With food costs rising and profit margins slimming, restaurants — including quick-serve chains — now place greater emphasis on alcohol sales. As a result, restaurants' bar and/or lounge spaces are more central to the operation than ever before.

Craft-and-Commerce"From a strictly business perspective, restaurants with a strong bar program make more money," says Johnny Auer, founder of Jamco Creative, a restaurant and marketing consultancy based in Chicago. "A restolounge, if you will, might split its total sales on a weekend night at 70 percent liquor and 30 percent food, and the markups on liquor net far more profit than food sales do — weekends are the bread and butter for spots like this."

The merging of bar and dining into one opens up an onslaught of opportunities for restaurant designers and consultants as well as bar equipment makers and dealers. Tabletop, smallwares and glassware play a significant role in this area's success.

A boosted bar business also has its influence on menu design. "On the aesthetic front, the move is toward positioning the bar as a focal point of the restaurant, and making it an inviting and comfortable space for the guest," says Donna Hood Crecca, senior director of the adult beverage resource group with Technomic and a former beverage and bar magazine editor. "Beyond that, the bar space is now being designed to merchandise the featured beverages, whether it's showcasing unique beer taps or drawing attention to wines on tap or creating a space where cocktail creation can take center stage."

The blending of dining room into and around a bar area has also brought beverage directors and mixologists into the foray of restaurant design conversations and planning. "Both new builds and re-designs have focused on positioning equipment to minimize the steps a bartender must make to create a drink or pull a beer, and place garnishes, glasses and other necessary items within arm's reach of their work station. So it's both form and function in balance," Hood Crecca says.

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