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.”
A variety of components factor into bar design, such as the overall layout, number of stations, glass washing capabilities, ice production and service.
“It’s important to think aesthetically when considering the bar’s layout,” says Polacek. “Batch cocktails may be produced behind the scenes to make the bartender more efficient.”
As technology has become more advanced, point-of-sale systems help enhance efficiency and speed of service. Fortunately, more designers now work with bar and kitchen teams earlier in the process, which ensures a seamless flow. “If you’re working with a designer and saying you’ll have a craft beer bar that needs 25 types of glassware, a bunch of draft lines and a dishwasher in the back of house, now they can think of ways for it to look beautiful,” says Joaquin Simó, a partner at Pouring Ribbons in New York City. “Think of the equipment that’s needed and that makes sense, rather than going with a generic design. Beer taps on the front or in the back impact a customer’s experience at the bar.”
Bars should be on par and designed like kitchens, with efficiency at the forefront. “This includes being thoughtful about where ice wells, sinks and plumbing are located and how the bar top is designed,” says Jonathan Pogash, founder of Cocktail Guru. “I worked and consulted in so many bars that don’t make sense and are inefficient. Many times, half the bar is unusable, filled with jackets, coats, purses and personal belongings.”
Drinks that turn out well and are made quickly start with the design, and it’s never too early to bring an operator or owner into the bar design conversation. “I like to start the conversation with the owner and/or operator during the architect’s layout phase,” says Pogash. “It’s about balancing the experience of the bartender with that of the guest.”
If those working the bar are taking five to seven steps getting from one place to another, that’s unacceptable. By the same token, the design’s impact on customers must also be considered. “Making sure the bar height is appropriate, bar stools are comfortable, and the vibe and decor work all factor into the guest experience,” says Pogash. “Having the bartender’s tools on top rather than below lets them put on a performance creating cocktails. It’s like looking into an open kitchen.”