Vol. #22, Issue #04b11
Free Pouring is the most widely used method of portioning spirits at bars and restaurants. It’s a fast, stylish technique for making drinks extremely popular with bartenders. It allows them to measure liquor by hand without using a jigger, relying rather on an internal count or cadence to meter the rate of flow. The ability to pour consistently accurate measurements requires training and practice.
Undoubtedly speed of service is why free-pouring is so frequently relied on, particularly in high-volume beverage operations. Essentially it’s twice as fast as using a jigger. The speed is derived as a result of the bartender being able to portion the spirits with one hand, while simultaneously adding other ingredients with the other.
The science behind free-pouring is sound. When a liquor bottle outfitted with a medium-speed commercial pour spout is inverted 90˚ it will dispense approximately 1/2-ounce of spirits per second. Based on that, an internal cadence of “one-one thousand, two-one thousand, three-one thousand,” presumably will yield a 1 1/2-ounce portion of spirits.
If a bartender’s internal cadence is too slow he will consistently over-pour his measurements. Conversely, if he counts too quickly his drinks will be short, much to the chagrin of the recipients. Liqueurs are more viscous than spirits and will pass through a spout at a slower rate. When free pouring something like Baileys or Kahlúa bartenders need to know to compensate by slowing their cadence.
HEDGING YOUR BET
As most bar managers will attest, however, the technique does have some rather significant shortcomings. Free- pouring accurate measurements over the course of a long night requires an inordinate amount of mental stamina. It’s especially difficult for bartenders to pour proper measurements when they’re tired or working at a frenzied pace. At that point free-pouring works against the house. Sacrificing profit margin for speed and simplicity is bad for business.
In response, most bars and restaurants ask their bartenders to take a pre-shift test to ensure that they’re able to pour accurately. These drills involve pouring a staggered series of measurements into a half-dozen empty glasses on the bar rail. Afterwards, the contents of each glass are poured into a graduated cylinder or measuring glass to gauge their accuracy. Should a bartender fall short of expectations, he’s then required to use a shot glass behind the bar until able to free-pour accurately.
Here’s the rub. Just because a bartender demonstrates the ability to pour accurately doesn’t mean he necessarily will. Intentionally over-pouring or under-pouring liquor portions without being detected is more easily accomplished free-pouring than when using a shot glass. Over- or under-pouring liquor wreaks havoc on a bar’s cost percentages. Because the sales price of a drink is hinged to a specified amount of product, if that portion fluctuates, so does the drink’s profit margin.
Since no bar or restaurant operates under the burden of too much profit, effective portioning controls are a must. It’s challenging for a business to remain in the black when the staff is playing fast and loose with the inventory. Regardless of whether bartenders are over-pouring their measurements, giving the liquor away, selling it and pocketing the cash or drinking it themselves, the financial impact on the bar is the same.
Permitting bartenders to free-pour liquor can be an expensive proposition. On the other hand, many operators contend the opportunity cost of slowing their bartenders speed of service with shot glasses would be equally steep. The deciding factor is typically based on the operational demands of the concept.
Portioning control is crucial to achieving profitability, yet it needn’t come at the expense of concept or speed of service. A low-cost, low-tech means of ensuring accurate portioning without investing significant capital or impeding your bartenders’ pouring mechanics is to outfit your bar with bottle-attached control spouts. These innovative devices utilize a patented ball bearing assembly to cut off the flow of fluid at the prescribed measure.
The industry leader is Precision 3 Ball Pours from Precision Pours. They all but eliminate under-pouring or over-pouring liquor and are quite effective in deterring illicit practices behind the bar. Since they function like conventional spouts, no specialized staff training is required to achieve optimum results. The spouts are available in seven portion sizes ranging from 5/8 ounce to 1 1/2 ounces.
Precision Pours are as fast as free-pouring without the attendant worries and expense. As is true with any system, the control function of the devices can be subverted. Fortunately, removing the spout from the bottle prior to pouring is a tad obvious.