A well-planned bar laid out for ease of use is just as essential to a highly profitable bar as the drink components. Selecting the right equipment and organizing it properly are critical.
There are five main components to drink making. They all need to be within easy reach of the bartender—preferably no more than one step from the center of the station. They are glasses, ice, beverage, mixers and garnish. A cash point or remote printer is also needed, depending upon the operation.
Glasses and keeping them clean. All glasses must be within easy reach. They can be held on the bar drainboard or on shelves behind or to the side. You may want to limit the types of glassware to make storage easier for the bartenders. Hanging stemmed glasses above the bar is handy but often is not permitted by local health departments.
If you have a glasswasher in the bar be sure to have a dump sink on one side and clean drainboard on the other. A glasswasher requires about four to six feet of bar length—two feet for the washer and one or preferably two feet for the soiled and clean side. Some health departments mandate automatic washers and don’t allow glasses to be manually washed in sinks, but you can always clean glasses in the kitchen dishwasher.
The ice factor. High-quality clear cubes are essential to merchandising bar drinks. Most agree a larger sized ice cube is perfect for the look of a bar drink. Generally, stay away from the smaller cubes, flakes or crescent shapes because they water down a drink too quickly. It’s not recommended to have the icemaker in the bar but 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 cocktail station is 24-36 inches long and may have bottle wells for mixers like bloody mary or pina colada mix. The station should also have a speed rail at the front to hold more liquor bottles. A 36-inch speed rail will hold 10-12 bottles. A high-volume bar should have double speed rails.
What size ice bin should your bar have? Smaller bins hold almost 100 pounds of ice and a 36-inch unit holds almost 150 pounds. You need about a pound of ice for three drinks.
The pour. Alcohol ingredients can be poured a number of ways. Free pouring is the traditional way but lacks product control. Manual drink counting mechanisms may be desirable in a small to midsized bar. Very large bars may require electronic controls, especially at a back-of-house service bar. Automated and semi-automated systems range widely in cost from moderate to very expensive.
Beverage bottles must be readily accessible. Typically, a good setup calls for a speed rail mounted on the front of the ice bin right for the most popular house brands and an underbar liquor setup for other brands.
Liquor display steps are modular stainless steel units that fit into the underbar and are typically four levels high and 12-42 inches long. Typical capacity is three and a half bottles per foot on each level. Other less- used liqueurs and cordials are typically displayed on a backbar directly behind a bartender.
Mixers. The most popular mixers are water and soda. Bars usually use soda guns for dispensing sodas and water. The dispensers put the soda dispensing where the drink is and can save significant bartender time and motion 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. Remember to consider the location of a bag-in-box system and allow space accordingly.
More to know about beer, clean-up, cost
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Dealing with suds. A wide variety of draft beers on tap is popular. Beer kegs can be remote from the taps or self-contained, meaning directly below the taps. If volume and variety is small self-contained may be the way to go since it is cheaper and requires less maintenance. However, keep in mind that you’ll need keg storage space directly below the beer tap and you’ll need one keg for each tap. You can’t have multiple taps from the same keg and you’ll want to have a back up keg ready when one is done. Each keg weighs about 150 pounds and can be tough to maneuver and hook up in the middle of a busy period.
Each keg requires about 20 inches of storage, so if you’re thinking about multiple beer brands or multiple taps consider a remote system. A remote system is more expensive but can be more effective especially for a high- volume bar. Any system over 15 feet away requires mechanical refrigeration of the beer lines. That means you’ll have a bundle of plastic tubing required and a refrigeration cabinet to hold the equipment in addition to the storage refrigerator for the kegs.
Clean up. Two other equipment items you’ll want to have are a sink and a hand sink. A hand sink is required to be a separate sink with a soap and towel dispenser for proper sanitation. Health departments universally require this sink. The other sink is a bartender’s utility sink. There are a myriad of uses for a sink and water at the bar, so position this sink for easy use.
Cost. How much will your bar cost? The overall cost of a bar equipment package varies considerably. Under-bar equipment like ice bins, sinks, refrigerators, drain boards and beer taps can be budgeted at around $1,500 per linear foot depending on the equipment used. This cost is just for the equipment, not the bar top or back bar. Some specialty equipment like espresso or frozen drink machines can increase the budget well over these guidelines. Consider your needs and try to make the bar operation as simple as possible to keep equipment costs in line.
The layout. Now that we have discussed all the necessary components for your bar system, you’ll need to put it together in a well thought out layout. In laying out your bar station, consider minimizing your bartender’s movement to about a step for making a drink. This one-step rule is the key to good bar station design.
A bartender should be able to make 90 percent of the ordered drinks by taking no more than one step from the central position of his or her station. That means within a diameter of about 10 feet, bartenders can reach everything they need to make a drink and complete a bar transaction.
How you lay out the equipment for the bartender station will be the most important factor in having the bar operate effectively and equipping the bar for profit.
Dan Bendall is a principal of FoodStrategy, a Maryland-based consulting firm specializing in planning foodservice facilities. He’s a member of Foodservice Consultants Society International and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.