Should more bars be doing this?

By Mike Pomranz
October 08, 2019

Bars are places where people drink and socialize. How much you do of one or the other is a sliding scale: Mocktails are available for the pure socializers; barstools tucked into a dark corner are available for the focused boozers. But typically, people fall somewhere in the middle. So a new bar in St. Louis has decided to charge everyone the same: At Open Concept, patrons pay by the hour—usually $10—and drinks are included. The concept behind Open Concept has made global headlines—and the repercussions of charging by the hour may be more multifaceted than you think.

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Launched on Friday, this self-described "cocktail bar" also says it's "unlike any bar you have ever visited." Guests book time in advance online or at the door, and that time begins when they get their first drink. After that, Open Concept says you can "drink all that you can legally handle." In general, that includes things like premixed drinks, Franzia wine, or domestic beers like Bud Light. (Frankly, it's not high-end stuff, but what do you expect for ten bucks?) Or for twice the price (usually $20), you can add top shelf choices like a few craft beers and straight drinks and shots of options like Kettle One, Patron, and Maker's Mark.

Owner Michael Butler told KMOV that his bar was "the first of its kind in the region and the state." And part of what makes the idea so novel is its use of modern conveniences: Visitors check in with their phones and receive text messages to let them know how much time they have left. "We decided to mix technology with that open bar concept," Butler added. People can even handle their tipping online.

Of course, with an open bar, many people's minds immediately turn to overconsumption. But Bulter told The Takeout his staff is ready to deal with these situations. "When we see people becoming visibly intoxicated, we then serve them Pedialyte. We care about our customers," he told the site. "Most people once they've been drinking just want something fruity and tasty, so we can serve them that Pedialyte and say ‘Hey you need to slow down.'"

Instead, Butler played up the positives for his patrons: "Our bar wait time is less than other bars because all that payment is done at the door," Butler also stated. "We serve mostly draft drinks so we turn around orders quickly, and the interaction at the bar is not nearly as long as at a regular bar."

Meanwhile, a possible advantage for Open Concept that isn't discussed is that the bar gets a guaranteed amount from everyone. At a time when younger generations are notoriously cutting back on their alcohol consumption, that flat guaranteed rate might be more valuable than hoping patrons keep buying more the longer they stay. And let's be honest: It's not like open bars are taking a loss; if they aren't covering their costs, the price can simply be raised the next time.

Overall, it would seem like Open Concept's concept might offer some interesting benefits to both its customers and its owners. Of course, the success of any bar depends on a lot more than any one gimmick: You need good atmosphere, good clientele, good drinks, etc. But at the very least, if Open Concept can't find its niche, you can't necessarily fault them for trying.

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