Setting Up a Restaurant Bar

Two women ordering drinks at the bar within a restaurant

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The set-up of a restaurant bar depends on your restaurant’s size, theme, and your liquor license. Setting up a bar for your restaurant from scratch has an average time frame of 6-8 weeks. But after that, your bar can be up and running.

Some bars are service only, meaning they don't serve customers directly. Instead, the staff will order and pick up drinks for the customers. Other full-service bars offer drinks as well as a limited or full food menu.

Bars may double as a wait station, where servers can pour their fountain drinks, or it may be strictly off-limits to staff, except for the bartender.

Check Your Liquor License

Liquor licenses vary by location and the type of license you have. While one license may cover all alcohol, others only cover wine and beer.

If you are only serving beer and wine, a small service bar is more than adequate for your needs. If you plan to offer hard liquor as well as wine and beer and are looking to expand business through bar sales, you should plan for a full-service bar.

Also, find out if your staff needs to have any specific liquor seller training before opening your bar. This requirement is determined by the state or, in some cases, the city where you are located. Even if it is not a requirement for your location, having well-trained staff working around alcohol is a must.

Some states require Training for Intervention Procedures (TIPS) or similar certifications such as an Alcohol Awareness course, while others don't. At the least, it never hurts to have your staff trained in responsible beverage serving, as it protects them, the restaurant and the customer. 

Figure Out How Much Space You Have

The size of your available bar area may also dictate what type of bar service you offer. Ideally, two feet of space between bar stools is a good rule of thumb to accommodate patrons. So if you want eight seats at the bar, you'll need a twenty-four-foot bar. You could have a standing-room bar where patrons wait for tables and reservations.

Decide Where to Put the Bar

Consider the sort of gathering place where you want your bar to be. Bars placed in the front of restaurants often do double duty as waiting areas. Bars in the center of restaurants ease staff access during hectic dinner rushes. Bars placed in the back of a restaurant tend to be more intimate, away from the front-of-house hustle and bustle.

Stock Your Bar with the Right Equipment

Having the right equipment is key to smooth service and positive experiences—both central to great tips and return customers. Bars need their own reach-in coolers, ice bins, hygiene supplies, paper towel dispensers, liquor wells, glass racks, wine racks, and dry storage.

Coolers should be big enough to hold bottled beer, white and blush wines, as well as backups of juice, milk and other beverages, used to mix drinks. A restaurant bar also needs a beer tower and a place to keep kegs cold.

You may have to run beer lines from the walk-in cooler if your bar doesn’t have enough space for kegs. Cover the floors of the bar with rubber floor mats for employee comfort and safety.

Leaving Your Bartender Alone, Not Adrift

Bartenders are often the rock stars of any popular restaurant, but they're also typically territorial creatures and don’t like wait staff underfoot. So you may need to implement rules barring wait staff from being behind the bar during peak hours. However, it's still important to make your bar as self-sufficient as possible.

Outfit it with a POS system. The system allows the bartender to take care of customer tabs right on the spot. An integrated POS also lets the bartender send food orders to the kitchen directly from the bar.

Set the Mood With Lighting

Lighting in the bar should be subtle. Not so dark customers can’t read the menu, but not too bright. Recessed lighting and track lighting with dimmer switches allow you to control the light, adjusting it for the time of day. A lighting design secret is to use a recessed can light with a gold interior and a pink bulb to make patrons look healthier.

Take Advantage of Freebies

Your wine and beer salesperson can outfit you with free merchandise, like glasses, decorative mirrors, even those tacky neon lights that hang in windows. Find out what you can get for free before buying decorative items.

A restaurant bar offers easy profits for restaurants if they follow the local laws and have the right insurance and training for staff. Liquor licensing and accompanying insurance varies from state to state, as do rules around responsible beverage training.