Practical Bar Design Essentials

Have you ever been in a neighborhood watering hole that had obviously gotten the bar design all wrong? You know, a place where each time the bartender went to make anything more complicated than a beer he had to go across another bartender all the way to the other side of the bar, and when things got the least bit busy you could hear the bartenders cursing as they broke glasses, or banged their knees on cooler doors, or spilled drinks right into the ice maker. If you screw up the bar design, then you will not only have unhappy bartenders but decreased efficiency and revenue loss—the hallmarks of most failed businesses.

Most problems with bar design come from a basic lack of understanding about what a bartender needs in order to be efficient. The key to a good bar design is reducing the amount of space the bartender needs to perform her duties. If you can keep the bartenders at their stations, you will increase efficiency and improve customer satisfaction. So how do you create the ideal bar design?

The Goal of Bar Design: Keeping Bartenders at their Stations

The One Step Rule: As mentioned the central goal of bar design is to keep the bartenders from having to vacate their stations in order to perform their duties. The bar design should emphasize the “one-step rule”: bartenders should be able to perform all of their main duties without taking more than one step. That means that if you have a basic pub, the bartender should be able to snatch a glass, pour a beer, garnish it with a lemon and offer it up on a napkin with no more than a pivot of an ankle.

Photo Courtesy of Tim Herman


In a simple bar this is usually no big deal. Pouring beer and wine from the liquor dispenser hardly requires years of experience. You could probably get a trained monkey to use a wine dispenser. If, however, you have an extensive mixed drink list or are going for a bar-and-grill type of an experience, things can start to get complicated Once the bartender has to not only mix drinks for customers right in front of her but also keep up with drink orders from the wait staff, organization and bar design become a major factor in your operation’s efficiency and success.

Bar Design Tips

The Space Race: The key to having a successful bar then is to overcome problems of space. If you space things out too far, you make your bartenders move from their workstations. If you put them too close together however, drinks start to get knocked over spilling onto garnishes or into ice boxes. Each kind requires a slightly different set-up to deal with both bar functions and size. A tiny hole in the wall Tiki Bar will handle space differently than a large oval shaped liquor island in the middle of a dance floor.

Here are some general tips that may help you think about space:

Bar Sinks: Bar sinks can either be a high activity area or a waste of space depending on whether you have an automated glass washer. The glass washer will really make life a lot easier as it will eliminate the need to dedicate hands to washing glasses (which, by the way is not particularly good on the hands). Even if you have a glass washer however you may still be required by the health department to have a sink. The sink is also useful for emptying cups and other kinds of cleaning so it will still be indispensable. The sink need not be right next to the bartender however. Even if you want to wash glasses by hand, you should not have you bartenders taking their time to do this—leave it to bus boys or the “back bar” (helpers dedicating to re-supplying the bartenders). Put simply, the bar sinks should be away from the bartender’s stations when possible.

Photo Courtesy of Nonie

Bar Glass Racks: The other items that can cause problems are glasses. On the one hand, you want your bartender to reach out and easily grab a pint glass without difficulty; on the other hand, you don’t want the glasses to get bumped into. Having to buy another two dozen pint glasses can make your pocketbook ache. Stackable glasses should be kept neatly near the bartender—often behind him, and should be easy to pull.

Overhead bar glass racks are great space savers and essential for stemmed glasses like martini and wine glasses. Bar glass racks also tend to result in few breakages. (Unfortunately they don’t work so hot sometimes for short bartenders.)

Liquor Guns: You should keep the beer and wine dispenser units (the beer and wine guns) near the bartenders’ stations. If however, your nightclub design calls for lots of beers needing fairly constant refills (e.g., while the DJ has your customers sweating on the dance floor), then you might be better served by just having a station where the liquor dispenser is located. You probably don’t need an actual bartender at this station in a nightclub design.

Ice Maker: The icemaker is a special challenge, because you want your bartender to have easy access to fresh ice for mixed drinks, but you don’t want to have them working right over them. The best bar design for ice machines is to have one ice machine between each to bartender stations and to place them between the bartenders so that they don’t spill drinks into the machine and onto the ice. (This can quickly become a nasty mess.)

Speed Rails: If you are going to have mixed drinks, speed rails with a selection of the most common spirits used in the mixes are a must, and you probably want one bartender at this station, if this is only part of your bar’s emphasis. (For example, you might have a dedicated “mojito bartender” if this is a popular drink at your establishment but only part of the business.)

The Under Bar: For the underbar, beneath your bartender, the key is to not have it get in the bartender’s way. You don’t want to have you bartender run into open cooler doors (get units with sliding glass doors), or to have steam rising up from the glass washer onto your bartender’s work space, or to have your bartenders constantly reaching beneath the bar in an awkward uncomfortable way to get things. The under bar is a good place to have a refrigerated door for a back up garnish caddy, and is definitely the place for the garbage bin (preferably with a peddle operated lid so the smells don’t become a problem).

Ideally, however you want all of your bartender’s tools and ingredients right on the edges of his work space in easily reachable sections. If the bartender needs to turn around to reach a tap or grab a bottle every so often that is not a big deal of course.

In the end, however, you may need to make due with the conditions you are given. In some cases plumbing and electrical limitations will determine where you can place sinks and appliances. You will also have to deal with the specifics of you establishment.

Filed Under: Bar / Nightclub BusinessBar / Nightclub DesignBar BusinessNightclub BusinessStarting a BarStarting a NightclubStarting Your Bar/Nightclub BusinessUncategorized

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