Bar Bookkeeping Basics

Bar Bookkeeping Basics

For many of us in the bar business, bar bookkeeping is perhaps the most difficult part of the daily maintenance of our facilities. When we dreamed of opening a bar, few of us pictured sitting with a calculator balancing the books at 2:30 AM, tired and smelling of spilled beer and sweat. Yet bar bookkeeping is a fundamental skill necessary for the success of your bar business and at the core of effective bar management.

Keeping Track of Daily Operations

The register is the frontline of the accounting system. If you only have one register bar management is simple enough, but if you have two or more, you want to make sure that each register can be identified. At the beginning of each “cashier’s” shift, the register is given a specific amount for making change. Then every drink must be charged to the register. If you do not have a computerized system that automatically keeps track of orders you will need individual tickets. These allow you to keep track of any discrepancies at the end of the night.

If you use a ticket system for your basic bar bookkeeping, you should be aware that this will add extra time for your bar manager at the end of the night. When balances don’t match, the bar manager will have to go through the receipts to try to figure out where the problem occurred.

Computer systems tend to save time for bar management but they too sometimes need to be double checked versus receipts. (See my Point of Sale Software recommendations below.)

Bar Bookkeeping Photo

Photo Courtesy of Dahliyani Briedis (via Flickr)

The Sales Summary of Daily Operations

At the end of each work day—(usually the following day for bars since we tend to close at 2 am most nights), the sales summary of daily operations is compiled by totaling all sales from all registers throughout the day. This sales summary gives you a running record of monthly sales throughout the entire year and is a must for bar bookkeeping tax purposes at the end of the year.

All of this information will then be further recorded in a double entry-entry bar bookkeeping system. This can either be an actual physical book, or, these days a bar bookkeeping software system that you keep on your computer, but that you back up onto a disk at least weekly to make sure that it does not get lost.

Ideally should make two disks so that even if you lose one or have one destroyed, you have another disk, at another location, so that you still have some account of your earnings.

Have a Business Bank Account Just for Your Bar

A basic bar management principle is that you keep your daily operations costs and business dealings separate from your individual dealings. For this reason another must of bar bookkeeping is to have a bank account just for your bar, which you only use to conduct the business of your bar. (You should transfer your personal money to your personal account—ideally a standard amount on the same day of the month as if you were receiving a salary. This will make sure your bar bookkeeping stays on track and regular.)

You should also make sure that you keep track of every transaction for your bar with some means of recording. If your bar manager pays for a delivery in cash out of a register, the bar manager should put in the receipt for the sale in the register so that it can be accounted for in your bar bookkeeping. For most daily operations, your bar manager should pay with your bar account checks and make sure that you keep the checks in order (so that they does not cause confusion later). In addition, you should avoid marking checks as “Cash” since this makes it difficult to categorize in your bar bookkeeping.

All written records should be kept at a secure location since you will need them not only for tax purposes at the end of the year, but also should you be audited later.

Software Recommendations for Bar Management

Even small dive bars these days are using computerized bar bookkeeping and bar management systems to keep track of their daily operations. These bar management systems hook right into your register and allow you manage your entire floor while at the same time printing tickets and making your life generally easier.

Of course, you could keep it completely simple and just look to keep track of things with a simple accounting program like Quickbooks, but I would advise against this tactic for your bar bookkeeping.

Here are couple of recommendations of systems that I think are adequate to the task:

  • Business Plus Accounting Professional 8.2: For under a hundred dollars this is by far the cheapest platform for running your bar bookkeeping and sales on the market. It offers you basic versions of everything that you need in order to get the job done allowing you to basically keep track of all your business transaction from your computer.
  • PointOS: I would recommend, however, the PointOS which is just a much fuller package, capable of growing with your bar and much better integrating with all other daily operations of your bar. I find the PointOS to be a much more user friendly system, whose interface is just much more intuitive, easy to learn, and easier to install in my opinion. It feels to me like the developers of this software really knew bars and restaurants better. The cost is four times as much as BPA Professional, but I think it is worth it in the long run.

I would be happy to take recommendation about other systems bar owners have found effective.


Bar bookkeeping is not fun nor does it feel like it greatly improves the daily operations of your bar most of the time, but it is a requirement of good bar management, so even though it is hardly what we dream about, you should learn to be good at it and to realize that it is part of the price of being a professional bar manager.

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  1. Jeremy says:

    Is there any guides to help someone new to bar bookkeeping with step by step guide on how to setup everything from the chart of accounts and how to do specific transaction etc? Something more in depth about the bookkeeping process? Maybe what supplies if any needed. etc.

  2. Emily Nyasani says:

    Is there any guides to help someone new to bar bookkeeping with step by step guide on how to setup everything from the chart of accounts and how to do specific transaction etc? Something more in depth about the bookkeeping process?

  3. Emily Nyasani says:

    Is there any guides to help someone new to bar bookkeeping with step by step guide on how to setup everything from the chart of accounts and how to do specific transaction etc?

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