Bars and barstools go together, of course, like peas and carrots. From the classic wood bar stools topped by red cushioned seats to stainless steel diner style perches to jokey stools shaped like cocktail waitresses legs, the kind of stool you choose should not only match the aesthetics of your bar or nightclub’s décor, but should be safe, practical and, perhaps, above all, comfortable for your customers. Rickety backless bar stools, a lumpy bar stool cushion, or a bar stool that doesn’t match your bar counter’s height—all of these can ruin a customer’s experience and drive dollars elsewhere.
So choosing your barstools is an important part of designing your bar.
Criteria for Choosing a Barstool
So what sorts of factors should you consider when choosing bar stools for your bar or nightclub?
Style: First of all, you want to consider which stools will best match your décor. If you have a pub, then perhaps dark wood bar stools would best fit your mahogany bar. If you are going for a fifties diner sort of a vibe, then a stainless steel bar stool might do the trick. On the other hand, leather bar stools might give your bar the kind of upscale feel you want in a chic nightspot. Bars and barstools go together, matching style and function.
Safety: Don’t forget that you are not only getting the barstool for yourself, but for people whose body shapes and sizes may vary greatly, from people who are very short, to those who are extremely overweight, to those who may be older and more infirm. Be careful to avoid getting fragile barstools or barstools that wear down easily and tip over. Rickety barstools and pub chairs are a lawsuit waiting to happen. Also, if you are planning to have the kind of establishment where your customers will be getting sloshy drunk, consider having bar stools with arms to help keep them from hurting themselves.
Flexibility: Consider whether you want to be able to move the barstools. If you have a space that is going to do double duty, as a laid back sports lounge during the day, and a packed dance club during the night, for example, then having folding bar stools, or bar stools that can be picked up and moved might be ideal. On the other hand, stools that are firmly rooted to the ground, such as metal bar stools like the kinds you find in diners, are safer and sturdier than cheap bar stools.
Cost: As with every other aspect of the bar business, cost must be taken into consideration. Chrome swivel bar stools will tend to cost you more up front than simple wooden bar chairs not only because the metal tends to cost more, but also because bar stools that attach to ground require installation, whereas simple wooden stools don’t. In the long run, however, the metal bar stools tend to last longer than wooden chairs, so costs tend to even out.
Size and Space Requirements:
Let’s consider specific measurements. A standard bar of the kind you will find in say your typical Irish pub, for example, is three and quarter feet high. The typical barstool is two and a half feet tall. The difference in height—about 10 inches—allows most clients to sit comfortably. A pair of inches higher or lower and customers will either pinch their legs or feel as if they are twelve again.
Many drinking establishments—especially fancy ones—have diner counters which are shorter—typically about three feet, and stools that measure about two feet, two inches.
There are also super tall stools, measuring sometimes as much as three feet in height. These are for high top tables, often those that wrap around poles in sports bars, and measure three and a half feet or more. This is a great kind of table and sports bar stool to have in a billiards room. Often these kinds of tables don’t even take stools so many establishment will just have standing rooms around them.
Types of Bar Stools and Space Considerations
Bars and barstools vary greatly. So how many bar stools should you get? Much will depend on the kinds of bar stools you choose. Different kinds of barstools take up different amounts of room.
Fixed Stools: The first decision you will need to make is whether you will have fixed stools (bolted to the ground) like those found in diners, or whether you will have mobile stools. Fixed stools take up more space than mobile stools because the distance between the stools cannot be adjusted. Thus, you lose an extra ten inches of bar space per fixed stool. This can make a real difference if, say, you only have a 30’ bar to work with. With your average seat already taking up nearly two feet, you may only be able to seat ten at a 30’ bar.
Formula: ______________(length of bar)_________________________
(width of seat) + ( space between seats) + (extra space for fixed seats)
__30’ (360”)___________ = 10 seats
(21”) + (5”) + (10”) = 36”
Artist’s Stools: At the opposite end of things are artist’s stools (sometimes called draftsman’s stools as well). These are the most basic kind of stools–just four legs topped by a cushion seat, basically. A bar chair like this might, in narrow models, take up only 16 inches. Since you want to leave an extra five inches between seats, a narrow bar chair model might just take up 21 inches. That means that you could have 17 stools at a thirty foot bar. That is a big difference from the fixed seats mentioned above.
____30’ (360”)___________= 17 seats
(16”) + (5”) = 21”
Seats with Partial or High Backs. If you are going beyond the basic bar chair cushion seat to say, leather bar stools with whole or partial backs, then you will need to add a couple of extra inches to your calculations.
Arms: Seats with arms as well as backs require yet another inch added between seats (so +3 more inches than backless bar stools). Yet another added disadvantage of armed seats is that they are harder to put up when you want to mop at the end of the night and that they take up more space if you need to store them.
Swivel Seats: The ever popular swivel bar stools, that allow patrons to turn back and forth on their bar chairs, have the disadvantage that this swivel requires even more space to allow for the oscillating movement.
Adjustable Height Bar Chairs: One of the new fads for some bars is the adjustable height bar chair, whose height the customers can adjust so as to get the perfect seating position at the bar. These may certainly add something new for the customers to do and could in some situations make an establishment unique, however, these opportunities are few and far between. The more complicated a tool, like bar chairs, the more opportunities for something to break and impose extra expenses. Most bar owners would probably do better to steer clear of these modern bar stools unless they are integral to their bar or nightclub concept or theme.
Space Saving Tips
For most bars, getting the most out of your space is important, so you always want to consider how you might save space through your layout. Here are some dos and don’ts when it comes to seating at your bar or nightclub:
Fixed Barstools or Booths, but Never Both: One of the worst mistakes you can make is to limit your options, especially as a new bar owner, since you can never be completely sure what your first year of operation will bring. For that reason, choosing to have both bar stools that are bolted into the ground and booths is a mistake for new bar owners. Both of these take up extra room and are inflexible, so you should avoid doing them in tandem.
Consider banquettes: Banquettes, cushioned benches attached directly to the wall, are a great way to maximize space. If you have a one room rectangular bar, they are almost a must as they will give you both the best use of space (pull away chairs would actually take up more room) and flexibility, since tables can be joined in front of them to cater to different groups.
Money Saving Tips for Finding Bar Stools
Bar stools can get expensive. Prices for bar stools can vary greatly, ranging from under $100 to more than $500 in some cases (more if you get yours custom made to match your fancy nightclub theme). On the other hand, cheap bar stools might not match your bar décor and even if they do, may wear out much sooner than higher quality stools. So how can you save money on bar stools without compromising quality?
Buy Barstool Sets: Often commercial retailers will offer you deals if you buy your bar stools in sets of four and with other furnishings like tables or booths. Always ask if the dealer has a deal for sets and take advantage of bar stools for sale specials like this.
Used Bar Stools: Although this is definitely not an option for swankier bars, looking for used bar stools and furnishings might be just what the doctor ordered for dive bars, shabby chic lounges or quaint pubs with character. Don’t overdo this however. A little bit of scuffing on a few pub chairs may make something seem weathered and authentic but outright holes in the bar stool cushions may be a bit too “authentic” for a lot of customers.
Tip From the Pros: If you find used bar stools whose cushions have been worn, don’t match each other or the décor, or are simply so incredibly ugly you can’t bare to look at them, here is a money saving tip on how to make them work in your establishment: bar stool covers! For a much lower cost than getting new matching sets of bar stools you can find bar stool covers that you can actually install on, or tie on (there are two varieties), your bar stools to make it seem as if you bought your bar stools as a set or to match your overall bar theme. For example, if you have a sports bar, but don’t want to go to the expense and trouble of buying sports bar stools brand new, you can simply get used bar stools for sale and then refurbish them by getting bar stool covers with the local football and baseball teams’ logos right on them.
Check out this website, for example:
Buy Local: You can definitely find a wide selection on line. There are several websites, in fact, solely dedicated to bar stools. However, it might be a good idea to go to a local bar supply dealer and get your furniture from him or her instead. This is useful to do, not because you will save money—you may not–but because the owner of the local bar furniture retailer may be able to help you find the perfect seats and be a useful contact to call when you need advise about trends and such since he probably supplies the other local bars.
If you decide to go with a website instead of buying local, then be sure to remember that you generally want to buy bar stools and bar furniture that is made to take the kind of punishment that the bar business will impose on them. These are bar stools that are going to be moved virtually every day, that will often be dragged across the room, that will be stacked upside down at night, that will have all kinds of people sitting, leaning, spilling their drinks, and some times even standing and dancing on them. (I know of one exclusive nightclub in New York, for example, where every Saturday night they have a dance party so wild that the designer shoed models that go there get wasted and dance on the upholstered seat covers and cushions with they designer heels—in effect puncturing them virtually every week end. They luckily can afford to replace them at the prices they charge but most us can’t.) So these really need to be business grade bar stools that are made to take this kind of beating.
Here are a few places on-line that might be worth checking out:
Tips for Outdoor Bar Stools
If you have a seaside bar, a German Biergarten, or a rooftop bar and want to use outside barstools, here are some tips.
Get Dedicated Outdoor Bar Stools: Outdoor barstools are much like indoor barstools, except that they have been constructed to better deal with the elements. They tend to not use leather or upholstered bar stool cushions and they will usually be more moisture resistant than indoor pub chairs. Though they often are more expensive than many an indoor bar chair, they also tend to last longer, so they are worth the extra expense in the long run.
Protect Your Bar Chair Set from the Elements: An additional precaution you might consider is protecting your bar chair set from the elements by removing them when your bar or nightclub closes. Even the best outdoor bar stool is not built to handle the nighttime elements on a regular basis. This means that you will need to allot extra time for your staff to clear out the stools. You will also need extra storage space where you can place the stools. For these reasons, consider getting lightweight, stackable stools rather than anything overly elaborate. Avoid bar stools with arms, since they take up more space and are harder to stack.
Wood Bar Stools: If you get wooden outdoor bar stools, you should also consider the effect of the sun on your stools. Do you mind if they become faded over time? If you do, you might need not only umbrellas but a protective covering for your outdoor area.
Folding barstools often make for the best choice when it comes to outdoor ware. Folding barstools are both easy to carry and easy to store. They also are easier to maneuver through a crowded space since they can be flattened and squeezed through tight spots.
Tip from the Pros: You should always be looking for ways that you can make your bar experience unique since a unique experience helps draw customers. In upstate New York, for example, I once came across an establishment where the backs of the bar stools along the bar counter were all decorated to look like the classic pin stripes of the Yankees. That is a great idea, a sports bar stool that itself is reminiscent of the local team. The owner however, didn’t stop there. He had a couple of regulars who were like a fixture to the bar (think “” from Cheers). So the owner put his two regulars’ names on the back of the individual jersey bar chair each sat in, like “Norm” and “Klaven.”
Touches like this help emblazon your bar in the minds of your customers. Bars and barstools—it doesn’t get more basic than that.
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