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Well Equipped: Raising the Bar

Well Equipped: Raising the Bar

Here are the essentials for outfitting bar service.

While onsite operations are not traditional users of bar equipment, there are instances when such products are required, such as in high-end catering functions. Designing a well-thought-out bar equipment layout is an important beginning. Every equipment item needs to be in the optimum location and every square inch of space behind the bar should be carefully considered.

The key to good bar station design is the one-step rule: The bartender should be able to make 90 percent of drinks by taking no more than one step from the central position of his or her station. That means selecting just the right equipment to handle your operation — not more, not less — and organizing it properly.

Five main elements are involved in making a drink and making a bar station work: glasses, ice, beverages, mixers and garnishes all need to be within easy reach of the bartender. Let's consider each of those elements individually.

Glassware is important

A variety of glasses can be stored on shelves behind, to the side or on the bar drain board. You may want to limit the types of glassware for easier storage. Cleaning glassware is also very important. Barware washers typically are chemical sanitizing machines that use 120°F water as compared to dishwashers, which use 180°F water for rinsing. Remember to use a rinse agent if you see spotting on glassware.

Ice is critical to the drink presentation

A high-quality crystal-clear cube is essential to merchandising bar drinks. Most agree a large or medium-sized cube ice is perfect for a bar. The cube should not be too small that it will melt quickly and water down the drink, and not so large that only a few fit in the glass. Once melted ice is accounted for you can get about three or four drinks per pound of ice.

The important consideration in your bar design is to have readily accessible beverages

Typically a “speed rail” can be mounted on the front of the ice bin right where the bartender needs the most popular house brands or mixers.

The bottles and an important feature you will want to highlight are the call brands and liqueurs. These bottles are typically displayed on the back bar directly behind a bartender in a stepped arrangement, which is best for merchandising as well as ease of access. You may be surprised that a typical full-service bar requires 100 or more different bottles, so the space need can be significant.

Beer is another important consideration at any bar. Draft beer can be remote or self-contained. With small volumes, self-contained may be the way to go since it requires less investment and maintenance. But you must remember you will need keg storage space directly below the beer tap and you need one keg for each tap. You cannot have multiple taps from the same keg and you probably want to have a backup keg ready when one is done. You need to allocate 24 inches in storage length for each keg.

The most popular mixers are water and soda. These should be extremely easy to access for drinks. Bars usually use soda guns for dispensing sodas and water. Other mixers can be in bottles on the speed rail or in bottle wells.

Garnishes can be added by the bartender or the cocktail server but need to be positioned well for quick, easy access. Try to think about where to place the garnishes so they are not just some unsightly pans on the bartop. Keep your garnishes fresh and use them to help merchandise. A tall, crisp stalk of celery in a bloody Mary is a good merchandiser; a limp, droopy stalk may detract from sales.

Beyond the Basics

Once you have the fundamentals down, you can look at many other types of bar equipment to help increase your efficiency. Blenders and frozen slush machines are popular items for serving specialty drinks. Blenders are very versatile in that any number of combinations of fruits, vegetables and other ingredients can be combined in different ways to yield unique concoctions. They can also turn out appealing drinks for nondrinkers.

Remember, the most important factor in purchasing bar equipment is not necessarily the equipment itself. How you lay out the equipment will be the most important determining factor in how effectively the bar operates.


Dan Bendall is a principal of FoodStrategy, a Maryland-based consulting firm specializing in planning foodservice facilities. He is also a member of Foodservice Consultants Society International. Bendall can be reached at 301-233-5226.

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