Even experienced bar owners don’t always get it right. Here are some common design and equipment mistakes to avoid. 

1. Poor space planning. This part of your bar project isn’t easy—but it is crucial to get it right. The proper balance of space between the front and back of the house, and between the bar and other seating areas, can make or break a business. Often, designs result in too much or too little of one versus another. Visit lots of establishments, and take lots of notes, before opening your own place. Look closely to see what works and what doesn’t.  

2. Inefficient layout. Too many bars are designed with too much space between the back bar and the bar, or between the bartender’s station and the beer taps. The result is wasted time and motion, slowing service. Ideally, everything a bartender needs—speed rail, glass storage, ice bin, beer cooler, beer taps, etc.—should be within a six-foot radius, requiring no more than a step in any direction. The reverse also is true—give your bartenders enough space to get past each other. We recommend a minimum of 32 inches between the back bar and front. 

“Most bars fall victim to unnecessary gaps between their back bar equipment and their millwork, which morphs into a junk catchall,” says Nason Frizell, Director of Multi-Unit Sales, Central Restaurant Products. “Don’t overlook dump sinks and floor drains; they’re crucial to your bar’s operation. Dump sinks minimize dishes from piling up, and drains make it easier to keep the floors clean.”    

3. Undersize refrigeration equipment. Some bars are designed with one walk-in for both food and beer kegs. Not only might that not be enough space, but depending on how busy your kitchen is, the walk-in may not hold cold enough temperatures at busy times to optimize draft beer pours. Undercounter refrigeration behind the bar also needs to be sized properly, and requires adequate ventilation to perform well.  

“Spring for glass door coolers and show off what you’ve got,” Frizell says. “Also be cognizant of height; you want to make sure your casters or legs are tall enough to make your bottom shelf visible to your customers.” 

4. Undersize ice-making equipment. Make sure you size your ice machine properly for the volume of business you anticipate. Sometimes, the ice machine has enough capacity to supply a bar’s needs (since it produces ice even when the bar is closed), but the ice storage bin isn’t large enough. Many bars now also have different types of ice machines for different beverage service, something you might want to consider.  

Be sure you’re providing the right ice bin for your bar. Cocktails require ice and soda, so don’t gravitate toward the smaller and less equipped bin to save a few bucks. A cold plate in the bottom of your ice bin will help ensure that ice lasts longer with higher quality, and chill the soda lines. 

“Speaking of soda,” Frizzle adds, “make sure that your built-in soda gun holder is on the left side of your ice bin. Pick a brand that can provide a gun holder, too. No bartender ever likes the gun hanging from the underside of the bar because it’s an afterthought.”  

5. Poor choice of materials. Work with a consultant or product expert when you spec surfaces and finishes for the bar. Marble bars, for example, may look great in an upscale cocktail lounge, but in a high volume bar, marble will break more glassware than wood. Carpeting might be okay for a hotel lobby bar, but in busy establishments, spills are inevitable. An easily cleanable surface makes more sense. Likewise, good wood furniture can stain from water marks and spills unless it has a durable polyurethane finish.  

6. Wrong glassware. Perhaps nothing identifies you as a bar business rookie faster than the wrong glassware. Make sure you have the proper glassware for each type of beverage on your menu—red and white wine glasses, champagne flutes, rocks and highball glasses, martini glasses and glassware for various beers such as pilsners, ales, Weiss beers, lambics and more. Also, make sure the glassware you purchase is durable and not easily broken 

7. Inadequate storage behind the bar. Make use of underbar and undercounter space as well as overhead space to create enough storage to get bar staff through the busiest rush. During busy times bar backs will have enough to do replenishing ice, replacing kegs and helping serve customers to worry about running to the back to fetch additional cases of glassware or garnish from the kitchen. 

8. Poorly planned beer dispensing. Know your beverage menu in advance, especially your draft beer program. Running beer lines from cooler to bar can be expensive and difficult, if not impossible, to do once your bar is built out. If you don’t have enough beer or glycol lines to handle all the offerings you’d like, you may have to limit what you offer on draft. 

9. Bad lighting. There are so many great LED lighting fixtures available now that there’s little excuse for poor lighting. Not only should lighting be adequate for patrons both at the bar and seated at tables to read menus and see beverage and food presentations, but lighting should be used to accentuate features of your bar, back bar and the rest of your establishment. Lighting should be as much a part of your décor as furnishings. Any designer will tell you: Lighting is key to establishing the right mood and ambiance. Heavy fluorescent lighting can kill your guests’ mood, where warmer lighting can make them feel at ease.

10. Wrong POS system. Your POS system will be the heart of your inventory management and financials. Make sure you select a system that not only is intuitive for staff to use, but works well with your concept and menu, and provides the kind of reports you need to run a successful bar. 

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