more frequently. They can also use the house account for the hospitality group at any of the restaurants they own. So, it also encourages them to try other restaurants in our group. That has been the most successful part for us for sure.  For guests there are discounts, promotions and having that cool thing of just paying on your app and not having to wait for a check.”

Benefits all around, but, as Freihon notes, it’s not free money.  She explains, “There is a cost, so you have to really understand the full KPI.  If it gets more people in the door more frequently and at more of your restaurants that certainly gets more butts in seats.   But if you don’t work to build the network with them you just have a cost and no benefit.”

The cost of losing time making drinks can run into the millions over time.  That’s just one of the reasons Don and William Ray, twin entrepreneurs who are former bartenders themselves created Craft Standard, a kegged cocktail solution for high volume bars and venues.  William explains the impetus for their patented product was enabling college-town bars to keep up with demand while remaining profitable “We’re here in Arkansas in a college town and the bars are quite large.  We realized that it just took too long to make a real handcrafted cocktail.  So, we started experimenting and looking at how homebrew guys were doing things and the vessel they used.  The Cornelius keg worked, but it created another problem – handcrafting these kegs in batches meant we still couldn’t keep up.  So we wondered if there was a way to commercialize it.”

He continues, “We needed to figure out how to develop a product that was simple, where a bartender didn’t have to clean anything or make a change in their bar, and we came up with plastic one use kegs.  Then we began tinkering with different ways of opening up the valves so we could put the mix in the keg and the customer could put their alcohol and any modifiers in.”

Craft Standard was born when the patented Spiker was created; it uses gravity to add spirits, juices and other modifiers to the mix in the keg, giving bars the ability to make their drink special.

Drinks that guests can count on getting fast are important in a high-volume bar setting.  That they’re a specialty of the house is a bonus for the bar that keeps them coming back for more.  And that creativity is built in as Don Ray explains, “As bar owners we’ve all bought Margarita mix or sour mix from others with Craft Standard they can manipulate the mix – if they wanted to add more lime juice to our margarita mix, they could.  They could infuse it with some sort of flavor profile. We’ve created a way for them to batch, it’s just different than before.  But the customer still gets the same drink every time.  They get it fast, and the control is there for the bar.

Craft Standard AllKegs beverage technologyAt large venues where Craft Standard is served cocktail revenue has gone up without cannibalizing beer and wine sales.  One venue put in over 20 taps and when they pulled year over year data realized that more than 15,000 cocktails were sold with the new draft system.  When you partner new equipment like Craft Standard with existing taps that’s the kind of impact speed and consistency can do for bars large and small.

Small coffee shops in New York City are embracing CupZero, an environmentally friendly program that helps build repeat business while offering a cost savings to store owners.  Like with all coffee shops your beverage of choice can be enjoyed in-house or on the go, but here your cup is returned by the customer and sent off for sanitizing.  Think of it as a dishwashing station, off-site.

Business owners are thrilled by the fact that CupZero undertakes all the marketing and social media necessary to introduce the program and app to its customers.  And there’s a feel good along with the cost savings as Co-founder Zsolt Bendel shares, “By joining the program coffee shops become part of a growing network of shops that offer a sustainable solution to their customers. Every drink enjoyed in a CupZero cup saves one of the over 50 billion single use cups that end up in a landfill or our oceans every year.  Coffee shops also save money by saving the environment since they don’t have to purchase single use cups when using CupZero cups. Joining the program also has the benefit of Increased foot traffic and additional opportunities to interact with customers when they return to a participating store to return the cup.”

Returning customers who left their credit card at the bar or walked out without closing out their tabs could be a thing of the past if everyone signed on for the POS that DC Spirits founder Danny Ronen claims is head and shoulders above every other POS system out there…he’s talking about Union POS, based in Austin.

Why does Ronen love Union so much more than all the new ones that are open source and seem to have a handful of things wrong with them?  He shares, One reason I love it is that the back end gives me, the owner/operator, unfettered access to all my data so I can make on the fly business decisions I wouldn’t be able to do with something more clunky.”

Ronen also sees the benefits for distributor and brand partners.  Realizing that every state has its own liquor laws about what is and isn’t legal when it comes to promotion the universal truth is that no matter what they can do, liquor companies, brand ambassadors and distributors want to execute a program that is easy to run through your POS in a way that isn’t problematic.  With Union there are ways to set up a program to accommodate a single charge at the end – assuming that’s legal in your state – so final expense reporting is simpler.

Marketing is positively impacted too with specific data informing sales decisions, menu planning, etc. Ronen explains how Union allows him to see what’s happening on the bar, “I can close out and pull a detailed note on what was sold, who sold it, when etc. and all this allows a bartender to evaluate their menu and for a brand ambassador or distributor to better understand what is moving and how and why.”

For those all to frequent times where someone walks out without closing a tab having a Union POS system eliminates the evil chargebacks and wondering about actual cash flow.  The dip a card option is available with Union and worth the extra fee according to Ronen.  It enables bartenders to do a bulk close at the end of the night.  Saving that time and aggravation is as important to Ronen as is knowing that “with Union I can get as granular with the data as I need to in order to move forward in a profitable way.”

Saving aggravation and time is important behind the bar for all bartenders and bar managers.  Jabriel Donohue in Seattle and Mark Schettler in New Orleans are a big fan of using Calendly to schedule distributor tastings and Donohue uses it for employee interviews too.  Rick Dobbs in California is counting on a bunch of new technology: Schedulefly, Tabbed Out (which is now Union), which lets customers pick up and pay their tabs, Xero for accounting, Bevager for inventory and ordering, and he says, “Gusto for payroll and contractors (bands, repairs, etc.) payments is a life saver.  Julian Flores Torres is also a fan of Bevager and leans on Pour Cost, the app created by fellow bartender and USBG Board Member Donny Clutterbuck, Homebase, 7shifts as well.

Frederick Yarm, the General Manager of Drink, Boston’s award-winning cocktail bar, found his own life saver; a relatively inexpensive piece of equipment that has quickly improved his work-life, it is a simple Bluetooth keyboard.  Yarm concludes, “I bought the Bluetooth keyboard to level up my phone to a computer of sorts without fear of autocorrect or “fat fingers” blunders.  It makes social media posts, ordering, and emails a joy to do on the phone instead of a feat of patience.  Best $35 purchase I’ve made in 2022!”


Mateus Rose Dry WineSIPS TO SAVOR

We wanted to call this month’s sidebar something old and something new.  But then we realized it really was more like yes, you can teach an old dog some new tricks!  We’re pouring a legacy brand’s newest expression (Mateus Dry Rosé 2021) and a new vodka from America’s oldest cordial producer Charles Jacquin et Cie., Inc. (Union Forge Vodka).

Mateus Dry Rosé 2021

Even if you’ve already got a couple of rosé wines on your list, you’ll want to add this one.  Just imagine its beautiful bottle gracing every table in your restaurant.  Rest assured, its beautiful bottle is matched by its taste.  80 years of production in Portugal is time enough to get winemaking right, and this bottle proves it once again.  The 2021 Mateus Dry Rosé is the third vintage released in the United States and features Portugal’s traditional red grape varietals Baga and Touriga Nacional among others.  The wine offers notes of raspberry, red cherry and strawberry balanced by refreshing acidity and a perfectly balanced lingering finish.

Union Forge VodkaUnion Forge Vodka

From the oldest continually operating distillery in the state, in the hands of the third generation to take the helm of Charles Jacquin et Cie, comes Union Forge Vodka. Made of Pennsylvania Rye from McKean County and Allegheny Mountain spring water, Union Forge Vodka offers something new to consumers with its clean, crisp profile and a subtle spice on the finish. This new vodka John Cooper created represents the spirit and resilience that has guided the company for generations and provides new generations of vodka drinkers an opportunity to make their own mark at the bar.

Francine Cohen is an award-winning journalist covering the business of the f&b/hospitality industry, and a proud native Washingtonian (DC). In addition to her work as a journalist she keeps busy fundraising for Citymeals on Wheels, Les Dames d’Escoffier, NY Women’s Culinary Alliance, and the USBG Foundation and serves as chief storyteller and brand steward for clients in the food and beverage sector by providing them with strategic marketing and business growth guidance. She has never met a cheese or beverage she does not like, and lives with her husband in New York; leaving him behind to visit New Orleans every summer. (Except 2020. Darn pandemic.) You can reach her at francinecohen@mindspring.com