Management | Industry News & Trends
You might have heard the terms “bottle service” and “table service” being thrown around in restaurant management circles and nightclub scenes. But what do these terms mean, and how do they affect your bar or nightclub?
Table service in the restaurant industry simply means that a customer’s dining experience is led by a server.
The server takes the order, sends it to the kitchen, and serves it to the guest when it’s ready. Table service is basically anything that doesn’t involve the customer ordering at a counter (counter service) or having to serve themselves in any way. Table service requires much more restaurant labor when it comes to setup, clean up, and preparing and presenting meals.
There are various levels of table service, ranging from super casual to white glove fine dining.
The term table service is often used interchangeably with the term bottle service in the bar & nightclub industry.
Essentially, bottle service happens at tables in well-defined, elite, super VIP areas of nightclubs or lounges. These areas are usually roped off to the general public and are booked in advance. This means that the clubgoers paying for bottle service get to skip the line that other patrons have to wait in to get into the club. While bottle service is generally the more commonly used term, both terms still mean the same thing.
With this hot plot of club space, you’ll also get exclusive service. Hence the name, bottle service. Not only do you get to party in a posh, restricted location - you'll also get an abundant selection of spirits, mixers, and a dedicated “bottle person” to engage with patrons as they help pour drinks, make shots, and maintain the table’s drink inventory.
Of course, all this exclusive treatment comes with a price. Often, a very steep price depending on the club or lounge.
Bottle service is priced using a “minimum spend” amount, where each table reservation is committed to spend a predetermined amount of alcohol sales throughout the evening (and into the wee hours of the morning, if we’re being realistic here). Plus, there are a number of factors that will impact how the minimum spend is determined.
If the nightclub, bar, or lounge has a notable celebrity attending, or if a reputable musician or DJ is spinnin’ that night, the minimum spend will likely spike to accommodate demand.
It’s not uncommon for the day of the week (obviously, weekend nights will have increased prices) or for the location of the table to affect the minimum spend. The closer the table is to the hoopla that’s going on, the higher the minimum spend.
One slight thing to note is that alcohol prices are marked up considerably... and by "considerably," I mean 1000% considerably. So it’s safe to say that clubs make it relatively simple to meet their minimum spending amounts, and then some! The concept of bottle service isn’t necessarily to increase alcohol sales, but more to create an environment that makes patrons feel secluded in a way that allows them to show off a little.
Bottle service is definitely an acquired taste, so to say. Sometimes it makes more financial sense to go up to the bar and buy drinks and shots as you go. Alternatively, if you have a big group of people who are willing to pitch in to the night’s festivities, at least you can use the minimum spend amount as a baseline for who will owe what at the end of the night.
Keep in mind though, that minimum spends don’t include tax and tip! So just remember to add a reasonable gratuity amount and calculate tax into the mix when getting a quote for a table. It’ll save you and your party people from too much sticker shock when you get the final check.
There's no real downside to offering bottle service aside from taking your staff out from behind the bar. To plan for this, you can staff extra or charge appropriate markups to pay for the service.
Additionally, if you have a bar POS system, it's easy for bartenders and servers to keep track of the running bill. Instead of memorizing orders and forgetting to input information, employees can keep the ongoing tab right on their handheld POS.
Plus, bottle service is fun! Whether a group of locals are out for a bachelorette party or it's the wildest night in the city, at least offering the option of bottle service doesn't do much harm.