What is the “buy back” policy and how does it work?

What is the “buy back” policy and how does it work?

I got accidental drunk last night. That is the kind when your girlfriend if a bit upset about your lateness and wobble. I went to a speakeasy, while talking with the bartender, I mentioned I was a bartender, I seem to remember taking an un-invited shot of fernet while the words still floated, it was a handshake. Left with a slight buzz and wandered in to another bar and ran into another bartender I know, shocking, but I thought he didn’t work that evening. Anyway we bantered about the best well scotch for the money (while tasting), had a cocktail another fernet and out the door. This is how “accidental” drunk happens.

The reader might recall me talking about my poverty, and it would clearly seem that this is like an $80 tab or more. Not so when you are working with the “buy back” policy and when you are given receipts like the one pictured below.

When delivered as a bar bill, this is what you call an "ironic compliment."

When delivered as a bar bill, this is what you call an "ironic compliment." just in case you don't speak "industry," that reads : due:$0.00- thanks for coming by!

The basic principle as it was first introduced to me in Gary Regan’s Joy of Mixology, basically, the customer orders 3 drinks and you buy them the 4th. It doesn’t always have to be 4 drinks but last night as an exception. The purpose of the buy back is customer loyalty. Or, like with the receipt above, it is a reward for being the customer that saves you from a completely boring and awful night. The buy back is fairly simple, but bartenders often misunderstand it. Let us assume that the buy back works differently for bartenders in bars. If nobody eats like a chef, nobody drinks like a bartender. But for regular customers here is how it should work and how it goes wrong.

A customer comes in and has a 2 $10 drinks. If one is given away for free, the bar loses $10. If you give the customer a 3rd drink, the bar losses $3. Had I ordered those shots of fernet last night, and not paid for them the bars that poured them would have lost $18, but as I didn’t ask for them, the really just gave me $4 of free booze. Liquor is actually quite cheap until it is assigned the job of paying electricity bills and labor. In short as a bartender, you can’t run a bar without the buy back, but look out for the interest of the bar by giving away bar: don’t take the income away when giving out the free drink, give ‘em an extra one.  Don’t give away sales, give away product, sparingly.
If you absolutely work in a bar where there is no buy back you have to buck up and actually purchase a drink for the customer, I mean: put money in the till. This will also train you how often and effective the execution of the buy back is.

Lastly, if you are a customer and see that you have had drinks removed from your tab, the minimum you should tip is 20% of what the total should have been.

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One Response to What is the “buy back” policy and how does it work?

  1. Thanks for the explanation from the perspective of the other side of the bar. I might add that when people use coupons or take advantage of 2 for 1 meal deals they ought to figure the tip on whatever the original amount should have been as well.

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