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Setting up the perfect bar for an event: Part 1 of 5 - The Layout

Perfect Layout for Event Bar

The flow and function of a staffed bar for an event (such as a wedding, catering, party, etc) can be the 'make it or break it' feature for the success of an event. Let's be honest, if the food service is excellent but the bar is not functioning well, guest will be upset. If the food is terrible, but the bar is excellent, the party can be a smashing successes. The bar really dictates the tempo and enjoyment of the event. With that in mind it is critical to have the bar layout in a fast moving and efficient manner. Below are some key tips when setting up your bar for maximum success. This blog is the first of a series of blogs addressing the topic.  More information is noted below.

Separate the cocktail orders from the beer and wine orders

When offering a full-service bar (meaning cocktails, beer, and wine) it is best to separate the ordering sections into two separate tables and to have two separate bar tenders. One bar tender that focuses on cocktails and one that focuses on beer and wine. As the diagram below shows, the tables can be touching or next to each other, thus the total bar is actually one larger bar, but it is best to keep the two services slightly separated. This is because when making cocktail drinks there is a lot of action and focus is required for each drink (the precise amount of ice, alcohol, the correct mixers etc.). It is much easier for bartenders to focus on a consistent task and versus trying to accomplish multiple rolls.

The two types of bars next to each other help with service and lines

Obviously customers will have a combination order (a cocktail and a glass of wine), but by having the two tables next to each other one bar tender can simply ask over to the other bar tender for the missing item. This way bartenders can work in tandem or back each other up when needed. In addition, as seen on the diagram, by having two tables it creates two (2) lines thus it shortens the total line to the bar by cutting it in half (one for each side). It doesn't look good when you have a long line at the bar! Plus it allows customers to line up next to each other and interact more.

Provide as much space as possible in front of the bar

When setting up your bar and the tables around it, try to leave as much space facing the bar open as possible. People tend to accumulate around the bar area, and this can disrupt the flow. As you can see via the 'flow diagram' it is easier to serve, and people move them out of the way faster. If there is NOT much space in front of the bar or people line up on the side the service area clogs up and they get in the way. Try NOT to feed the bar from side. If this happens often time customers will collect their drinks and stand in the front of the bar afterwards and the bartenders will have to wait until the finish passing until they can serve the next customer. When customers come straight in, the bartender can look past the current customer and take the next order to move things along.

Bar Table Sizes and Work Areas

Bars can work well using the average rectangular folding tables 30 inches wide and 72 inches long. It is excellent if you can also provide that additional extended parapet (the higher shelf in front of the bar) on top of the table where the mixes are hidden behind. The cocktail side of the bar can use a larger parapet as it is needed for additional items such as straws, napkins, limes, lemons etc. DON'T forget the bar mats! Bar mats keep the drinks from sliding off the parapet and when drinks are spilled (which they always do) it is easy to drain the bar mat and keep the serving area clean. The beer and wine side of the bar does not need as large of parapet; thus it can allow for more table space to place wine glasses, and bottles of wine. In addition, make sure your bar tables are raised up 6+ inches. Bartenders are on their feet the whole night, and NOTHING IS WORSE than having to slightly bend over to make drinks for extended periods of time. Also, remember that bar coverings/linens should be black. Stuff spills all night long and the black linens hide the spills.

Add a display table between the bar along with a 'suggested' cocktail list

It is good practice to provide a display table between the two bars showing what wines or beers are offered. If customers can see what is offered as they wait in line, then the typical question of 'what kind of beers or wines do you have' does not have to be answered 100+ times. This really helps move along the orders. In addition, a simple cocktail list can be offered as well (typed up on sheet of paper). You can list the alcohols and mixers by using simple suggestions such as 'Tito's and Soda', 'Jack and Cokes' etc. You do not need to offer all drink options, but a few options provide names of the alcohols and some of the mixers available. In our next blog we will outline some of the drink suggestions and quantities and ratios requested. In addition to the display table, you can also use the storage rack for the 'extra items' behind the bartender to be a display case.

Don't forget trashcans and a dirty glass table when setting up your bar area

Remember after the first round of drinks are served, nearly all of patrons will be returning shortly thereafter with their request for second round and most will be carrying their old glass, beer bottle, etc. The bartender is often the 'trash collector' when they arrive for a new drink. That noted, make sure you have trashcans for them to dispose of napkins, straws, and whatever other items they bring up. The trashcans should be 'wet' meaning waterproof lined, as many wet items such as left-over beers, partially drank cocktails, used limes etc. will be discarded into them. In addition, many customers prefer to reuse their cocktail glass when ordering the same drink, thus those glasses need to be emptied of ice and other wet items. As for those that don't want to reuse their glass they often times want to hand previously used / dirty glasses back to the bartender to deal with, thus it is imperative to have a dirty glass table where all dirty items go. Also by keeping the trashcans on the side of the bar, it helps 'enclose the bar area' but more importantly, it provides access to customers to toss their own trash as well without interfering with the flow of the bar service.

You will need at least three (3) coolers all with different/distinct uses for a proper bar

As the diagram shows you will need at least three (3) coolers all with different uses, and those uses should remain separate. One cooler called the 'serving cooler' will be in the bar area and contains the beers and wines (white wines / champagnes). These are instant access for the beer and wine bartender. The second cooler, it a 'prep cooler' for the beers and wines. It is suggested that this be a bigger cooler where the boxes of beer can be kept. It is best if the beers are in 12 packs and are kept in their box because they can quickly be taken out and placed into the serving cooler when needed. In the prep cooler, the bags of ice ARE NOT OPEN, but just laid on the beers to cool them. Nothing is worse than to have warm beer placed directly into the serving cooler. The third cooler is the 'serving ice cooler'. This cooler is behind the bartender and contains the bags of ice needed for cocktails. The ice bags are NOT open until they are poured directly into the serving bin. It is easy to think 'why not use the ice from the prep cooler as the serving ice?' Don't. If the bags of ice are open in the prep cooler, the melted ice dissolves the boxes of beer and makes a mess. Also by keeping the 'serving ice' together and bagged, it melts slower. You don't want melted serving ice. That results in water downed cocktails.