A well-planned bar is just as essential to profits as are the products that go into your drinks. An optimal design reflects some simple rules of thumb below for the equipment layout. Good bar station design follows the one-step rule, which states that the bartender should be able to make 90 percent all 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, the bartender can reach everything needed to make a drink and complete a bar transaction. Selecting just the right equipment and then organizing it properly is critical.
Five main products are needed to make a bar station work: glasses, ice, beverages, mixers and garnishes. Additionally, a cash point or remote printer may also be necessary depending upon the operation.
A variety of glasses must also be within easy reach. They can be on shelves behind or to the side of the bar or on the bar drainboard. You may want to limit the types of glassware to make storage easier. Hanging stemmed glasses above the bar is handy, but often is not permitted by local health departments.
If you have a glass washer in the bar be sure to have a dump sink on one side and a clean drainboard on the other. If you have a glass washer you'll need about four to six feet of bar length; two feet for the washer and one or preferably two feet each for the soiled and clean side.
Typically, bar glass washers are chemical sanitizing machines that use 120°F hot water compared to dishwashers that use 180°F water for the final rinse. Remember to use a rinse agent if you see spotting on glassware. For manual washing, three-compartment sinks for washing and sanitizing are often a health department requirement.
Ice and the cocktail station are critical to the presentation of a drink. High-quality crystal clear cubes, preferably larger sized cubes, are essential to merchandising bar drinks. It's generally not recommended to have the icemaker in the bar, but rather ample ice 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. 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 operation will want two speed rails.
You can begin to size the appropriate ice bin with the following information: a smaller dimension ice bin holds almost 100 pounds of ice, while a 36-inch unit holds almost 150 pounds. Once melted ice is accounted for you can get about three drinks per pound of ice. If you cool your soda lines with a bin cold plate you'll yield even less.
The alcohol that goes into your drink can be poured a number of ways. Free pouring lacks product control. Manual drink-counting mechanisms may be desirable in a small to midsized bar to control costs. In very large bars, electronic dispensing controls may be in order.
The important consideration in your bar design is to have the beverage bottles readily accessible. Typically, a speed rail with the most popular brands is mounted on the front of the ice bin. Other bottles are stored under the bar on modular stainless steel steps. These units are typically four levels high and can be from 12 inches to 42 inches long. Typical planning capacity is 3.5 bottles per foot on each level. For example, a 24-inch-long unit can hold about 28 bottles. Other less-used liqueurs and cordials are often displayed on a backbar directly behind a bartender — within that one-step rule.
Beer is another important consideration. Draft beer can be remote or self-contained. If your volume is small, self-contained may be the way to go since it is cheaper and requires less maintenance. However, you will need keg storage space directly below the beer tap and you need one keg for each tap. 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 quickly.
Allocate 24 inches in storage length for each keg. 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 for a high-volume bar. Any draught system over 15 feet away requires mechanical refrigeration of the beer lines. A bundle of plastic tubing and a refrigeration cabinet are required to hold the equipment.
The most popular mixers are water and soda, which are often served through dispensing soda guns. These dispensers are on flexible hoses and can save significant 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. Consider the location of a bag-in-box system and allow space accordingly.
Two other equipment items you'll need are utility and hand sinks. The hand sink must be a separate sink with a soap and towel dispenser for proper sanitation. Most health departments require this sink. The utility sink has a myriad of uses, so position it for ease of use.
The overall cost of a bar equipment package varies considerably. Under-bar equipment like ice bins, sinks, refrigerators, drainboards and beer taps can run around $1,500 per linear foot. This does not include the bartop or backbar. Some specialty equipment like espresso or frozen drink machines can increase costs well over these guidelines.
Also vital are garnishes, which should be fresh and kept in attractive containers for merchandising.
Dan Bendall is a principal of FoodStrategy, a consulting firm specializing in planning foodservice facilities. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.