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Design Buzz

A blog site for those interested in today's bar and nightclub design trends, including interviews and product reviews

How to Design the Most Effective and Popular Bar

How do you design a popular bar? In this article we'll discuss how basic bar design concepts are critical and essential to effective and popular bars.

With some careful planning (and the proper amount of space), you can have the best bar you could ever imagine -- an island bar. Welcome to another edition of "Design Buzz." Some people contend that a "bar-is-a-bar," but this is the furthest thing from the truth, and in this discussion about bar design, you'll discover the elements that contribute to the ideal bar.


The most important aspect to successful bar design is its geometric shape and the island bar is the best, most STANDARD UNIVERSAL BAR CLEARANCESeffective shape for bar owner profits. To be clear, an island bar is one that sits in the middle of the room, in a closed loop; this is the most effective design. For island bars, a rectangular shape is the most desirable shape and circular is the least. The reason for this is because we want the patrons to be in close proximity to one another and this is most easily accomplished by a rectangular shaped bar. Rectangular bar shapes are also superior because they are inherently conducive to optimal equipment design. Conversely, circular bars aren't compatible with bar equipment. In the drink-making process, bartenders need to work from left-to-right, and curved bars are counter-productive to this effort. So, rectangular-shaped island bars are not only ideal for bar equipment, they're optimally efficient for patron interaction by virtue of proximity to one another and the overall festive nature that you're trying to create. After all, who wants to sit a bar and look at a wall? The success of implementing any island bar design is aisle space, which is discussed below. 



The most effective bar is designed from the inside-out. That is to say, we first must address the equipment and the operating space necessary to make the bar work. As I mentioned earlier, circular bar shapes not only place patrons too far apart, they simply don't work with bar equipment or bartender movements, for that matter. The process of bar design begins with determining how many bartenders will be needed and how waitress orders are processed. For many smaller establishments, one bartender will handle the bar and waitress orders during non-peak hours. The same bar may have a second bartender during peak hours. This is what's known as a 2-station bar. Each bartender works within his/her zone, and each zone is defined by the equipment in front of each bartender and the liquor (normally "Call" and "Premium" liquor) on the backbar directly behind each bartender. Each bartender has the same liquor as the other, thereby eliminating the need for the bartenders to cross paths. Therefore, the backbar has one identical zone at each end and an intermediate zone in the middle where the "Top-Shelf" liquor sits. This 2-station bar could be expanded to a 3-station bar when a third bartender is utilized to exclusively process waitress orders. To facilitate this, we must add the necessary equipment at one end of the bar. The key to all of this is equipment, which I'll discuss below. A small rectangular island bar will have a station on each long side. The waitress station can be implemented at the end favorable to the wait staff. Operationally, even a small island bar can be tricky to manage, because during slow periods the management will often cut overhead by using one bartender. If this is a 20-seat bar in a restaurant, the patrons will often become unhappy with the service level. Many such establishmnents will allow waitresses to make their own drinks, but even this scenario can be taxing for a good bartender.

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When we talk about space considerations in bar design, the struggle for aisle space -- for bartenders and patrons -- inextricably arises. As I mentioned earlier, bar design begins from the inside-out, and therefore, for an island bar the first thing we must address is the island backbar. The backbar is typically where beer coolers are housed. This can include direct-draw boxes and for that matter, remote-draw beer towers. Normally, for bars that make alcohol drinks, I prefer all beer taps to be on the ends of the island or even at one end of the bar. As a result, island backbar planning can be tricky if you're attempting to economize on space. At the minimum, the backbar island should be about 4' (1,2 m) deep and at least 12' (3,7 m) long. Operationally, the bartenders need a 3' aisle (91 cm) -- especially if your operation utilizes barbacks. Your aisle should be the same on all four sides. A typical bartender station will be anywhere from 12' - 15' (3,7 m - 4,6 m) and will typically incorporate a waste receptacle, dump sink, glass storage drainboard, ice bin, 3-bin sink (or better yet, an automatic glass washer) and POS station. All jurisdictions in the U.S. require at least one hand sink. As for planning your equipment space, yet another advantage to a rectangular island bar is its ability to utilize every side for equipment. This means that we can begin a station on a short side and complete it on the adjacent (long) side. To better facilitate this idea, while creating even more interactive seating, all effective bar design utilizes 45 degree corners. To complete the task of space planning, see the downloadable sketch below. You should allow for a 4' (1,2 m) aisle from the back of the bar stools to adjacent table seating. 


pdfStandard Universal Bar Clearances

By now you may be able to tell, bar design can be very complex and time-consuming. This should give you a solid idea on the basics needed for planning your own ideal bar.


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