Zane Campbell of Kirkwood likes to hit the bars early. He starts bellying up about 6 a.m. Yup, that's right, a.m., not p.m.
During a recent Thursday morning, he was at his regular spot at The Old Rock House in Soulard, where he faced an array of open bottles of booze for some five hours. But he wasn't drinking. Actually he was weighing. He took bottle after bottle of vodka, scotch, wine and what have you, scanned the bar code and put each bottle on a scale.
Campbell is a franchisee of Bevinco Corp., a Toronto-based company with a unique computerized method of detecting disappearing alcohol at bars and restaurants. He performs audits — usually weekly — at more than 40 area restaurants and bars.
He's looking for what is called "shrinkage." It means a bartender has a sloppy pouring technique or is giving away too many drinks — or somebody is just plain stealing it. Restaurants and bars typically lose about 20 percent of alcohol to shrinkage, according to restaurant industry estimates, and Bevinco says it can reduce that figure to less than 5 percent.
"With the economy the way it is, bars and restaurants need every dollar coming in," said Campbell. "If you're giving away 20 percent of your booze, it's thousands of dollars."
Campbell, who worked as a bartender during college, has a real appreciation for the loss. He said free-pouring techniques are far from exact.
"You wouldn't believe the waste," he said. "They overpour, and its adds up to a lot of losses, especially in a high-volume establishment."
So while each audit can cost $150 to $400, depending on the number of bottles involved, the examinations can save an establishment $1,000 to $2,500 a week, Campbell said.
As part of the audit, every open bottle of liquor and wine gets weighed. So do cans of energy drinks. And even kegs of beers get placed on an industrial-size digital scale.
"We do a complete inventory of every thing on hand," said Campbell, who has two of his employees help with the tedious weighing of more than 400 bottles at the Rock House.
With this information, Bevinco's computerized process then calculates the exact amount of liquor used during a reporting period against the amount of liquor that had been sold.
For example, the weight of a bottle of a certain liqueur shows that 28 shots had been used during the week. The Bevinco system then compares that to bar receipts to see whether 28 shots had actually been sold. The system will check for every drink that calls for that liqueur. If the system find that only 20 shots had been rung through the bar's cash register, the audit will show the bar is missing eight shots, or a 29 percent loss.
The results of an audit may often suggest whether the loss is being caused by overpouring, "mis-rings" in which the bartender records the wrong drink on the cash register, or theft.
For example, one client saw that 2.3 ounces of Glenlivit Scotch had been used, but only 1.5 ounces had been sold. That meant 0.8 ounce was missing. That's not a full shot. Because Glenlivit doesn't get poured in any mixed drinks, Bevinco would not think it was caused by a mis-ring. Instead, the missing Scotch was probably overpoured.
Mark Disper, owner of the Rock House, contracted with Bevinco after he opened the bar and restaurant in July.
"The concept was exactly what we were looking for. It gives us a way to monitor and keep track of our performance," he said.
Campbell said missing liquor doesn't necessarily indicate wrongdoing, but "it could be that a bartender's pouring techniques are wrong. But it all adds up."
Bevinco isn't suggesting that bartenders stop pouring complimentary drinks, he said.
"You definitely want your bartender to give your regulars or those who might become regulars free drinks," Campbell said. "The competition is super thick."
However, Bevinco recommends that bartenders be given a manager-approved, separate tab for this purpose.
"That way when I pull the sales, I can account for the comps so they don't figure into the shrinkage," Campbell said. "You definitely want to take care of your customers."