CurateTV Ep 2: The Reopening of Bars


In our second episode of CurateTV, we take a look at how COVID-19 is affecting and changing the bar industry. We are joined by Chicago based 4 Star Restaurant Group managing partner, Kelly Hoxie, as well as bar guru & owner of Bar Magic, based in Las Vegas, Tobin Ellis. We briefly chat about the new trend of to-go liquor, the reality behind limited seating capacity and how things will have to change behind the bar itself. Read below for a bit more information!  

To-go Liquor: 

This trend might just be here to stay. As a response to bar room closures, policies all over the country have become more relaxed when it comes to the legality of to-go liquor. This has become a concept that is keeping bars in business, as well as keeping them connected to their client bases. So we must pose the question, could there be substantial revenue in Togo liquor sales?  Bars across the world are finding out the answer to that question is YES! Tobin Ellis shares some amazing success stories from bars all over the world in his new Revival Guide, available on He explains some bars, “have recovered 60-80% of pre-Covid revenue, total system revenue, just from selling Togo alcohol.” That’s a staggering amount of revenue for establishments, especially when many doors remain closed to the public. This is proof bars can make Togo sales lucrative. He also shares a couple guidelines for the Togo sale of liquor, “Provide Togo cocktails in large quantities and get away from single service [and second] limit your delivery times.” He mentions these lessons are coming straight from successful operators. 

One operator who is finding success in Togo liquor sales is Kelly Hoxie. He provides great insight on how profit margins of alcohol on certain items actually might decrease due competition of liquor and grocery stores, however cocktail kits are selling. “The market is different, different stores, different neighborhoods [which affects] how to market the liquor brands.” The concept of Togo liquor might be new, but restaurants and bars are finding ways to personalize and cater to their clientele, providing them with a desired “bar experience” in the comfort of their own homes.

Limited Seating Restrictions:

Seating restrictions is one guideline Restaurant and Bar owners are battling as they begin to reopen their doors. The industry in the past has relied heavily on capita per square foot, so a decrease in usable square footage can hurt revenue. To-go liquor sales, we learned, is one way bar owners have made up some of that lost revenue. What does this mean for interior spaces and in-house service? We have begun to see closures of local streets to cater to larger patios, so establishments can make up some of that lost square footage. This is providing some bars and restaurants with extra tables and guests, however acquiring more space may not be a viable solution for all. Climate will begin to become a limiting factor, as well as not having the space or funds to expand.  So how will those bars make up that lost revenue? Tobin had a lot to say on the topic and provided a different approach to the dilemma itself. He challenges business owners “Pull off the blinders. What’s the real problem? Is the real problem that you can only occupy 25-50% of your dining room? Or is the real problem the way you used to do business does not work financially now?” He states that taking a different approach to solve the problem, may just help put a different perspective on what the true problem is. Tobin believes “If you have a business model of packing people into a space and jamming mediocre or mass-produced, supply-chain products in their face and that’s the only way you made money, that model is dead, for now.” Could this be one way Covid-19 is helping the industry, by forcing some operators to take a much needed look at current business models? Maybe the time has come to focus on guest experiences and creative, fresh ways to keep guests wanting more. Maybe the problem is not decreasing the amount of bodies in an establishment, but selling those people something worthwhile. 

Behind the Bar- Health and Safety of Employees and Guests:

The industry has already been taking health precautions long before the pandemic. There have been health codes in place in order to create a safe environment for guests and workers. Now, more than ever, health regulations will need to be upheld for bars and restaurants to keep their doors open. We are all familiar with some of these regulations and operators such as Kelly, have been proactive when considering those guidelines. Kelly explains 4 Star is “Not just [focusing] on the sanitation process, the 6 ft, the gloves and the masks, but the way we sanitize now and the way we really make sure any high-touch areas we are so much more aware of.” These are regulations all owners are going to have to meet and become aware of in order to ensure the safety of guests and workers. What about the process and equipment behind the bar? Are guidelines going to affect the way bartenders work? Is a busy bar going to be able to have multiple workers in a small space and still meet COVID guidelines? These are questions that the industry faces. Tobin says. “Smarter set-ups are the answer. Each bartender should have their own complete station by themselves. There are so many things you can do by just designing.” Covid-19 could yet again be helping the industry by shedding some light on how functional bar design can reduce risk and help cut labor costs as well. From my experience behind the bar, that is something many establishments could benefit from! 


Tobin's Website:

Bar Revival Guide:

Toree Gotsis

Bar & Beverage Specialist

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