If you're planning on remodeling an existing bar, or you have the opportunity to build one from scratch at your new establishment, focus on functionality. So many bars (not just the physical bar structure, but the entire back-bar, workspace, and lounge area where guests sit) are designed by architects and/or interior designers that don't have a firm grasp on what takes place in a bar on a busy night. The end result might look really nice, but are they functional? Often times no, and in some cases, they're actually unsafe. Bartenders and managers end up getting very creative in an effort to make do with what they have, moving things around to make the workspace safer and more functional. Profits are lost, guests experiences are compromised, and safety is jeopardized. Considering that bars are such huge profit generators for restaurants, why wouldn't you want to get it right? There are certain things that can be done during the design process to help ensure a functional bar.
Involve a bartender in the design process. Have a sit down with your bartenders, the beverage manager/director, architect, an interior designer if they're part of your overall design process, the construction project manager, even the chef. The chef? Absolutely! They know a thing or two about functionality and proper flow in a kitchen. They have various prep stations, refrigerators, grills, ovens, usually a walk-in frig and/or freezer, and dish washing station in the kitchen. Most kitchens are designed with input from a professional chef and a kitchen equipment specialist, working together with the architect and construction team. They are designed with things like flow, ease of use, speed, storage, and safety in mind. Can you imagine if the kitchen was designed solely by an architect? What if the placement of kitchen tools, equipment, refrigerators, storage, dish washing station, etc, was solely up to the architect or an interior designer with little to no experience in a commercial kitchen? What if a chef and/or an equipment specialist were never consulted? Yikes! It probably wouldn't be a very functional kitchen, which in turn affects profits and safety. Not good. So what about the bar?
Many times, a bar is designed and then built without much thought going into things like flow, speed, ease of use, safety, functionality, daily cleaning, and proper equipment and bar tools placement. When it comes to cocktails, ask yourself what type of drinks your bar will be crafting day in and day out. This will help determine what types of glasses, bar tools, and refrigerators (and how many) would be optimal. Are you a bar serving lots of frozen drinks? Beer and shots only? Will your bartenders be muddling lots of fresh fruits and herbs behind the bar? What about your wine program? Asking these questions will ultimately help in designing a functional bar. Of course, it's difficult to be all things to all people, and you have to make smart investments that make sense for your particular establishment, the amount of space you have, and your budget. If you're a beer bar or a restaurant that serves craft beer, you might want to invest in several different types of glassware for each style of beer, foam-on-beer detectors, and depending on the length of the beer lines, a glycol system to properly chill the lines. If you're a bar that serves blended drinks, invest in high-quality blenders and make sure you have blender stations installed at each workstation. If your focus is on craft cocktails, invest in the right bar tools to get the job done, and design the workspace accordingly to facilitate the creation of those special drinks. You're a wine bar, or a restaurant that has a special focus on wines? Install special wine refrigerators that keep both red and white wines at optimal serving temperatures instead of keeping your wines, beers, and non-alcoholic beverages all in one refrigerator. A wine preservation system might be a smart investment, or perhaps wine-on-tap is the way to go for your particular establishment. Choices abound, so do your homework!
When it comes to something like draft beer, installation often times falls to a standard refrigeration company with minimal experience and understanding in properly designing and maintaining an intricate draft beer system. Instead, think of hiring a highly trained draft installation company that specializes in beer system design, installation and on-going maintenance. When it comes to those stainless steel wells and workstations behind the bar, there are many different configurations and options available. Some owners and managers feel like the cheapest, most standard pieces of equipment will be enough to get the job done, but then they scratch their heads in frustration when equipment starts breaking down on a regular basis, certain bar tools keep needing to be replaced, or the well/workstation isn't sufficient enough to crank out the type of drinks your bar makes on those busy Friday and Saturday nights.
When it comes to bar equipment (sinks, workstations, refrigerators, glass chillers, etc) owners and managers sometimes rely solely on what a restaurant supply store sales person suggests, which may or may not be the best choice. Do your research, and compare not only prices, but things like the quality and strength of materials used in addition to warranties. Pay attention to what other bars and restaurants are using, and ask if they're happy with their equipment choices. Certain beverage equipment companies can even customize equipment to your exact design specifications. When it comes to installation, make sure things are installed in a manner that allows everything to be easily accessed for proper cleaning on a daily basis. If you can't easily access something, it probably won't get cleaned correctly. Choose materials that stand the test of time in addition to looking nice. Choose materials that are easy to clean and will not easily rot. Involve experienced bartenders and restaurant equipment designers in the process. Involve the chef. There are more options than ever when it comes to designing and building a functional bar. It can take a lot of time, planning, and money to do things right, but a safer work place and a more profitable beverage program are your rewards.