|By Christine Tatum, The Denver Post|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Nov. 3, 2003 - A man walks into a bar and orders a drink.
The bartender serves him and rings up the purchase without knowing that this is no joking matter -- a sloppy pour or devious sleight of hand could cost the barkeep his job, if it's noticed by a covert auditor such as Kosta Callas.
"Dishonesty and the cute-guy- or-girl factor are alive and well and costing bar owners a lot of money," said Callas, a franchise owner of Toronto-based bar-auditing firm Bevinco. "There are a million scams out there."
But bar owners are sick of the swindling -- and that has given Bevinco a real shot of momentum.
The company has four Colorado franchises and hopes to sell six more before December to serve the state's 7,200 establishments licensed to sell alcohol.
Bevinco expects to add about 500 bar auditors to its worldwide ranks before making an initial public stock offering next year.
The company wants to corner a big market. Bars give up about 20 percent of annual sales to over-pouring, illicit freebies and theft, Callas said.
Bevinco strives to reduce losses to less than 5 percent -- and that could, by some estimates, save America's watering holes roughly $10 billion a year.
Bevinco's weekly reports also have made it easier for bar owners to weather audits by state liquor regulators and the Internal Revenue Service.
Patric Benavidz, owner of the Caddyshack Lounge in Colorado Springs, was shaken -- even stirred -- to action after a Bevinco audit showed that only 62 cents of every $1 of liquor sold made it to the register.
He invited Bevinco's pub patrollers to measure his bar's inventory down to the ounce, and to compare the changes in weight to the week's receipts.
He also allowed auditors to pose as customers to spy on the hired help.
Auditors watched how bartenders measured drinks and handled transactions. They looked for dirty tricks of the trade.
Callas said dishonest servers charge for more expensive drinks than they ring up and pocket the difference.
They also might sell liquor they've sneaked behind the bar, or overpour and give free drinks to get bigger tips.
Benavidz said the inspection in his bar quickly turned up a problem employee, whom he fired after learning she had bilked him out of $9,000 in three months.
He now informs all prospective workers that the bar is audited weekly -- and that the controls in place allow him to provide employees with medical insurance. These days, he collects nearly 98 cents of every dollar of alcohol sold.
"I doubt there are many small neighborhood bars offering insurance," Benavidz said. "I can because I'm not going to put up with theft being one of the costs of doing business."
While the controls might make good business sense, they may not be good for business, said Denver restaurant consultant John Imbergamo.
"Customers want to see leeway in bars," he said. "The regulars like a little something extra in their drinks, and they expect a drink on the house once in a while.
"Tending a bar is not scientific, and anything that diminishes the craftsmanship could turn people off," Imbergamo said.
Gary Mobell, owner of the Blue Bonnet Cafe and Lounge in Denver, said he'll treat loyal patrons -- as long as the alcohol served is accounted for.
Mobell said the Bevinco audits he's collected in eight years have saved him tens of thousands of dollars and helped him spot trends in customers' drinking habits.
"This business has been in my family for 35 years," he said.
"If I can add to that longevity by stopping dishonesty and knowing which beers people like to drink when the weather becomes colder, I will."
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(c) 2003, The Denver Post. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.