Choosing the Right Bar Glasses for Your New Bar or Nightclub

It seems like a small thing, but choosing the right bar glasses for your new bar or nightclub is important.  Bar glasses set the tone for your establishment.  The type of clientele you want to attract determines the kind of drinking glasses you should have on hand.  For example, if you are looking to create a rugged, dive bar atmosphere, you might not need wine or champagne glasses—just straight shot glasses, highball glasses and rocks glasses might do; but if you are catering to a sophisticated jet-setting clientele in a metropolitan hub, you will need to diversify your glassware.

So you should definitely put some thought into which types of bar glasses would be the best fit for your bar/nightclub.  Here are some tips for choosing the right ones:

New Bar Glasses: The Basics for Getting Started

When you are just opening a new place, there are certain special considerations you want to keep in mind.  First, of course, is the issue of cost.  It may simply not be realistic when you first open your bar to get the ideal glassware.  With all the initial start-up fees, from furnishing and construction to advertising and hiring, you may simply not be able to spend the extra-costs related to diversifying your bar glasses.

Second, you must take into account the increased chances of breakages that will occur during the first few weeks of operation.  This is inevitable given that you will both have an entirely new staff and that everyone will be unfamiliar with the new layout.  You will discover unintended choke points, often near the kitchen (if you have one) where narrow passage and high foot traffic make it especially hazardous for glassware.  You should plan for as much as 1 in 20 drinking glasses breaking during the opening week—especially if you have a Grand Opening planned.

Photo Courtesy of Hector Garcia

All of this points to the importance of training your staff beforehand.  Many managers will have a dry run on the day before the Grand Opening, inviting friends and investors in for a special dress rehearsal.  This helps staff get used to moving around in the space and can reveal problems with the layout in advance—when they can still be fixed calmly.

And even when things settle, a certain amount of weekly breakages will continue as clumsy customers inevitably add to your glassware costs. (Numbers vary but you should expect to lose at least 1-2% of your inventory per week.)  In addition, glassware with stems generally break at higher rates than pint glasses and shot glasses.  Expect wine and champagne glasses to break at the upper end of the spectrum.  So you will need to factor in a certain amount of your budget to replacing glasses just as you need to replace toilet paper and napkins.

Types of Glasses

So what kinds of bar glasses should you get?  A full service bar of the kind you will have in a five-star hotel will typically have more than a dozen different kinds of glasses.  Generally, however, your basic bar that is just getting started probably only needs one kind of each of the following five different categories:

Beer Glasses: The most basic choice here is the classic pint glass—simple and efficient.  Other classically simple alternatives are pilsner glasses or beer mugs (especially popular for German themed beer houses).  There are a few more obscure types as well, like tulip glasses, but unless you intend on opening a gastropub featuring a monster assortment of foreign and domestic tap beers, you can probably stick to simple pint glasses like the Guinness pint below.  (Even if you have such a beer connoisseur type of establishment in mind, one or two types of glasses will probably do the job at first.)

Pint Glass Photo Courtesy of Matthew Trevithick

Wine Glasses: Not all establishments serve wine, of course, but if you do, and it is more than an afterthought at your establishment, it is probably a good idea to have one type of glass for whites and one for reds (typically whites are in a longer slimmer glass and reds are in rounder bowled, thinner stemmed glass).  If you are opening a wine bar, or the central feature of your establishment is a wide variety of wines, you may want to diversify even further to capture an even more authentic experience. (FOR MORE ON WINE GLASSES SEE OUR POST.)

Shot Glasses: Tiny, sturdy shot glasses with thick bases are great for dive bars where they are used for hard spirits.  However, bartenders also love shot glasses because they are the perfect measuring devices for mixed drinks.  Many bartenders have learned to mix with them, and some may feel a bit lost without them.  So, if you are going to have mixed drinks/cocktails, its always good to have at least a few shot glasses.

Rocks Glasses: Glasses for mixed drinks served with ice.  Shows like Madmen and the general cycle of things have made martinis especially popular lately.  But you don’t necessarily need to stock martini glasses.  Rocks glasses are a good substitute for martini glasses and smaller mixed drinks.

Highball Glasses: For larger mixed drinks or your nightclub’s specialty cocktail, you might go with a highball glass or the even classier Collins glass.  Not all bars need these kinds of cocktail glasses, but if you want to have a special sort of drink a highball glass will work well, as it will draw extra attention to the drink—creating the “I’ll have what she’s having” effect.

For most establishments, having a representative from each of these categories in stock is enough to take care of most situations.

A Few More Types

There are three more types of bar glasses that might be important however depending on the type or establishment you have.

Margarita Glasses: The giant, distinctive bowls that margaritas are served in are a must if you want to offer margaritas.  Customers just expect that kind of presentation at this point—anything else will be a disappointment.

Champagne Glasses: Although not as important to the presentation of champagne, customers still expect a certain look to champagne glasses as well.  If you’re offering it, better to stock it.

Specialty Drink Cups: If you are going to serve brandies, cognacs or specialty alcoholic coffee drinks, you might consider getting the corresponding snifters and coffee mugs for these as well.

How Many?

The next question has to do with how many bar glasses to get when you are starting out.  Do you get an even amount of bar glasses or is there a magic ratio?  Like so many other questions, this will have to do with what kind of a bar or nightclub you are creating.  If it is going to be a wine bar, you will obviously need more wine glasses than anything else.  But if you are going to focus on beers, pints or pilsners will dominate.

How Many Bar Glasses to Get

Rule of Thumb:  Multiply your capacity times two and then divide your glasses accordingly.

For example: If you have a bar that seats 100, you should have 200 bar glasses.  One for each customer and one for cleaning/back-up.

Of course, this number can change according to different factors, such as how diverse your glassware is, and how much traffic you get at your location.  You might need three times, if you are going to serve every drink and have the appropriate glass for it.  Also if you are a sports bar located next to a stadium where you get a rush of fans in the two hours before games, you might need extra glass to handle these flash mobs.

The Magic Ratio

The other consideration is what the ratio between types of glasses should be.  This, again, depends a lot on the type of bar you have and what your customers come in expecting.  A bar near a sports arena might be more beer heavy than a rooftop hotel bar serving a rich international clientele.  As a basic rule of thumb however, you might think of it as a 3:2:1 ratio. Have 3 of your main types of glasses for every 2 of your secondary types (and only 1 of a type the occasional customer will demand).

For example, let us say you just have your local neighborhood watering hole that serves burgers and is beer heavy.  As in our previous example, you have a capacity of 100.  You might stock your glasses as follows:

60 pints (for beers)

40 wine glasses

40 rocks glasses

40 high balls

20 shot glasses

If you are a wine bar with the same capacity, on the other hand, it might go something like this:

60 white wine glasses

60 red wine glasses

40 rocks glasses

20 Collins glasses (highball)

20 beer glasses

However, a good bar manager knows how to pay attention to his or her customers.  If just as many people ask for your Brandy Alexander as your wines, then perhaps you need to order more brandy snifters.  The rule of thumb should be a starting point not an ending point.

One final note about bar glasses for brand new establishments:  Be sure to get sturdy glasses.  The kind of glasses that most of us drink from in our homes are simply not sturdy enough to handle the treatment they will receive on a busy night in your average bar or nightclub.  When wait staff—especially a green wait crew not accustomed to working with one another—are rushing around trying to get drinks and food out to impatient customers, they will simply not be thinking of the cost or fragility of your glassware.  So be sure to get shot glasses with sturdy bases and beer glasses that are extra thick.

When buying stemware, avoid the more delicate kinds when possible.  If the connection from the stem to the bowl is very thin, or the bowl itself is very thin, the chances of breakage increase.  Wine glasses with stems that flare into the bowl (as with white wine glasses) provide extra support.  Recently, many bars have turned to wine tumblers in place of traditional wine glasses.  These stem-less glasses can create a cutting edge feel to a nightclub or lounge, however, if they don’t go with your overall establishment theme they may just feel out of place.

Cost Saving Tip: One more consideration is in terms of glasses and costs.  The capacity of liquid the glass can hold will change your pricing and the amount of liquor you use.  This isn’t simply a matter of highballs using up more liquor than rocks glasses.  The holding capacity of glasses also effects this.  Thus, a thin glass will hold more fluid than a thick one of the same exterior dimensions.

Glass versus Plastic: The Great Debate

One of the ways some establishments try to get around the initial costs of old fashioned glass cups is to use plastic glasses at first.  This solution has its positives and its negatives.  On the positive side, plastic will lower the initial costs of buying glasses and get rid of the problem of breakages.  In some cases, plastic glasses make for the ideal type of “glassware,” such as in nightclubs at beachfront resorts where clients are likely to wander off for moonlight walks.

However, there are many disadvantages to plastic glasses.  One is that many customers simply don’t like the experience of drinking from plastic glassware, as it changes the taste of their drinks.  In addition, although there is an initial savings to plastic, in the long run they can cost more because of the continued need to replenish them and because of the added amount of garbage they will add.  Finally, plastic is just much less classy than good old fashioned glass.  For many kinds of establishments plastic simply won’t work.

Growing Your Glassware with Your Business

As you become more firmly established, you will want to allow your glassware to grow with your bar or nightclub.  Special wine glasses, a couple of types of cocktail glasses, margarita glasses when you decide to add this type of drink to your repertoire—all of these can be added with time, as you listen to your client’s desires and look for ways of diversifying your customer base.  Or, you might find that all you really need are your initial shot, pint and rock glasses.

Cleaning and Storage

You shouldn’t forget about how you are going to clean your bar glasses and store them at your bar.  Cleaning can be a problem if you get heavy traffic and don’t have a large staff.  Though expensive, a glass washer is a necessary expenditure for anyone looking to run an efficient bar.  These washers allow you to wash 600 or more glasses per hour (if continuously loaded and unloaded of course) and free up hands to do other things.

If you have a washer, don’t forget that new kinds of glasses means new washing racks as well.  Improper racks will break glasses as many bar owners find out the hard way.

Also, some glasses are stackable and some aren’t.  If you own a hole in wall type of a bar where space is at a premium, keeping glasses to the simple stackable kind is a must.  For stemware, ceiling racks can help save space.

Creating a Brand through Glassware

Here is one final thought about glassware.  Once you have established yourself, you might consider getting individualized glasses that display the name of your bar or nightclub right on them.  This is definitely an added cost and I would not recommend it for a bar that is just trying to get off the ground on a tight budget.  But, if you have established a unique watering hole, with a cool theme that draws people in by word of mouth, you might consider getting bar glasses that express this uniqueness.  Customers really dig having cool touches like this.

An Extra Revenue Increasing Tip from the Pros: This bar manager I knew had established just such a personalized bar glass.  It was a red tinted highball glass with the bar’s logo embalmed in fancy lettering across the side.  They were great, but they were disappearing—about twenty a week would go missing.  One night, he caught a college kid stealing one of them.  The kid offered to pay him forty bucks for the glass because he loved it so much.  Instead of calling the cops, the manager set up a little display area and sold the cups for a 100% markup on what he paid for them.

The lesson is: If you establish a brand name for your bar or nightclub, you can make extra money merchandising it.  Sell the bar glasses.  Sell t-shirts with your bar logo.  Sell stickers with your bar logo.  It can add a completely new revenue stream for your establishment.

Filed Under: Bar / Nightclub BusinessBar / Nightclub CostsBar / Nightclub ManagementStarting a BarStarting a NightclubStarting Your Bar/Nightclub Business


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  1. Newark says:

    Excellent Article !!! Bravo Guys !! Really this website is more than helpful for people who’re starting a club business.

  2. CLARINDA says:

    Thank you , heaps informative

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