Bars are a known revenue generator and might take less effort to staff but rarely get the necessary attention in a restaurant’s design phase.
“B comes before F in F&B, and our clients are seeing bars can have a bigger draw when food is positioned more as a complement,” says Robert Polacek, creative director/partner at RoseBernard Studio, which has offices in Chicago and San Francisco. “For instance, looking at traditional steakhouses, the bar is a robust part of the atmosphere.”
Hotels serve as an example of a segment rethinking the bar’s purpose and place. “Particularly nonbranded hotels are accepting of not having a lobby bar and restaurant but instead including a big, beautiful bar serving meals all day,” says Polacek.
It’s evident bars are becoming more of a focal point, not just as a place to drink but also as gathering spots for socializing. “With the design, our challenge is creating a bar that operates efficiently but still looks good.”
Because of the finality, once the concrete is poured and plumbing and utilities are in, there has to be a solid plan in place where all the bar components and stations will fit in from the get-go. “Space has to be allocated, volume should be figured out for sizing and there needs to be a clear idea for the needs, because equipment placement makes a big difference in output efficiency,” says Joaquin Simó, a partner at Pouring Ribbons in New York City.
Functional stations should be intuitive from a guest’s point of view. In other words, customers should be able to walk in and know immediately where to order at the bar; service areas should not be located in a back corner.
There are aspects that can be neglected or taken for granted that shouldn’t be with bar layout and design. “For example, it’s amazing how many bar layouts forget about garbage cans,” says Simó. “I’ve seen a 25-foot-long bar with one can. If you have to walk 20 feet to throw something away, that’s a bad layout.”
There are many cases where glassware storage is an afterthought, with space not relegated in the bar’s design. “This storage area should be designated for an empty space that’s efficient for the bartender to access and in close proximity of the service stations,” says Jonathan Pogash, founder of Cocktail Guru.
Access and ergonomics also come into play for security, staff comfort and safety. “The floor surface also is a consideration, and I’m a huge proponent of putting in appropriate surfaces that don’t take a toll on the body,” says Pogash.
Bars in different segments vary not just aesthetically, but also in the layout and equipment. With sports bars, there are typically more beer taps that need accommodating, while with hotel wine bars, it’s all about accommodating wine taps and bottle storage.
The bar concept and its offerings need to be clear cut, and there should be enough cocktail stations to support the menu. “If the bar will boast 100 beers on tap, designers need to know this from the outset because it impacts the center of focus and how the design works,” says Polacek. “Durability of the finishes also is a key element and making sure the owner understands how to maintain the look.”
The ultimate goals with bar layout and design are efficiency and speed of service, which go hand in hand. “The notion of having everything on hand, already there and ready to go, this matters a lot in a bar,” says Simó. “You don’t want the bartender walking five feet to grab a glass or even three feet to get a bottle; it needs to be a cockpit concept in which everything they need is all around them.”
These pivot bars are laid out where all it takes is a turn to access an item or station. “It’s an efficient way to work, with a designated area of production and execution, and everything at arm’s length,” he says.
Like the design, equipment efficiency is a consideration in a bar setting. “Glass washers work faster and cocktail stations encompassing refrigeration and ice making capabilities benefit speed of service,” says Polacek. “Today’s equipment technology and newer bar stations also help control construction costs by allowing more efficient installation, while providing bartenders with an ergonomically-designed command station.”
A bar’s design and layout can mean the difference between ramping up revenue and leaving cash on the table. Being thoughtful from the perspective of the bartender as well as the customer will be beneficial for the lucrative beverage side of a business.