Great bar design mixes form and function
Beautiful aesthetics have a very short shelf life, especially when it comes to the design of your bar. Complicated layouts, distracting elements, unorganized clutter or tight quarters will deter your customers from hanging at the bar, and ultimately, spending valuable time in your restaurant. If you want your customers to patronize your bar during happy hour and beyond, you need to blend form and function.
Make your bar operational
According to Victor Cardamone, president and CEO of Mise Designs, operational efficiency is essential to good bar design.
“This is the single most important aspect in any operations related design aspect for a foodservice or bar operation. If the staff cannot execute their bar or food items quickly, accurately, and on a consistent basis, customers typically won’t come back,” Cardamone says.
Good bar design helps encourage positive interactions among your staff and customers.
“We look to design our bars with two things in mind — first, to create a lively, social environment where our guests can enjoy a drink or casual meal amongst friends. Second, we want to design bars that are efficiently spaced and equipped to allow our bartenders ease in building cocktails and facilitate great hospitality with guests and teamwork with their co-workers,” says Jeff Goodman, CEO of American Gonzo Food Corporation, which includes Pitfire Pizza.
Designing a bar that allows your staff to work efficiently will also resonate with your guests, according to Mary King, restaurant and hospitality analyst of FitSmallBusiness.com.
“Part of the guest experience of sitting at your restaurant’s bar is watching the bartenders go about their work. The more functional your bar’s layout, the more impressive your team will look. It may sound like a small thing, but it can really instill confidence in your products,” King says.
ADA compliancy is also important to your bar design, adds King, as is proper task lighting so your bartenders and staff can work effectively. Too bright lighting, though, she cautions can make your bar feel less inviting and cool.
Determine your bar’s purpose
Every inch of your restaurant is your vision come to life. From the décor and ambiance to the menu options and signature drinks, everything works together to support your brand and celebrate your hospitality. Your bar design is part of that vision, too, which means you need to determine how your bar fits in or will serve your restaurant.
“Is it going to be a focal point, with large screen TVs that play sports and 20 craft beers on tap, or is it going to play more of a supportive role to act as a reception area for patrons, or will its primary function be as a service bar for the waitstaff?” asks Cardamone.
Once you figure out how the bar will function in your space, you need to account for the nuts and bolts of the design, such as smart placement of your electrical outlets to power your POS system and credit card processing system, notes King. And, don’t forget about places to keep bar tools handy but out of sight when not in use. King suggests slim under counter drawers to banish the clutter.
“A well-designed bar allows the bartender to reach glassware, tools, spirits and ice without moving; everything should be within arm’s reach. Speed rails for spirits hung below ice bins help here, as well as shelving for glassware along the back bar,” King says.
Since the role a bar plays in a restaurant is so unique to its establishment, its size is contingent on your needs. There is no “one size fits all” requirement for a bar, which allows you significant wiggle room and autonomy over your bar design. Designing the bar around how your staff operates and how it serves your restaurant will allow you a customized look your customers will enjoy and your staff will appreciate.
“At American Gonzo, we want our bars to be an important part of the guest experience and drive energy in the restaurant, so we dedicate a significant amount of space for that,” Goodman says.
Decide how to display spirits
To showcase or to hide alcohol bottles and beer in your bar is a question only you can answer. No matter what you decide, though, your decision should align with the role your bar plays in your operation and its overall style. And often, showing what you have to offer is a great way to get customers to indulge.
“We like for guests to be able to see the products we have curated, both on the back bar and what’s on tap,” Goodman says.
Cardamone advises showing off your top-shelf or high-quality products to customers.
King notes that these more expensive liquors should reside on the back of the bar, while popular bottles are better positioned in a speed rail under the bar.
“Placing your bar taps behind the bar facing customers is good for a lot of reasons,” King says. “It allows customers to readily see what is on offer while also ensuring that your bartenders can see what they are pouring.”
Consider trends for your bar design
Bars are subject to design trends just like any aspect of your restaurant’s layout and décor. One trend, according to King, is all about your neighbors.
“Farm to table has become farm-to-glass. Increasingly, bars are featuring locally produced spirits and a rotating supply of local beers, ciders and even non-alcoholic draft options like kombucha and cold brew coffee,” King says.
Another trend in bar design is swapping out beer tap handles so that all the taps match, she adds.
“This is an elegant look, but it should be paired with consistent training and communication to ensure that your staff knows which beer is assigned to which taps,” King warns.
Raise a glass to your customers
The design of your restaurant should inform the look, function and importance of your bar. Whether you make it the star or a supporting character, good bar design rests best on a functional mindset.
DeAnn Owens is a freelance journalist living in Dayton, Ohio. She specializes in features and human-interest stories.