When designing a bar, efficiency is key. Speed makes money for restaurant owners, both in the moment and in the long term. And since, in a perfect world, a dining experience will start with a drink, bartenders are setting the stage for the rest of the meal. That drink will set off a domino effect that can carry through the rest of service. It’s up to restaurant owners to design spaces that ensure that effect is positive.
“Set your bar up so that when you're busy, the bartender has everything they need within a pivot and a reach,” said Alex Haskell, a former Brooklyn, NY bar owner. “You should not have to move your feet away from the well to make a signature cocktail or a vodka soda, whatever the jam at your space.”
He stressed the importance of planning what you need your bar to be able to accomplish. Start with functionality, he said, then move on to aesthetics.
If you have great looking shelves, but they don’t fit the tallest bottle in your liquor arsenal, they aren’t helping you in the long run. If your bartender completes a beautiful cocktail, but then has to carry it 15 feet to the service bar, spilling it along the way, all that hard work is lost.
Meehan’s Bartender’s Guide by Jim Meehan, who opened renowned East Village cocktail bar, PDT in 2007, points out that when designing a bar, “the goal is to find the sweet spot that succeeds on both fronts [aesthetic and functional] without costly concessions to either.”
Before drafting a design, remember, it all starts with a drink ticket.
A server will ring it in a drink order, and a ticket will print at the bar. The first thing to think about here is, where is that printer? Ensure it lives somewhere within an arm’s reach of the drink well, where the bartender will almost always be standing.
Next, where to build the drink? Meehan recommends a stainless-steel drip tray wide enough to place the smaller shaker in front of the larger. This is also where many bartenders will keep jiggers, tools, and garnishes.
The drink well should have everything the bartender needs directly in front to them: every base spirit, all syrups, juices, shrubs, etc., for signature cocktails, and anything else needed for frequently ordered classics. If you do not use vermouth, simple syrup, bar cherries, or olives in any of your signature cocktails, they are still good products to have at your disposal, just in case.
If you have a bar large enough to require multiple bartenders, Idea Interiors stresses the importance or a dedicated drink well for every bartender. This way, bartenders will never be waiting on each other to get what they need to finish the drinks they are working on.
After the drink is made, the station and tools need to be cleaned and reset immediately. A sink next to the drink well is an essential component of any bar set up. An area to dump used shakers and glassware will also be necessary for cleanliness and to prevent sink clogs.
Finally, the area designated for putting up fresh drinks and bussing old ones, sometimes called the service bar, is incredibly important to your flow. Remember, a bartender becomes less efficient every time they need to make an unnecessary movement. So, make sure they can put up drinks somewhere close to where they make them.
Haskell’s bottom line: if you don’t have the experience yourself, hire someone who does have bartending experience to help you.
“It will be money that you will get back in time,” he said. “This all ties into what poor bar design does to service. Some cocktail bars were not setup to fulfill the function that they currently occupy, this leads to either needing extra staff — which costs money, and hurts morale — or weaker service, which hurts everybody's pocket at the end of the day.”