Coming from a tech background before entering the bar world, Phil Chen, managing partner of Alchemist Bar & Lounge and Woodbury gastropub in San Francisco, says that he found the different bar processes to be antiquated. He believed the system of calling up distributors, texting over orders, then following up, was cumbersome, and the different business aspects—inventory, ordering, accounting—were not easily interlinked. A similar desire for greater efficiency and data sharing inspired CEO Samuel Zats and his co-founder/CTO, Max Zats, to create Bevager, a beverage management system.
Samuel Zats and Max Zats sought to create a complete online system "to automate beverage ordering and inventory system for restaurants and bars and restaurants across the country," Samuel Zats says. They realized that a majority of bars and restaurants were still working with pen and paper and Microsoft Excel to organize their drink inventory, ordering, and accounting.
After Samuel Zats and their bar ambassador, Jay Villafana, met with close to 100 beverage directors, bar managers, owners, and operators, they learned that "there was not a single all-in-one system that allowed them to run a modern, cost-efficient restaurant without a PhD in Computer Science," Samuel Zats explains. Their growing concept assists bar and restaurant owners, managers, and operators "to instantly keep track of running inventory, automatically reorder items to par to vendors, determine appropriate costing, and much more."
Samuel Zats says that for the first time, owners and operators know what they sold and how they performed that night. "Weekly ordering takes 10 minutes. Weekly inventory, 20. Transfer data into accounting system, five. Bevager is growing to compete with proprietary purchase platforms developed by large national restaurant corporations that have costed millions of dollars to develop and implement," Samuel Zats says.
The Bevager system has three pricing levels. The $29.99 Basic package handles ordering and inventory online, allowing clients to send purchase orders, receive deliveries, and do full purchasing, with all the information tracked by the system. The $49.99 Premium package adds in the ability to do running inventory (break sheets and depletions), cost out one's entire drink list, and do advance reports, which allows a client to know what their inventory value is, what their pour cost is, what their high and low movers are, and then have Bevager suggest how to run a better program. The $99.99 Professional package allows a client to have a full view of sales by item, everything sold in the establishment, and then create a theoretical inventory. This package allows for a wide range of costing and point-of-sale reports to be created based on recorded data.
Other advantages of the Bevager system include being able to keep track of empties, see how low stock is, and automatically contact the appropriate distributors to order more product, search for different brands within inventory (even by country, region, or style), and search across one or more departments of a bar or restaurant.
"Report wise, we use it for pricing and for what we're out of," says Megan Daniel, bar manager at Whitechapel in San Francisco. "You can see what your top sellers and bottom sellers are by what percent. There are numerous reports that it can run." She adds that it is helpful for setting cocktail prices. "You can tell what you're putting in and find out what percentage your drink cost is. If you want to get it below 20 percent or below 30 percent, then that's when you go in and change it to make more money." The program will then automatically filter out drinks that are too costly or not priced well.
"In the process of weekly orders for me at Smuggler's, it's probably saving us almost an hour on just doing orders," says Martin Cate, owner of Smuggler's Cove and co-owner of Whitechapel. "But in larger ways it saves a lot of time doing monthly inventory because it's very easy to simply load up the screens.” The operators can also tap the products in, and have multiple employees logged in at once to do monthly inventory from different areas of their bars simultaneously. “You can knock out inventory in 15 minutes," he explains.
Andrew Meltzer, assistant manager at 15 Romolo in San Francisco, says his bar has used "a really complex Excel spreadsheet" for years. "But with tracking your daily depletions in Bevager, you can go back and see exactly what you sold on what days," he says, "and if there was an error in one of your calculations or maybe somebody wrote the wrong bottle down it's much easier to find mistakes retroactively. It's really nice for us to be able to go back and track what individual items we need bottles of on a day-to-day basis."
The Bevager system makes ordering and inventory easier, but Chen also has an idea for a future feature.
"I would love to not have to input a product manually," Chen says. "I would love if Bevager were able to have a live feed with the distributors' databases of products, so I could literally go in there and search for things in real time." If he wants to order something but does not know which distributor to target, a lot of time and legwork is involved in tracking that information down to put into the system. He notices a lot of bar employees on Facebook asking who distributes what product. A larger interconnected database would change that and "be a huge time saver."
Meltzer, whose bar helps Bevager test their product, admits that it has taken time to adjust to and entirely trust the system to the point where they can jettison their Excel-based inventory system. "After a few months of testing and critical feedback to the team and making the appropriate updates, we are at the point where it's providing us with the right numbers and an accurate count month-to-month," Meltzer says.
While Whitechapel opened with Bevager in place, Smuggler's Cove has worked its way into it. "The transition over is kind of a process when you're set in your ways," Cates admits. "But once you're over those humps, it's genuinely noticeable how much time is being saved. Had this thing existed six years ago when I opened [Smuggler's], I would've been very happy to use it then."
Samuel Zats says Bevager is also able to connect multi-unit establishments through director packages that oversee their entire inventory, purchasing, and sales across an unlimited number of units. (And the kitchen-based Foodager, catering to chefs to manage food programs, is in the works.)
By Bryan Reesman