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From a chef’s mise en place to drawn-out maps, there are many ways to set up a bar station for increased efficiency and cleanliness. High-volume bars rely on different tricks and techniques than those performing more bespoke service. But some principles apply across the board. Here are four tips for better organizing your bar station.
1. Make a Map
“There’s a bar book with maps of where everything should be that’s very helpful for new bartenders and barbacks who haven’t yet developed their muscle memory for the space,” says Allegra Vera Warsager, a bartender at New York City’s Mr. Purple. “There are over 20 cocktails on the menu during all seasons, so whatever is in the speed rack is designed to match the spirits needed for the menu, with lesser-used spirits going in small cheater bottles.”
Tony Staunton of Harrigan’s in Chicago also uses a diagram that serves newer employees. “There’s a schematic so that all the items remain in place,” he says. “This makes it easier for young bartenders to develop muscle memory to increase their speed.”
Juan Castillo, the head bartender at Gospël in NYC, suggests creating sections, then “keeping everything either in alphabetical order or grouped by recipe or by volume of demand.”
2. Design to the Space
While not everyone builds a bar from scratch, there are ways in which better use of the available layout can not only make service more efficient but keep bartenders from feeling less sore at the end of a shift.
“At Chantecler, we have a very limited amount of space, so keeping things in exactly the right place at all times is paramount to a smooth service,” says Josh Lindley, a bartender at the Toronto spot and a co-founder of Bartender Atlas. “We don’t have a traditional rail; our entire bar, save the ice well, is behind us. This makes it necessary to keep everything lined up perfectly.” Syrups are in labeled squeeze bottles, juices are in glass bottles with pour spouts, and garnishes get uniform bowls. “All tools are kept lined up on a cutting board or standing up in shaker tins,” he adds. “You get really good at pivoting on either foot and bartending ambidextrously.”
Laura Newman and her fiancé built Birmingham, Ala.’s Queen’s Park from scratch. Their goal was to design a system that’s easy on the body. “Beyond the usual stress on our dominant hand’s shoulder from scooping ice, my body feels better after a busy night behind this bar than anywhere else I’ve ever worked,” she says. “And making sure that my bar team is healthy and able to move their bodies is extremely important to me!”
As for how they did that, it involved a lot of mock services for neighbors and developing an exacting system. “Our bar is organized into two stations that are exactly the same, except for glassware, which mirror each other,” she says. The system supports the high volume the bar does with a 60-item list. “Behind each well, there’s a freezer for glassware, batched cocktails and frozen garnishes, followed by refrigerated drawers for garnishes and soda, on top of which we have a little cutting station with a cutting board, paring knife, Y peeler and zester/channel knife.” There’s also shelving for unrefrigerated glassware and a cooler for beer, wine and miscellaneous refrigerated items. “The area of the bar behind each well is mirrored for each side, which sounds maddening but really isn’t. We find it to be more visually pleasing for anyone seated at the bar.”
3. Keep It Simple
Sother Teague, who runs the program at New York City’s Amor y Amargo, values a simple setup. “The best technique I’ve employed over the years is to minimize the amount of items behind the bar. Making do with less clutter encourages a sleeker, more streamlined mentality and thus more efficiency,” he says. “The pitfall I’ve run into the most over the years is overcomplicating the equipment setup. Combine that with an ambitious program chockablock with different techniques, and then it begins to dramatically slow the speed of service and impact both guest satisfaction and revenue generation.”
Kelley Fitzsimmons, the lead bartender at Odd Birds in St. Augustine, Fla., adopts a similar approach. “I’m a creature of habit. I have had a similar bar setup for about the last 10 years of my 23-year career,” he says. “Tins nested on the left with spoons, muddlers and tweezers. Mixing glass, bitters and strainer on the right. Whether it be my home base or guest shifts, this is my setup.”
4. Each Station Should Be Complete
“A bar station setup should flow like a cook’s on a line; everything should be no more than one pivot away and centralized around the workspace as much as possible,” says Marlowe Johnson, the beverage director at Detroit’s Flowers of Vietnam. “We like to keep the syrup, bottles and garnishes removed from guest spaces so that we don’t limit guest interaction. There should be a real flow to your work behind a bar, and that’s why a station setup is so critical. Ideally, both hands should be either working in tandem or on their own tasks. For that reason, I like to keep left-handed tools and right-handed tools on their respective sides, so that my hands aren’t cross when I reach for things. I was trained very strictly as a service bartender, and that’s still where my mind is. Each station is set up with its own complete sets of tools, garnishes, spirits and syrups. Nothing is shared. Each station has to be completely self-sufficient.”
He admits, though, that there’s always room for failure, so planning and dexterity are key. “I tend to use many sets of tools at once,” says Johnson. “This lets me bang out drinks, but I tend to not be as good about keeping up with the dishes, so to speak. The hardest part of also offering full service at a bar is navigating the space shared between you and the guest—it’s a matter of constant rearranging and accommodating.”