Setting Up a Restaurant Bar

a man filling a mug of beer from a tap
••• Restaurant Nuovo Antica Roma via Pixabay

The set-up of a restaurant bar depends on your restaurant’s size, theme, and liquor license. Some bars are service only, meaning they don't serve customers directly; staff, instead, orders and picks up drinks for the customers. Other full-service bars offer drinks as well as a limited or full 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.

  • Difficulty: Average
  • Time Required: 6-8 Weeks
  • Here's How:

Check Your Liquor License

Liquor licenses vary. 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. Some states require TIPS or similar certifications, 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

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.

Decide Where to Put the Bar

What sort of gathering place do 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. Bar floors should be covered 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 while you may need to implement rules barring wait staff from behind the bar during peak hours, it's still important to make your bar as self-sufficient as possible. Outfit it with its own POS system, so the bartender can 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.

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.