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Matthew Krimmel

Commercial Bar Layout Design: How to Keep Bartenders In Mind

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It’s true for any industry: a comfortable work environment drives efficiency. And it’s especially true for bartending. Wasted movements compound over a bartending shift and can make a poor bar layout and design especially detrimental to a bar’s profit margin.

That’s why successful bars have bar layout designs with bartenders in mind. They’ll be the ones using it, so help them use it as efficiently as possible. To do that, you’ll need to use bar dimensions that give them enough space and make sure the behind-the-bar layout is optimized.

liquor control system

How to Design a Bar Layout with Enough Space

Having the right bar layout dimensions helps bartenders avoid wrestling with their surroundings. You want to hit all the items on your bar equipment checklist without taking away valuable space from your bar staff. Here are some basic commercial bar dimensions that your bar should hit to make sure your bartenders are fast and happy.

How Much Space Is Behind a Commercial Bar?

There is roughly 3’ of space behind a commercial bar. It’s recommended that the width of this aisle be between 31” and 37”.

But if your bar is using barbacks, you should be on the larger end of that range. Barback duties require a bit more space. Maintain an aisle of at least 3’ or 36” and your barbacks will be zipping around with ease.

How Wide Should a Bar Top Be?

Home bars are much smaller and tend to be between 12” and 20” wide. A commercial bar is usually 20” to 30” wide, and that includes the drink rail on the bartender’s side.

What is the Standard Depth of a Bar Counter?

Home bars have an average depth of 15" and commercial bars (see: types of bars) have an average depth of 25."

“Depth” and “width” are used interchangeably when talking about home and commercial bar sizes.

How High is a Commercial Bar?

A commercial bar should be 42” to 45” high.

The average person—taking into consideration both males and females—is 5’ 4” tall, which is 64.8”. That makes 42” to 45” of height ideal.

Bar Equipment Considerations

We have some great bar equipment layout tips here. But let’s discuss the most commonly used bar equipment and how to lay it out best.

General Bar Equipment Layout

There are a few commonly used pieces of bar equipment that need to be front-and-center to make sure your bartender’s time isn’t wasted. These are the:

  • Ice bin. Arguably the most used piece of equipment behind the bar. Choose an under-bar ice bin tucked neatly beneath the bar and placed at an ideal height for scooping. Too low and it’ll be a literal pain to use repeatedly.
  • Sink. Make sure a hand sink and a three-compartment sink are close by. It’s not necessary to have the hand sink front-and-center, but it is for the three-compartment sink.
  • Speed rail. Fill it with commonly used liquors. If a bar liquor or wine bottle isn’t being used at least 3 times a shift, it shouldn’t be in the speed rail.
  • Glassware. Bar glasses on the back-bar shelf should be no higher than 72” or 6’. Shelves used for stocking can be higher than that, but anything higher than 6’ loses a lot of functionality.
  • Garnish station. Your garnish station should be at the same height level as the tops of the bottles on your speed rail. Which is right at about hand level. A good way to achieve this is to place the speed rail in front of the three-compartment sink. Then make sure the bottle tops (with pour spouts) are flush with the garnish station behind the sinks in chilled fourth and sixth pans.
  • Bar and restaurant cleaning supplies. Where can you stash a small cleaning supply caddy? Where can some shop towels, sanitizer, and brushes be kept? When stocking a bar or restaurant, don't forget to choose a convenient location for your glass and surface cleaner supplies. Store your Windex in a logical place for easy access.
how to be a good bar manager ebook

Cocktail Bar Layout Considerations

A cocktail bar functioning optimally will have a specific mixing station, which is a combination ice bin, wells for mixers, tools, and garnish station.

Along the front of the ice bin, place a speed rail. Remember that when you’re placing your speed rail on the ice bin. Account for pour spouts (maybe even wine pour spouts) on the liquor bottles and set the speed rail low enough to keep them out of bartenders’ ways.

Then get some tiered bottle racks to flank the ice bin. Behind the ice bin, place pans with garnishes (and other cocktail ingredients).

Craft Beer Bar Layout Considerations

If your bar is selling a lot of beer bottles and cans, keep them in glass-front refrigerators behind the back-bar glassware shelves. Alternately, you can keep them in a cooler with top access.

If possible, set up draft beer taps in the center of the bar or on one side of the mixing station. What beer keg sizes you use doesn't matter, since those will be on the other end of the lines (though you should know how long does beer last in a keg untapped). Just make sure you understand the different beer keg sizing.

Wine Bay Layout Considerations

Organizing your glassware by the type of wine each glass is designed for will be a huge benefit to your bartenders. Even the most trained eye needs a moment to register the difference in shape between a glass for red and white wines.

Or, if your wine program is particularly developed, between a Bordeaux glass and a Burgundy glass. If they’re on labeled shelves, it’ll be much faster.

How to Test the Bar Layout Design

If you have the time to test your bar layout design, you must do it. It’s the only way to make sure it functions as expected. We know you're busy with everything from buying supplies to learning how to get a liquor license, but making sure your bar is functional is key. It's the same as testing out banquet table setup ideas.

It’s all well and good to design a bar, but bars are for humans to move around in. Do everything you can to make sure your bar’s design is focused on the people using it. If you don't, you’re missing a big opportunity. Testing will help.

Try this step-by-step process and answer each question:

  1. Stand in the center of your bar and hold a rocks glass in your hand.
  2. Fill it with ice. How many steps did you take to the ice bin?
  3. Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Where is the cocktail shaker kept?
  4. Make a Manhattan in the cocktail shaker with call whiskey. Where are the call whiskey, vermouth, and bitters kept? (Remember, you can always learn how to make bitters using a bitters recipe)
  5. Strain the liquor into the glass. Where is the strainer kept?
  6. Make a maraschino cherry recipe. Where are the cherries kept?
  7. Pour the Manhattan into the rocks glass and discard the shaker. How many steps did you take to the sink?

Do this exercise with each of your cocktails. It'll give you a feel for the cadence of your bartenders and the utility of your restaurant bar layout design. The answers are meant to get you thinking about organization and functionality.

liquor control system

Different Parts of a Bar

  • Shelving. The bar layout traditionally has shelves that display the different bottles of liquor and glasses. The shelving has different areas too. The well (the area that is easiest to reach) is where the most common liquors are placed. On the other hand, the top shelves are reserved for premium beverages that are ordered less frequently. 
  • Storage area. There are different storage areas behind the bar. Liquor cabinets can be used to store and lock alcohol inventory. Dry storage is the place where nonperishables such as straws, napkins, and different bar equipment are kept. Coolers and refrigerators are the main storage behind a bar. They are used for beverages and for food products like fruits and other cocktail garnishes.
  • Service area and order station. The order station is where waiters order beverages to bartenders. It usually consists of a POS system where the orders are entered and processed. The service area is where the prepared beverages are placed so that servers can pick them up and deliver them to the tables.
  • Draft system. Most bar layouts also include a draft system. This part of the bar consists of a kegerator, taps, handles, and beer towers.
  • Mixing and preparation area. There are different preparation areas behind the bar. A garnish tray and cutting board are used to prepare drink embellishments. 
  • Waste management. Proper waste management should be incorporated into the bar layout. During peak hours, bartenders need to easily be able to throw away waste and keep the bar clean and sanitized. Recycling bins or other types of storage are used to dispose of glass bottles, plastic, and other waste.
  • Glassware area. Glasses and bar equipment should be easily accessible. They can be placed in glass racks or other storage solutions. 

Time is Money

Imagine your bartender makes 5 extra drinks per shift because of an optimal bar layout. Doesn’t seem like much, but that’s 25 extra drinks a week. And that’s 1,300 extra drinks a year.

Now let’s say you have 3 bartenders working. That’s 3,900 extra drinks a year. If they’re $12 cocktails, that’s an extra $46,000 in sales. This stuff adds up.

A functional restaurant bar layout design is serious business. Your layout plan should also be included in your restaurant business plan to show investors how you plan to increase revenue. This is just one small part of how to open a bar.

A good bar layout isn’t the only way to save time, either. Bar inventory software like BinWise will shave hours and possibly days off taking your bar inventory. Making a few extra drinks per shift can balloon up to $46,000 in extra sales. So imagine what not wrestling with manually taking bar inventory will do.

Book a demo and we’ll walk you through exactly how BinWise will help you save time and money. It will be time well spent.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best shape for a bar?

An L-shape is the most common shape for a bar. It can be used in large or small spaces and is roomy and versatile. The L-shape provides the bartenders with room to work and space for patrons to drink.

How do you make a bar look good?

A bar looks good with a cluster of 3 or 4 pendant lights centered high above the bar. This is especially true for a home bar. Choose soft lights and lower wattage bulbs to give your bar a comfortable atmosphere. You might want to consider wood furniture to give it a classic vibe.

What are the parts of a bar?

There are several main parts of a bar:

  • Bar top. This is the main slab of wood or other material where drinks, food, and your guests' arms rest.
  • Bar wall. The bar wall is the vertical piece that supports the bar top. It separates the front bar from the back bar.
  • Bar rail. Bar rails are moldings placed at the edge of a bar top to prevent glasses and other objects from falling off. They also give a bar a polished look.
  • Foot rail. The foot rail is made from wood or metal and gives guests an extra feature for their comfort.
  • Glass rail. The glass rail is a flat piece of wood attached to the back of the bar top. It holds glasses while the bartender mixes drinks.
  • Drip edge. This piece attaches perpendicularly to the back edge of a glass rail to catch spills and crumbs from the bar top.

Related Articles

For more information, check out these articles from our blog:

Efficient Bar Setup Ideas: Essential Plans

4 Bar Equipment Layout Tips and Bar Design Tips

Best Bars: Location and Layout Key Creative Ideas

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