The right gear, properly located, can make the most of an already profitable beverage business.
If your restaurant is like most, bar beverages are some of your highest margin items. Good marketing goes a long way to maximizing your profitability. Quick and effective execution is important as well. Carefully chosen equipment can help with both.
With a well-thought-out bar layout, every equipment item is in the optimum location and sized to the bar's production requirements. Every square inch of space behind the bar is carefully considered.
Good bar station design follows 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.
The five main elements involved in making a drink — glasses, ice, beverages, mixers and garnishes — all need to be within easy reach of the bartender. Some operations may also need a cash point or remote printer. Let's consider each of those elements individually.
Glassware is important. A variety of glasses can be stored on shelves behind or to the side of the bar or on the bar drain board. You may want to limit the types of glassware for easier storage. Hanging stemmed glasses above the bar is handy, but often local health departments do not allow it. Check your local jurisdiction for requirements. Cleaning glassware is also very important. If you have a glassware washer in the bar, be sure to have a dump sink for waste on one side and drain boards on both sides. This kind of washer requires at least four to six feet of bar length — two feet for the unit and a foot or two on each side for soiled and clean wares. Some health departments are requiring automatic washers and not allowing glasses to be manually washed in sinks, but you can always wash glasses in the kitchen dishwasher.
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 so small that it will melt quickly and water down the drink, and not so large that only a few fit in the glass. You probably won't want to occupy valuable space in the bar area with the icemaker, but you will want to have ample storage there to last through a rush.
The ice bin or cocktail station is the central component to a bar station. Typically the ice bin is 24-36 inches long and may have bottle wells in it for bottled mixers like Bloody Mary or pina colada mix. How big an ice bin do you need? A 24-inch-long bin holds almost 100 pounds of ice, and a 36-inch unit almost 150 pounds. Once melted ice is accounted for you can get about three or four drinks per pound of ice. If you cool your soda lines with a bin cold plate you may get even more yield from your ice bin.
A key element in your bar design is readily accessible beverages. Often a “speed rail” can be mounted on the front of the ice bin right to hold the most popular house brands or mixers. Other bottles may be stored on underbar liquor display shelves. Typically the house brands are within easy reach but not necessarily merchandised. The liquor underbar shelves are modular stainless steel units that fit into the underbar unit like ice bins, drain boards, sinks and other components. The units are usually four levels high and can be from 12 inches to 42 inches long. Each foot holds an average of 3.5 bottles.
You will likely want to highlight call brands and liqueurs. These bottles are typically displayed on the back bar directly behind a bartender in a stepped arrangement. The stepped arrangement is best for merchandising as well as ease of access, and designs often overlook the importance of these displays. 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. 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. You will need keg storage space directly below the beer tap and one keg per tap. You'll also probably want to have a backup keg ready when one is done. Each keg requires 24 inches in storage length, so if you're serving multiple beer brands or using multiple taps a remote system would make sense. Any system over about 15 feet away requires mechanical refrigeration of the beer lines as well as the storage refrigerator for the kegs.
The most popular mixers are water and soda. These should be extremely easy to access for drinks. Soda guns can be used for dispensing sodas and water. These dispensers on flexible hoses are an aid in rapid pouring of cocktail mixers. They put the soda dispensing where the drink is and can save significant bartender time and motion when compared to a typical soda tower. One gun must be positioned at each bartender's station. 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, blenders and frozen beverage dispensers are two more key items to consider.
Blenders and frozen slush machines are popular in operations 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 bolster your strategy of offering customized or signature drinks at premium prices. These units can also turn out appealing nonalcoholic (but still profitable) drinks.
Blenders come in a variety of sizes and styles to serve different needs. Some have stainless steel mixing containers that are durable — and recommended for a high-volume bar. If you are going to be selling a significant quantity of blender drinks you may want to adapt your recipes to a slush machine to handle high production needs for frozen drinks.
Frozen beverage dispensers, often seen at bars, produce more than just margaritas. These slush machines operate like ice cream machines but use colorful and flavored water-based mixes. Some machines even merchandise the mix to help boost sales. A typical two-flavor machine can be mounted on the bar top and only takes up about 18 inches. These machines can be costly and often require 208-volt connections.
The vast majority of equipment on the market will perform adequately and dependably in the right operation. 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.