What Should Your Pour Cost Percentage Be?

I hear the same thing from owners and managers everywhere I go: “My pour cost percentage is fine. Why would I need your system?”

Simple, sir (or madam)…because you are blind to what is going on behind your bar.

First of all, most owners have no idea if their pour cost percentage is fine or not because they don’t know what’s causing it to go up and down. Many feel that if they are at 22%, then they are doing just fine, but in reality they have no idea.

Second of all, I find that many owners don’t want to know what’s going on behind their bar. It’s absolutely insane to me that you wouldn’t want to know what’s going on in your business, but I see it time and time again.


  1. What you price your drinks at
  2. Bartender theft
  3. The accuracy of the inventory count
  4. The amount of happy hour or discount specials you sell
  5. Which product the guests order to drink

And it’s the last one that owners and managers rarely take into account. Since you cannot control what your guests order, you cannot possibly determine the financial stability of your bar based on pour cost % because it is going to bounce around simply based on your sales mix.

For example, well liquor typically runs at 5 – 10%, while premium products can be 18%, 20%, 25%, 30% or higher. Wine runs 30 – 35%, beer at 20 – 25%. Every bar is losing money on martinis. How in the hell are you supposed to determine if your bartenders are over-pouring when the products you pour run from 5% – 35%? Did your guests order a lot of wine last month, or mostly draft beer? Did they order 30 shots of Don Julio 1942 at $25 per shot and a 27% pour cost, or did they order 200 shots well tequila at 6%?

The point? You can’t possibly monitor what’s going on in the trenches behind your bar using pour cost % because pour cost % involves so many more factors than you can keep track of.


YES! That’s the answer. There is no maybe about it. If you only use pour cost % to monitor the financial health of your bar, you are missing out on tens-of-thousands of dollars—possibly hundreds-of-thousands of dollars—of profit per year, depending on the sales volume of your bar.

The reason: 95% of bartenders steal! That might sound harsh and over exaggerated, but stealing is not simply skimming money from the register. Stealing includes anything the violates the standards that are set in a bar, including giving away free drinks, drinking on the job for free, over-pouring, and pouring premium products but ringing in a lower priced product in order to make a better tip. Whatever your pour cost % is, it should be at least 4 percentage points lower. I guarantee it. Owners are missing out on so much profit it’s sickening.


Is upselling to a premium product good for a bar? Most owners would say yes. And they’d be right, because premium products bring in a higher profit, but if you solely use pour cost % to determine if your bartenders are over-pouring, there is no way they will ever upsell to a premium product ever again because the sale of premium products raises your pour cost %. Take a look.


Ideal PC % = 5.33%

Wholesale cost of bottle = $6

Retail cost per shot = $5

Retail sales per bottle = $112.50

Profit per bottle = $106.50


Ideal PC % = 17.78%

Wholesale cost of bottle = $36

Retail cost per shot = $9

Retail sales per bottle = $202.50

Profit per bottle = $166.50

But why would your bar and serving staff ever want to upsell if they are being questioned about the pour cost %?


When it comes to monitoring profit and loss in a bar, I am very religious about using variance % to determine if the bartenders are following the prescribed standards (assuming any exist) set by the owner and managers.

What is variance %? Variance % measures the difference between what is poured by the bartenders to what is rang into the POS system. In other words, if a bar’s shot portion is 1.5 oz. and 10 shots of Jameson are rang into the POS system, then ideally, the amount poured by the bartenders (expected usage) should be 15 oz. (1.5 x 10 = 15). But if 25 oz. are poured instead (actual usage), the bar is missing 10 oz. (usage difference) or 6.67 shots of Jameson, and if Jameson is $7 per shot, the bar just lost $46.69 in retail liquor.


Variance % = Usage Difference ÷ Expected Usage x 100

So in the above example, the variance % would be 10 oz. (difference) ÷ 15 (expected) x 100 = 66.67%. And in case you didn’t know, 67% variance is bad!


My goal is to get my clients down to 5% – 7% variance, but if we can get the variance into single digits, the bar will save thousands, and that’s because the average beginning variance % of the bars I work with is 34%. That means the gap between what is being poured to what is being rung into the POS—or what is missing—is one-third.


My client realized that their bartenders had been routinely over-pouring and not ringing up drink sales, for months, years, probably decades. His focus on keeping the pour cost in the 19% to 21% range was counter-productive. It had actually prevented them from discovering the high losses – and from making a lot more money.


As I’ve mentioned, the losses are staggering, and nearly every owner I work with nearly falls over in his/her chair when I show them how much money they are losing in a one week period. They have no idea.

Over-pouring is by far the biggest problem in every establishment. Just eliminating the over-pouring saves the bar a substantial amount of money. In fact, the average client of Bar Patrol loses more than $2,200 per week…$8,800 per month…$114,400 per year. That’s a lot of money to be turning your head the other way and hoping that your pour cost % is low enough.


Raising prices lowers your percentage, but it also lowers the number of guests coming into your bar. You could sell the hell out of well liquor. That will certainly reduce your pour cost %, but as mentioned above, you will earn less profit which is a ridiculous financial strategy because we all know that you put money in the bank, not percentages.

The best way to reduce your pour cost is to focus on eliminating the over-pouring and lost sales that plague virtually every bar in the world.

The most important step is to find out exactly how much alcohol you are missing, and the only way to do that is to have a system with proper software in place that can account for it. Only with the correct information, can you be sure your pour cost is as low as it should be and that you are saving the most money. Any other way, and you are a fool who will soon part from his aforementioned money.


The truth is, if you don’t carefully track your inventory, you can’t measure it, and if you can’t measure it you can’t monitor it, and if you can’t monitor it you have no idea where the leaks are occurring, and if you don’t know where the leaks are occurring how are you supposed to run a successful business? For owners who run a bar like this, failure is imminent, and if not failure, then certainly mediocrity.

As I always say, don’t be a bar owner, be a business owner.