Restaurant bars come in all shapes, sizes, and themes. You can feature a full-service bar where customers sit and even enjoy a meal along with a cocktail, or you might settle on a limited service bar where servers make or order their customers' drinks and deliver them to tables.
In either case, you'll have to invest in outfitting the bar, at least if you plan on serving any alcohol other than wine and beer. This may mean an investing a few thousand dollars or much more, depending on your plan. Some liquor, refrigeration, and other equipment is necessary regardless of the type of bar.
Basic Liquor Needs
Liquor comes in three distinct qualities and you'll want to keep all three in stock for each type of liquor you serve:
- Cheap liquor typically sits in the well within easy reach of your bartender. This liquor is served to customers who don't specify a brand and generally order a gin and tonic or shot of whiskey.
- Call liquor is a step above cheap liquor, where customers order liquor by name, such as a Tito's vodka and tonic.
- Top-of-shelf liquor is the highest priced liquor preferred by patrons such as connoisseurs or celebrators. A customer wishing to celebrate an occasion may order a bottle of Dom Perignon champagne instead of a less pricey sparkling wine.
Your bar should be stocked with all three qualities of the most common liquor that is available. Vodka; gin; tequila; whiskey, such as bourbon, scotch, and rye; and light and dark rum are the usual standards.
Beyond this, don't forget the real basics—beer and wine—as well as aperitifs and liqueurs. In addition, you may want to determine which wine is offered by the glass versus wine that is offered by the bottle.
Consider Your Clientele
The type, quality, and amount of liquor you choose to stock in your bar depends on the type of clientele that will visit your restaurant. If it's a fine dining establishment, you'll want to spend more money on aperitifs, liqueurs, and top-shelf liquor. If it's more of a burger joint or a sports bar, you will likely spend more on draft, craft, and upscale beers.
In terms of budget, you should purchase smaller supplies of liquor that you don't expect to move quickly. It's better to risk running out of a certain liquor than to have it take up unnecessary space for months.
Beverage sales representatives sometimes offer free glasses. Many distributors offer them and other bar supplies as promotional gifts. This can be very helpful when you're just getting started.
You'll need to determine the number and type of glasses with which to stock your bar. These should include wine glasses, jiggers, shot glasses, Pilsner glasses, pint glasses, champagne glasses, martini glasses, brandy snifters, and highball glasses. Again, how many of each will depend on your anticipated clientele.
Coolers and Refrigeration
Look for refrigerators and coolers that have the Energy Star efficiency seal. These models use up to 45 percent less energy than most other models, so they'll save you money on your utility bill. At a minimum, you'll need a reach-in cooler, a wine cooler, and a glycol system. If you'll be offering beer on tap, you'll need keg storage and beer taps. You'll also need a soda gun.
A reach-in freezer can be a very nice convenience, one your bartender will most likely thank you for—profusely.
Other Furniture and Equipment
You can purchase a lot of smaller equipment—and even larger appliances—in used condition with little or no worries when you're starting out. Obviously, there's used and then there's badly used, so shop wisely.
You'll want to make sure you have an under-the-bar sink, an ice machine, an ice bin, and a scoop. Your bartender will need a place to wash their hands and other small items, and this requires a hand sink. Those cheap brands of liquor have to go somewhere, so you'll need a well.
You'll need glass racks and, at a minimum, you'll require a blender. You might also need a frozen drink machine, depending on your clientele. Don't forget cocktail strainers and shakers, pour tops, and garnish bins. Also, you may want to serve bowls of nuts or pretzels.
And make sure your bartender's feet are secure and comfortable when your bar gets really busy. You'll want rubber floor mats to avoid slippery floors.
Electronics and Technology
You'll need an adequate point-of-sale (POS) system for processing daily transactions. The system should be one ideally designed for restaurants and bars. Note that systems vary in their features, which may not all be suited to your particular needs, so make sure the POS system you choose fits your requirements.
Deciding on whether to purchase a television system depends on your type of restaurant. For example, if you're catering to the burger-at-game-time crowd, you will need this system to draw in customers. However, those who visit a fine-dining restaurant may want to drink in a quiet atmosphere without the constant drone of a television, which will conflict with the fine-dining experience.
A music system is necessary in either case. You'll want some background sound suitable to the atmosphere. Even sports bars occasionally hit lulls where no games are being broadcast and music is the featured entertainment.
The Little Items
Small items that you should have on hand include: cocktail napkins, corkscrews, bottle openers, paring knives, cutting boards, glass mats, and washing racks. Also, remember to purchase cleaning items such as a soap and sanitizer dispenser, a paper towel dispenser, and cleaning rags.
The Bottom Line
A well-stocked bar is a great way to increase profits. There's little overhead involved in mixing drinks, and alcohol has a very long shelf life. Also, alcohol sales can help offset your margin on higher priced menu items such as fresh seafood and expensive cuts of beef.
Hiring the right person to serve as bartender is also key to running a successful bar. Be sure to check references and choose the best person possible when you're hiring. Otherwise, your well-stocked, well-equipped bar will not be profitable.