Deciding your rail is an easy step to helping control liquor costs. This means that you should be consciously choosing what your rail liquor is. Many bars carry the variety of whichever liquor rep came to them first and have stayed with it for convenience sake however, this is worth spending a bit of time looking into.
To start with, most patrons are unable to tell the difference between the various common rail brands such as Mr. Boston’s, Gordon’s, Castillo and so on. If you have picky customers that can tell, you may want to go with an upgraded rail which we’ll discuss in a bit. But let’s assume you don’t have a strong preference towards any one brand at the rail level. If this is the case, there are savings to be had.
First off, with many companies, ordering a larger quantity of call or premium liquors nets you some free bottles of rail liquor. If the call or premium liquor is something you would have purchased anyway and you use a fair amount of it, then it’s a no-brainer to get the free bottles and start using them. Ask each of your liquor representatives weekly if they have any deals.
Furthermore, talk to your reps about your rail liquors, a lot of the time you can get good discounts if you choose to stick with one liquor rep for all of your rail liquors for a period of time. Additionally, several reps allow you to mix and match rail liquors and then get free bottles when you order at least a case worth.
Different states have different laws regulating who you can order liquor from and how they can discount, so be sure to talk with your reps to see what they can offer.
But what if your customer does care about the quality of rail drinks, or your company’s reputation focuses higher on quality rather than price? This is where you can get a bit creative and set yourself apart by carrying an upgraded rail or no rail.
If you choose to go with an upgraded rail, it comes at a higher cost per bottle, but you can also charge more for each drink. If the bottle only costs $4 more and you can charge an extra fifty cents a drink, you can still be more profitable, and not compromise your brand values. After all if a customer is spending $40 on a hand-cut prime rib with heirloom potatoes and a signature sauce, serving a $3 Mr. Boston’s whiskey and cola is not going to be viewed favorably (I realize the guest is partially at fault here for not choosing his whiskey after ordering a steak, but sometimes it’s important to assist your customers in making better choices).
By running an upgraded rail with call level drinks, you can set yourself apart from the competition better as well, just make sure you let your customers know with purposeful bottle placement or light internal advertising. Additionally, depending on the call liquors you choose, they may not be drastically different in price than rail and yet carry a much higher guest perception. Check your pricing, ask your liquor reps for samples and try them out.
If your restaurant is at the higher end of pricing in your area, I would recommend not carrying a rail at all and requiring people to name a liquor when ordering. Then you can carry primarily premium and top level brands and charge accordingly. You shouldn’t be selling much, if anything at the rail level as it is, so why carry it at all?
Deciding your rail is something many bar managers or owners haven’t thought about since opening their bar, but with a little bit of price checking, deal searching, and possibly upgrading you can start making a lot more profit on your mixed drinks.