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Controlling Liquor Loss with Linux

What does Linux have to do with the Replay Lounge's success? As it turns out, a lot.

The Replay Lounge in Lawrence, Kansas, ranked number 64 on Esquire's Best Bars in America 2011 list and landed spot number 31 on Complex Magazine's 2010 list of the 50 best college bars in America. Since opening back in 1993, this popular local bar has been best known for its pinball machines, ice cold PBR, mix of colorful characters, and some of the best live music you'll find anywhere. Few people know that inside this dark little bar, Linux servers and some open source-based scripts are keeping an eye on liquor and its link to the bottom line.

Liquor Loss

In 1997, a few years after opening the Replay Lounge, owner Nick Carroll formed another new business, Bar Beverage Control. According to Carroll, the average bar loses US$ 10,000 a year in revenue, much of it in lost liquor sales. In an effort to measure and account for how much liquor was being sold compared to how much liquor was left in the bottles, Carroll came up with an inventory process to weigh multiple bottles of liquor at a time, which he then patented. The idea is that bartenders will be more careful about measuring and accounting for the booze if they know there's a record of what was sold versus what was actually served. Carroll soon noticed a 40 percent increase in liquor sales at the Replay, and by 1999, he had his first Bar Beverage Control customers lined up.

At first, Carroll's software ran on Windows servers and audits were performed using a PDA. Windows bugs and patches and regular upgrades inspired Carroll to search for another solution, which soon led him to Red Hat Linux. In 2009, the company started the process of moving from Red Hat to Ubuntu servers, which they completed last summer with the Ubuntu 10.04 release. About half of Carroll's customers have also moved from Palm Pilots to iPads or Android tablets.

Carroll says that the point of weighing a bar's most popular bottles of booze at the start of a bartender's shift and auditing the liquor sales each day isn't to fire bad bartenders. Rather, the goal is to take a daily snapshot that reports which bartenders are the most accurate with pouring and controlling liquor sales and losses. "The idea is to put them in an environment that's healthy to improve numbers," he says.

Installation of the software costs US$ 1,200, equipment (scales and a tablet computer) costs $750, and then the service is $199 a month. Carroll now has about 100 customers in the US, including KC Hopps-owned restaurants and breweries and Enterprise Fish Co. He has three full-time and two part-time employees in his downtown Lawrence, Kansas office.

Linux and Other Open Source

In addition to the company's Ubuntu servers, open source solutions play a big role in the Bar Beverage Control business. The company website is built on WordPress; the software scripts are written in PHP, Perl, and Python; and they use Postfix and LibreOffice.

Efficiency, stability, versatility, and scalability are some of the reasons Carroll uses Linux. He says that moving from Windows to Linux lets users look forward instead of back all the time, which means a small business can spend time and money on marketing or creating new apps instead of dealing with bugs and frequent upgrades. Mostly, Carroll doesn't spend much time worrying about his operating system these days. "We don't talk about Linux," he says. "It's just there."

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