The bounty (or not) of batch mix programs!

We're bullish on batches, but before you go ballistic with them, here's some things to think through...

Posted: Saturday, April 25, 2015

With the popularity of batch mix programs soaring higher and higher, it seems like a no-brainer: you've got to have batch mixes at your bar, right?   Well, hold on...  Sure, a well executed batch program can become a major profit center, perhaps even your biggest.  But if NOT well executed, batches could also prove a ruinous debacle for your beverage program. 




Well, let's start with a little...


1. First off, getting the recipes right is tough, usually requiring lots of experimentation and wasted product (not to mention tasters) along the way.  Of course you could simply use proven recipes lifted from others, but where's the fun in that?  As with specialty cocktails, the point is creating a unique drinking experience for your customers.  If your batch recipes lack originality, chances are the program won't get much traction, at least not in major cities where the competition is fierce.  And if they're awful, which, let's be honest, they are as often as not, business will be hurt more than helped.


 2.  They're messy as hell.  Seriously.  Unless your staff is meticulous to a fault about cleaning, their sticky residue will become omnipresent, gumming up wells, bottles, refrigerators, bar-tops, pour spouts, cambros... all of which serve as Oscar Night spot lights for fruit flies, not to mention a regular source of customer complaints ("Gross, this bar stool is, like, totally sticky!").  


3.  They're labor intensive and the product involved can be costly.   Our most successful batch focused clients employ a production line of 2-3 people when churning out batches, usually spending much of the day working on them.  They use industrial juicers (seriously, they look more like wood chippers) to extract fresh juice from premium ingredients like ginger root and pomegranates.   These guys are like serious mad scientists and the expenses associated with fully outfitting and running their lab are no joke.


4. Batches can also be really problematic in terms of cost control, not only due to #3 above (good luck factoring those variables into the PC equation), but also because they don't get inventoried accurately, they don't get made consistently, the spillage and comps they often incur aren't logged diligently--  basically, due to their complexity, they're very difficult to track and match up to sales brand specifically.  And that can serve to totally undermine accountability across the board, because when the P&L's are funky, the batches get blamed ("We must not be accounting for them right!"), obscuring profit shrinkage from other brands as well.


5. Also of concern, at least in some states, is their shaky legal status with Alcohol Control Boards.  Sooner or later there's bound to be a serious health incident related to some sort of badly made batch mix, the result of which will surely be stricter regulation in their regard.  At the very least, batches now serve as easy targets for overzealous Health Code Inspectors.


Adequately discouraged?   If so we recommend you forgo batches, just as many bar owners choose not to carry draft beer despite it's popularity; but if you're not discouraged, the good news is that where there's a will there's a way.... a way around all of the above by sticking to some basic rules of...




1. RECIPES.  Initially at least, hire a qualified MIXOLOGIST to help create them, someone who has experience with batches or at least has made a study of  them.   Talent like this isn't hard to find  anymore; we're continually amazed by how knowledgeable bar personnel, some barely old enough to drink, are these days.   Don't create batches through trial and error, use someone who knows what works and what doesn't!


2.  CLEANLINESS.  The truth is your bar staff should be totally anal about cleanliness regardless of whether you carry batches or not.  Schedule daily deep cleaning side work and regular manager inspections to ensure the bar stays clean to the core... and just as importantly, make sure that the batch mix preparation takes place in a totally separate area from the bar (ie. designated area in the kitchen).  If you don't have enough room to keep preparation separate, our advice is to NOT pursue a serious batch mix program.


3.  EXPENSES UPFRONT.  Start modest-- one or two batches at the most; see what kind of traction you get.  If the batch proves popular invest in expanding the program.  Understand, though, that a serious program requires at least one employee who is really dedicated to it, usually someone of a higher pay grade than your average bartender. Then comes the juicer, the barrels, the kegs + CO2 tanks (for draft cocktails) etc.  Whatever happens, be sure not to confuse popularity with profitability.   If you're grossing more, but netting less, the program should NOT be considered a success no matter how much busier your bar becomes.



 4. ONGOING COST CONTROL.  If you've got a numbers oriented manager willing to create and relentlessly populate a spreadsheet that tracks exact batch mix weights and their associated costs per brand and ingredient, it's possible not to lose too much ground in this regard.  But trust us, the reality is this almost never happens and batch oriented bars are usually frustrated and confounded by their erratic monthly costs.  A solution that is both more practical and cost effective is to employ third party auditors like BEVINCO (www.bevinco.com)  to track brand specific usage to sales metrics, something they can do regardless of the scope or complexity of any batch program.



5. LEGAL STATUS.  Surely this will  vary from state to state (due diligence recommended!), but our sense is that these programs have become so economically entrenched in most major cities that their legal status will not be changing drastically anytime soon.   And should something happen that changes the optics in this regard, bars will surely be given plenty of notice before more stringent regulations come into play.    In the meantime, follow the building protocols above to keep out of the Health Inspector's cross-hairs... and batch-long and prosper!