A Restaurant Bar Equipment Checklist
Everything You Need to Open a Restaurant Bar
There are a million things you must buy when you're getting ready to open a new restaurant. Between designing the dining room and equipping the kitchen, you can—and most likely will—spend a small fortune. And then, just when you think you're done, you'll remember: The bar!
Restaurant bars come in all shapes, sizes, and themes. You can feature a full-service bar where customers can 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. There's no direct customer service between your bartender and your guests.
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 can mean an investment of a few thousand dollars or much more depending on how top-shelf you want to go. Some liquor, refrigeration, and other equipment needs are must-haves.
Basic Liquor Needs
First, the liquor. Keep in mind that liquors come in three distinct qualities and you'll want to keep all three in stock for each type of liquor you serve.
You'll need well liquors, which are the cheapest. The name says it all. These bottles typically sit within easy reach of your bartender—in the well—and they're what customers get when they order a mixed drink or a shot of alcohol without specifying a brand. Think "vodka tonic" versus "Tito's and tonic."
Call liquors are a step above this—customers ask for them by name—and top-shelf liquors are those really pricey brands that generally preferred by connoisseurs or celebrators.
You'll need all three qualities of the most common liquors that are available in virtually every restaurant bar. Vodka, gin, tequila, whiskey, Scotch, bourbon, and rum are the usual standards.
Beyond this, don't forget the real basics—beer and wine—as well as aperitifs and liqueurs.
Consider Your Clientele
The type of restaurant you're opening will provide guidance as to how much you need of what. If it's a fine dining establishment, you'll want to spend more money on aperitifs, liqueurs, and top-shelf liquors. If it's more of a burger joint or a sports bar, you might want to lean toward spending more on draft, craft, and upscale beers.
It doesn't have to be a guessing game. Do some undercover sipping after you've established your goal for your restaurant's style. Visit similar places. Sit at the bar, preferably close to the service bar, and listen. What are the waitresses asking for? What are their customers requesting? What are others at the bar ordering? This should give you a rough feel and some parameters for how you want to stock your bar.
Now work your budget around your needs. This might mean buying light on liquors you don't expect to move quickly. If you're wrong, that's OK. It's better to have to run out and more in an emergency than to sit on too much of something you didn't need for months on end until it's finally depleted.
Ask your beverage sales rep about free glasses. Many distributors offer them and other bar supplies as promotional gifts. This can go a long way when you're just getting started.
You'll need wine glasses, jiggers, shot glasses, Pilsner glasses, pint glasses, champagne glasses, martini glasses, brandy snifters, and highball glasses. Again, how many of which 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 some 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 beers on tap, you'll need keg storage and beer taps. You'll need a soda gun as well.
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 if your budget is tight when you're starting out. Obviously, there's used and then there's used, so shop wisely. Test drive. Sit on those bar stools. Hit the button on the blender.
You'll want to make sure you have an underbar sink, an ice machine, an ice bin, and a scoop. Your bartender will need a place to wash his hands and other small items, and this requires a hand sink. Those well 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 need a frozen drink machine as well, depending on your clientele. Don't forget cocktail strainers and shakers, pour tops, and garnish bins.
And make sure your bartender's feet are secure and comfortable when your bar gets really busy. He'll want rubber floor mats.
Electronics and Technology
You'll need an adequate POS system, ideally one designed for restaurants and bars. These systems are not one-size-fits-all. You don't want to purchase and commit to one that has a lot of features you don't need only to realize that it doesn't have the one feature your restaurant or bar really does require.
Will you need a TV system? Maybe, maybe not. You'll definitely want one if you're catering to the burger-at-game-time crowd, but you might not need one in a fine dining restaurant. Most people who visit such establishments don't want to listen to the news or your area's red-hot baseball team while they're getting cozy over fine Scotch.
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.
The Little Stuff
Then there's the really little stuff, small but not to be overlooked: corkscrews, bottle openers, paring knives, cutting boards, glass mats, and washing racks. Don't forget a soap/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. Alcohol sales can help offset your margin on higher priced menu items like fresh seafood or expensive cuts of beef.
Just keep in mind that not everyone is cut out to be a bartender. Be sure to check references and choose the best person possible when you're hiring. Otherwise, it won't matter how well-stocked or equipped your bar is.