Who’s that behind the bar, moving like a shadow, clean glassware in one hand and fresh towels in the other? Who’s that champion descending alone into the dark basement to change the keg?
Just who is that bar-stocking, garnish-prepping force of nature that operates in secret yet keeps the most profitable part of a restaurant chugging along?
It’s the barback!
The often overlooked and criminally under-celebrated FOH workhorse (see FOH meaning slang) is the grease that keeps the bar wheels turning. Having a great barback makes running an efficient and profitable bar so much easier.
Whether you’re looking to hire a barback or become a barback, here’s a breakdown of all the crucial barback duties and responsibilities. The second section is geared toward bar managers on a hunt for a good barback hire.
Barback Duties And Responsibilities
Figuring out what a barback does is a process of elimination. Consider everything on this checklist of bartender responsibilities, everything a server does, and the bar manager responsibilities. Now consider everything that isn’t those things. That’s what a barback does. So let’s take a look.
What Does A Barback Do?
Barback duties can be roughly divided between stocking responsibilities and cleaning responsibilities. And where those overlap: stocking all the bar and restaurant cleaning supplies. A typical barback job description includes keeping the bar stocked, changing kegs, gathering dirty glasses, cleaning and mopping the bar and surrounding area, and refilling the ice bins.
Barbacks will often open the bar area with the opening bartender. That means they’ll help tick off everything on the bartender’s opening and closing checklists. And after setting the bar up, they’ll replenish everything as needed.
Stock the Bar
The bread and butter of barback responsibilities is restocking the bar. That means liquor bottles, beer cans and bottles, mixers, garnishes, towels, cocktail napkins, glassware, and silverware. ← bitters?
Whether the barback is spotting refilling opportunities on their own or going off to grab whatever the bartender or bar manager asks for depends on the situation. But running out of supplies behind the bar (unless that item’s 86’d ... see restaurant terms) is a sign that the barback isn’t being properly utilized. Bartenders are paid to sell and make drinks, so any time spent away from the bar is affecting the bar’s profit margin. Unless it’s completely dead, of course.
Sometimes, restocking the mixers means making the mixers. And that means juicin’ some fruits. Fresh lime, lemon, and orange juice are commonly prepared by barbacks when opening the bar and on-the-fly as needed.
Imagine being a bartender, pulling a tap handle, and seeing some sad bits of foam dribble out. Womp. Then, knowing glances exchanged, the barback disappears. Next thing you know, beer is flowing again. What is this sorcery?
The barback went and changed the keg. It’s one of their most important duties. And because it happens out of sight, it can be a little mysterious. But don’t worry, it’s normal. If there's a keg issue, barbacks are on it. All keg sizes, all keg types. They are the keg hero.
Refilling ice gets its own section here because it gets refilled a lot more often than liquor bottles and beer cans. Walking around with tubs full of ice is a very common task for barbacks, so lifting heavy things is a must. Which was probably already assumed from the changing kegs part above.
Help Take Inventory
Bartenders and bar managers take inventory often to get a pulse on what’s selling, what’s not selling, and what to order next. And taking inventory is usually a manual counting process, unless you use bar inventory software. Barbacks are often enlisted, then, to help tally up the liquor bottles, wine, and beer for inventory purposes.
Stocking goes hand-in-hand with a barback’s opening duties just like cleaning does with closing duties. Both are done as needed throughout the shift, though.
Clean the Bar
By “the bar,” I mean the literal bar. The one people sit at, not the entire place. Barbacks are responsible for wiping down the bar whenever a guest leaves and making sure the spot is ready for the next one.
Clean Spills and Breaks
When the inevitable happens, either because of staff or a guest, the barback comes to the rescue. Broken glass, spilled drinks, and all other manner of messy surprise are dealt with by barbacks.
Run Empty Glasses and Dishes Back to Dish Pit
As the shift progresses, dirty glasses are usually put in a glass rack. When they fill up, the rack is taken back to the dish pit. Then a new glass rack with clean glasses can be picked up and brought back to the bar. This is a barback responsibility. And if there’s no dishwasher, cleaning the glasses and dishes often falls to the barback, too.
Takin' out the trash is usually a closing duty. But whenever the trash needs to be taken out and a new bag placed in the trash can, the barback does it.
Clogged sink? Obstructed floor drain? Barback’s got it! If there’s a relatively minor plumbing issue that needs a little elbow grease for a simple fix, the barback will do it.
The no-slip mats behind the bar are sprayed down after each shift, ideally. The barback does this.
When the no-slip mats are removed, the floor beneath is exposed. That floor is usually filthy on account of the no-slip mats dripping on them. As BinWise’s good friend Bar Dad—the guy who taught us everything we know about bars—likes to say, “Nobody ever called them no-drip mats!”
Barback Vs. Bartender
There is sometimes some confusion around the roles of barback and bartender, so let’s clear that up right quick!
What’s the Difference Between a Barback and a Bartender?
A bartender’s job is to sell and make drinks. A barback’s job is to ensure the bar runs smoothly so the bartender can do their job efficiently. The two jobs bleed into each other sometimes, though.
A bartender will sometimes change a keg or run to grab glassware. A barback will sometimes take an order or deliver a drink. But, in general, you can think of a barback as a bartender’s assistant. Barbacks might not know how many ounces in a pint or how to clean a wine decanter while bartenders will.
Do Barbacks Make Drinks?
They usually don’t. If they’re of legal serving age and meet whatever local requirements are in place to legally bartend, they can. And that usually means pouring a draft beer, opening a beer bottle, or pouring a glass of wine. Rarely do barbacks mix drinks. Just make sure you know the answer to "how old do you have to be to serve alcohol?"
How to Hire a Barback
The primary thing to look for in a barback candidate is a desire to move up in the bar industry. Nothing will make a barback work harder than the promise of becoming a bartender. And that shouldn’t be dangled in front of them disingenuously. You’ll soon find that your best bartenders are your promoted barbacks. In fact, most bartenders you hire will have "barback" somewhere on their bartender cover letter.
Barback Job Description
Writing the right barback job description is really the first quality check in your hiring process. Here are some hard and soft skills to list in your barback job description. Along with bullet points explaining why each skill is there. Use all, some, or none of them. If they don’t strike the right notes, feel free to tweak them.
Barback Job Description: Hard Skills
- Ability to stand for eight hours and lift heavy objects
- They won’t be sitting, and they’ll be restocking lots of heavy things.
- Elementary knowledge of bars and serving
- They’ll often get stopped behind the bar to assist with a guest, be that taking an order or answering a question.
- Beginner’s knowledge of mixology
- Having some grasp of what the bartender is making and how it’s happening will help barbacks prioritize tasks and take initiative.
- Familiarity with knife safety best practices and general knife skills
- Prepping garnishes requires the safe use of a knife.
Barback Job Description: Soft Skills
- Comfortable taking initiative
- Sometimes bartenders and bar managers are too busy to communicate what they need. That’s when it’s time for the barback to figure it out on their own.
- Also comfortable taking orders
- On the flip side, barbacks are there to make sure bartenders can get their jobs done. If a bartender asks for something, that should be considered high priority and a barback should happily oblige.
- Able to work in loud, high-traffic environments
- If having to constantly navigate through throngs of people is too much for them, they may not be an efficient barback.
- Service skills
- When a barback gets stopped to take an order or field a question, ideally they’re able to do it adequately and to your bar or restaurant’s service standards.
- Ability to prioritize
- Barbacks will often have competing requests and responsibilities; determining which is most important is key to success.
Barback Interview Questions
You likely have a set of standard interview questions and attitude/personality questions when hiring bar staff and a few specific bartender interview questions. But here are a few interview questions to see if your barback is committed to the profession and the industry.
- Where do you see yourself in 1 year? In 5 years?
- What do you like about working in bars?
- Why do you want to be a barback?
- How would you make sure the bar runs smoothly during a busy shift?
- Do you prefer taking orders or working independently?
- Would you be willing to get an alcohol server certification?
Do You Need Experience to Be a Barback?
Barback is typically considered an entry-level job. It’s not something you need years of experience to do. But years of experience will certainly make you a great barback. While some experience is helpful for being the most attractive candidate, it’s not required. What’s required is a willingness to work hard in a busy environment and being a mutual match in terms of workplace culture.
How Old Does a Barback Have to Be?
Most bar managers want a barback who can serve alcohol, in a pinch. That’s why barbacks will usually be of legal serving age in the state they’re working. Each state has a law regulating the minimum age for on-premises servers and bartenders. Check that resource and scroll down to your state for the minimum age to serve alcohol.
Barback Salary and Pay
Do Barbacks Get Tips?
Yes, barbacks get tips. They don’t get tips directly from guests, though. They get a percentage of the bartender’s tips, which is called a “tip out.” The barback tip out percentage is either 1–3% of total sales or 10–20% of total tips. Restaurants and bars have minimums for the barback tip out percentage and usually bartenders go over that minimum.
How Much Do Barbacks Make Per Hour?
Using national data on salary estimates from ZipRecruiter.com, we averaged the national salary and hourly earnings of barbacks in the U.S. The average salary is $22,906 and they earn an average hourly pay of $11.01. That includes base pay and claimed tips.
Barback Minimum Wage
Barbacks are usually paid minimum wage, which varies by state. As an entry-level job that earns tips, that’s pretty standard.
Is Barback a Good Job?
Yes, it is a good job. If someone is looking for camaraderie, a bar and restaurant is tough to beat. And if they’re looking for upward mobility in the hospitality business, no one is quite loved as much as a dependable barback. And they can usually leverage that love into a bartender position, and from there the sky’s the limit. They can go to bartending school. They can earn a bartender salary or become a bar manager and earn a bar manager salary that's about double that of a barback. They can ascend all levels of sommelier, you name it. It’s one of the best stepping stones in the industry.
Is Being a Barback Worth It?
If someone likes a hard night’s work, a supportive crew of people to work with, cash-in-hand every night, and a relatively stress-free job that they don’t have to take home with them, then being a barback can be worth it. Whether it is or not depends on their financial expectations.
That’s What a Barback Is and How to Find a Good One
Ideally this article puts you in a better position to find a barback that’s right for your bar or restaurant. Getting the right staff and building the right team makes your bar a fun and profitable place to work. And that makes you a good bar manager.
Another sign of a good bar manager is optimizing their liquor inventory management with liquor inventory software, like BinWise Pro. Similar to a good barback, beverage inventory software makes everything around it easier and better.
Book a demo and we’ll walk you through exactly how BinWise Pro helps thousands of bars and restaurants across the country leverage our industry-leading technology. It helps them speed up inventory, streamline ordering, lower pour cost, and decrease variance. It costs nothing to learn about it, so why not?