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Commercial Bar Layout Design: Keeping Bartenders in Mind

Scott Schulfer
Table of Contents

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

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That’s why successful bars design their bar layouts 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.

Design a Bar Layout with Enough Space

Having the right bar layout dimensions helps bartenders avoid wrestling with their surroundings. 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 like a breeze.

How Wide Should a Bar Top Be?

Home bars and commercial bars differ, of course. 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?

“Depth” and “width” are used interchangeably when talking about home and commercial bar sizes. As stated about, home bars have an average 15” depth and commercial bars have an average 25” depth.

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. Opt for 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 is 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 bottle isn’t being used at least 3 times a shift, it shouldn’t be in the speed rail.
  • Glassware. Glassware 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?
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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 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.

Craft Beer Bar Layout Considerations

If your bar is selling a lot of bottled 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.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.

Testing the Layout

If you have the time to test your bar layout, you must. It’s the only way to make sure it functions as expected. 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. Add a cherry to the drink. 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.

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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.