One of the best things to do as you are getting started thinking about your new drinking establishment is to just get an overview of all the bar furniture you are going to need. A list like this can function not only as a checklist, but also simply as an idea generator for all the kinds of furnishings you might need to get your venue off the ground. So what is the essential set of bar furniture?
Fixed Bar and Pub Furniture
If you have bought a used drinking establishment, you may already have some of your pub furniture in place. Even if you have a completely empty space, it is always a good idea to start by thinking about where the fixed furnishings are or will be, since these will become the lay of the land once you are up and running. You will not be able to move them without a great deal of expense or down time (fatal for a venue that has just started trying to get a foothold in a competitive market). Once you have established these landmarks, you will have to work around them. So let’s start at the most important of all bar or pub furniture:
The Bar: Of course, for an establishment to be called a bar, it must have a bar, though it does not have to be the traditional mahogany monster with a brass bumper. Sometimes, this king of all pub furniture is just a squat counter, or a little room within an establishment or even what looks like a fruit stand. Regardless of its appearance, the placement of the bar is all important, as it will determine all sorts of things. The most common and often the smartest place for a bar is at or near the center of an establishment (unless you are going to have multiple bars). A bar in the middle of a space or at the point where two different spaces meet (for example, where the dining room gives way to the dance floor), increases the traffic in front of the bar and increases the opportunities for patrons to get drinks. The reasons are obvious when you think about it. If a client has to go by the bar to get to the dance floor, then he is more likely to stop for a drink, not only because he may be thirsty but because he is more likely to catch sight of a cutie taking a breather there.
Think of the difference between that and a bar that is against the back wall of a dining area with a dance hall in the front. Now, though the dancers may be likely to wade to the back to get a drink, they are also just as likely to simply sit down near the dance floor (or even worse, hop out the front door) and forgo the drink altogether. When customers need to cross different spaces to get their drinks, they are likely to get fewer drinks because not only will there be less traffic, but also fewer people hanging by the bar attracting others. Not to mention that in general, people can be fairly lazy and averse to snaking through other customers.
Put simply, if you have the choice, place your bar at the center of action of a large space (of course, if your space is a postage stamp sized hole in the wall, then you might be forced to place it against one side of your establishment and leave the customers against the tables opposite).
Boothes: Although boothes do not make efficient use of space, they are often loved by patrons and can add a bit of an anchor for a room’s layout. If you already have booths in your place, you will want to think about how you will fit them into your overall layout. If you don’t have boothes, then you should think about how adding them to a space might help make if more attractive for customers. Generally however, in the first year of operation you don’t want to give yourself too many constraints, so avoid overdoing it on boothes.
Banquettes: Another kind of fixed bar furniture are banquettes, those benches with soft pillowing that line walls in many establishments. Though these are attached to the wall, they often make great use of space.
I give bar stools its own category, because they are such a common feature of bars. You can find more about bar stools in our article about them that I link to here. However, here is a summary of some of the basic things you should know about bar stools.
First, bar stools come in the fixed or the movable variety. Bar stools, that are fixed typically surround the bar and can simply be thought of as a part of the bar itself. These types of bar stools have the benefit of tending to be sturdier than movable bar stools. Unfortunately, because they cannot be moved, they create some constraints for bar owners.
Movable bar stools come in three different sizes and can be used not only at the bar but also around pool tables. Unlike your home bar furniture, commercial bar furniture is made to handle a great deal more abuse. So when you are looking for bar or pub furniture, you should try to get it from an establishment that deals in commercial bar furniture not home bar furniture.
Mobile Bar Furniture
Other kinds of bar furniture that you should seek are:
Bar Tables: These too can be fixed, but when given the choice, look for tables that can be moved since this will increase the flexibility of your layout. Your typical bar table is usually just a dining table, often used in rows opposite the bar when the main bar space is in a long carriage train type of a shape. The counter high pub table however is also a popular choice in many drinking establishments as it offers slightly higher seating which is more conducive to customer mobility. Some bar tables are even as tall as bars themselves, and are often used in sports bars as wrap around high tables.
Bar Stools and Tables: Bar stools and tables, obviously, go together. A counter high bar stool is just not going to work with squat diner or pub table. You need to match them. You may also want to save yourself the trouble and just buy them as sets, not only because it saves you the trouble of matching but also because this is often the most economical way of buying them since many wholesalers will offer discounts on sets. (See our article on bar stools for more about this kind of pub furniture.)
Bar Chairs: Bar chairs are just like bar stools. You should buy them to match your table surfaces both in terms of style and height. You also need to keep in mind that they need to be sturdier than the home bar furniture you might buy from your local retailer, so, when possible, get your bar chairs like your other furniture from a restaurant bar furniture retailer.
A good place that I recently came across is this online retailer in Canada: http://www.restaurant-furniture.ca/Chairs.html . They have an extensive selection of bar chairs in virtually every variety and they are built to take a beating. (Also be sure to check out the club chair at the bottom of the selections and the waiting bench as well. They cost a little bit more but they are well worth it if you want to create the right kind of feel for your club or classy bar.)
Outdoor Bar Furniture
Just as you need bar tables and bar chairs for the inside of your venue, you will also need a separate set of bar and pub furniture for the outside. Here are some things to keep in mind:
Outdoor Bar Chairs and Tables: The average outdoor pub table and pub chair are different from the indoor variety in that they must be able to withstand the elements—especially the fading effect of sunlight—and they should also be easily cleanable as even the most sheltered of outdoors settings will still dirty the outdoor furniture. An additional quality you might seek out in your outdoor bar furniture is that you may want it to be easy to carry and to store (stackable chairs and tables) if you intend on bringing them in at the end of summer or every night after closing.
Parasols: Most outdoor areas require some form of shade for your customers. The most common are parasols. Often you can buy these to fit with your tables (through a center hole).
Other Kinds of Bar and Pub Furniture
Beyond the essential kinds of bar furniture, are a series of other kinds of furniture that are common in certain sub genres of bars (almost to the point of being necessities in those bars) but which are not necessary for all kinds of bars. Here are some of them:
Couches and Coffee Tables: If you are going for a lounge or coffee shop kind of a feel, then the kind of furniture you might find in someone’s living room could be the way to go. You should again, always keep in mind that this furniture will get much more use than the same kind of furniture would in someone’s living room, and that it will also get spilled on and dirtied at much higher rate—so avoid any kind of couch that will absorb too much, or that is too difficult to clean. One solution is buy cheap used furniture, but in some cases, if you are going for a classy lounge feel with ottomans and rugs, this may not be possible.
Pool Tables, Video Games, Dart Boards, etc.: If you are looking to create fun game space or game room in your bar—such as a sports bar near a college might have to cater to the local frat boys—you will want to figure the costs of buying pool tables and other kinds of play furnishings. (For more on pool tables see our article on them.) Always look to designate a game space which does not get in the way of other customers who may not want to play and be sure to keep safety in mind—remember, for example, that darts in the hands of the inebriated are an inherent risk.
Theme Furnishings: Depending on the theme of your bar or pub, you may have certain bar furniture that simply reinforces your theme. For example, if you are going for an aquatic theme, you may have aquariums, fountains, or mermaid patterned couches. Or, you may have mannequins in displays or a bear skin rug and antlers along the walls if you are going for a hunting lodge theme.
What is not included in this list: There are, of course, many other items you will have to buy for your establishment, beyond the bar furniture I have listed here. I have not, for example, mentioned little items like an ashtray (if smoking is allowed in your area) or napkin holders, or any of those little items that might be part of a particular bar theme. In addition, we have not mentioned things like poles or lighting, or fencing or partial/transparent walls which are more about the bar design than they are about furniture—the main focus of this article. All of these, things, from the smallest ashtray to boothes and walls are part of the organic unit which is your establishment, and the best of watering holes take all of these in mind in creating their overall feel.
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