The Beautiful Backbar

Given the amount of money spent on flat screens, chandeliers and lighting, it’s perplexing how little effort most bar operators put into one of the undeniably important focal points of their operation: the backbar. This crucial piece of real estate must merchandise your products and be highly functional. Following are four steps to establishing a backbar that is visually appealing and operationally efficient:

1. Evaluate the Space
Just as building a house begins with the foundation, arranging your backbar must start with an evaluation of the physical space, including an assessment of how many products can actually fit.

Be realistic. The most crucial rule in this first step is realizing that the number of products you can carry is limited. Many bartenders and bar managers completely ignore this fact, cramming in extra products, which hurts the backbar’s functionality and appearance.

Count the spots. Remember to count not only how many bottles you can fit, but also how many spaces are available. Bottles should never be positioned behind one another (except on raised steps), and longer bars must account for duplicates of commonly used products so they can be mirrored. Leave extra space around premium products to showcase them.

Be flexible. It‘s a good idea to designate a few spots for temporary items, such as promo bottles or products you want guests to try. This will give you some flexibility without compromising your permanent layout.


2. Create Sections
Once you know how many products will fit, allocate spaces among the main spirit classifications. This process also will determine the backbar’s sections.

Spirit genres. The backbar always should be organized by spirit. Your seven main sections will be: vodka, rum, gin, tequila, liqueurs, brandy and Cognac and whiskey, which will be divided into Bourbon, Scotch, Irish, etc.

Sub-genres. You may want to further divide these sections into more specific sub-genres. These are more flexible than the main categories and can include groups such as flavored vodkas or liqueurs of similar flavor profiles.

Top shelf. Your most premium products should be displayed prominently on a special “top shelf,” which should be elevated but does not literally need to be the top shelf. Be sure to respect this space because having lower-end brands in this area detracts from the high-end message you are trying to send. Also, consider showcasing these brands with a little extra space, some lighting or other elements to call attention.

This arrangement will not only keep the bar organized and efficient for employees, but will allow customers to quickly and easily identify your products.

3. Bottle Placement
Before you assign each bottle a position, you must decide which products will be in your speed rack because they may not need to be on the backbar. Bottles then can be arranged by:

Brand. Grouping products from the same brand (DeKuyper liqueurs, Stoli flavors) is aesthetically pleasing and further aids in guests’ visual navigation of your backbar. You also should place high-end brands in more prominent positions.

Proximity. Frequently used products should be placed on lower shelves and closer to the well for quicker access.

Type. Similarly colored bottles look good next to one another, as do tall and short bottles, respectively. Obviously, short bottles should never be placed behind tall ones.

Remember that all of these guidelines cannot be followed simultaneously, so try different options to find the right balance for your establishment.

4. Establish Permanence
While the merchandising value of a well-set backbar is undeniable, one of the main reasons it needs to be organized is to maximize bartender speed. When every product has a set place, your bartenders eventually will be able to grab each bottle almost without looking. Speed comes with familiarity, and familiarity comes with consistency. Use the following strategies to ensure your layout remains consistent:

Meeting or email announcement. Make an official notification that the layout has been changed and must be followed.

Picture or diagram. A detailed visual image should be made and placed behind the bar for quick reference.

Labels. Although labor intensive, labeling each spot will establish the layout definitively.

Get staff input. Workers are more likely to follow a layout they helped create, so be sure to involve your staff early in this process.

Only time will tell whether your layout works. If you haphazardly re-arrange bottles simply to get through a shift, you constantly will be fighting to keep organized. If you follow these steps, you will be rewarded with an efficient and attractive backbar that stands the test of time.


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