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Bar Cop

Greg Crandall makes it his business to halt drinks on the house.


And it's his job to make sure the drink you're paying for is precisely right. Crandall's business, Bevinco, is an inventory-control service — one of 300 such franchises throughout the world — that keeps tabs on every drop of booze in local bars and restaurants. It is the only service of its kind in Richmond.

Bevinco provides proof of what many restaurant and bar owners suspect but don't want to hear: They're losing ample amounts of alcohol — or worse, that their employees, namely bartenders, are scamming them. With the help of patented software and scales, Bevinco monitors all the beer, wine and liquor that passes through a bar and compares it with sales reports.

Responsibility for what's missing often falls on bartenders. "I'm not out to get bartenders in trouble," Crandall says, though he figures he's been the impetus for some leaving their jobs. Bartenders who don't want to curb their freebies, who think charging full price or serving weaker drinks means fewer tips, should change jobs, he says. "Basically you're trusting the fox in the hen house."

Every establishment has its standard way of making drinks. In the Fan, for example, customers are more likely to get a slightly higher "pour" — meaning a stronger drink — than they will get in the West End, Crandall says. But that's not what alarms him or owners. It's free drinks. And in the Fan, he says, "It's been my experience that one in three of your drinks is free."

Crandall's first client — a Shockoe Slip club now out of business — lost 50 percent of its business in unaccounted-for alcoholic beverages. Another, he says, was "losing 14 kegs in a week."

According to industry trade magazines, most restaurants and bars can expect to lose between 20 percent and 30 percent of their business from lost alcohol sales. What's to blame ranges from simple mistakes like making the wrong drink, overpouring or spilling, or even blatant giveaways.

The percentage of loss is particularly high — nearly 30 percent — in many Richmond establishments, according to Crandall. Since he purchased his franchise of the Toronto-based business for $35,000 nearly three years ago, his clients have grown from one to 16. In Richmond, they include such places as the Tobacco Company, Catch 22, Buffalo Wild Wings and Poe's Pub. Three — including Miller's — are in Charlottesville. Crandall has hired two employees to help conduct the weekly "audits" each restaurant or club requires.

It works like this: On Friday mornings, hours before doors open to lunchtime customers, Rob Prychek, 30, can be found in the bowels of Buffalo Wild Wings' beer freezer. He is wearing a back-support belt and coat, and clutching a clipboard. Temperature inside: 44 degrees. Prychek is a former restaurant manager and has been an auditor and salesman with Bevinco for nearly a year.

In the freezer, he weighs each untapped keg with a scale then turns to count cases of bottled beer. One client had lost 168 bottles of beer — seven cases — in one week, the first audit discovered. The next week it lost seven. "We pay for ourselves five times over," Prychek boasts — and that cost starts at $200 a week.

After counting the beer, he moves on to unopened liquor bottles kept in what some restaurants and bars call the "cage." He holds a scanner up to each bottle and a red light scans the bar code — the "fingerprint for each bottle," says Prychek — and downloads information into his Palm Pilot. When he's done, he locks the cage.

BW3 Manager Dennis Payne doesn't seem to notice Prychek as he goes about his business. But when Prychek is asked what happens if bartenders don't like Bevinco's intrusion, Payne steps out of his office and intercedes: "They pretty much quit."

It's 10 a.m. and restaurant workers begin to trickle in for the lunch shift. Crandall arrives and helps Prychek, who is now behind the spotless bar. The two work in tandem to record each open bottle. One passes the liquor; the other weighs it on a tiny scale complete with a hydrometer — it measures alcohol content inside as well as its weight. The scale is hooked up to a laptop computer. Each time a bottle is weighed the computer bleeps and records the bottle's history for that week. "This is one thing they can't get around," Crandall says of the technology. "Even if someone put water in the liquor bottles, it'll still measure every ounce of alcohol."

Once each bottle has been pulled, measured, recorded and returned to the stainless bar wells or mirror-lined shelves behind the bar, Crandall and Prychek lug their black nylon briefcases over to a booth. It's time for Bevinco's weekly company meeting. Prychek pulls out a four-in-one-colored Bic pen he uses to indicate the different stations in the bar where beer is kept. In minutes, Payne hands him a printout. It's the bar's sales from the previous week and a copy of its "comps."

Prychek compares the numbers with his own. A bartender, now in place, turns up Bob Dylan on the stereo. A neon light the shape of a martini glows beside him. "They went through 63 bottles of Amstel Light," in the last week, Prychek says. Considering this he seems pleased, then reports: "Two are not accounted for." S

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