When buying tools for a bar, fantasy and desires meet face to face with reality. Professional bartenders are geeks and would like to have the most complete spectrum of classic, contemporary and modern tools available for their trade; and since social media became part of our life, they want to be the first one to have it.
Then budget kicks in, just like in any other profession. The project owner or administrator is not always aware of what all those tools are for (or even if they’re needed) and not all bartenders are consciously aware of budgetary issues. So, how to solve this problem?
It is common to see bars lacking essential tools as much as seeing tools that are actually infrequently used, if at all. At the same time, we all need basic tools like a cocktail shaker, but how are you going to decide if you need a u$100 silver shaker, a u$10 stainless steel or a vintage glass shaker with silver top from ebay?
Let’s have a look at what was needed for a “First-class bar” a hundred years ago (this list can be found in “Drinks How to mix and how to serve”, Paul E. Lowe, pg. 138, NY, 1909),
Bottles (serving, mixture and stock), Bowls (punch, sugar, Tom and jerry, Cracker, Ice, Finger, for spoons and strainers), Boxes (for salt, sugar and supplies generally), Boxes (match, pepper and salt), Brace and Bit, Brooms, Brushes (clothes, hair, scrubbing, silver, window), bung starter, Business cards, Cash registers, Combs (hair), Cork press, Cork pullers, Corkscrew (counter and hand), demijohns (large and smalls), Dishes (fruit, spices), Dusters, Dust pans, Egg beaters, Envelopes, Faucets for ale for beer for champagne bottles for liquor, Filtering bags and paper, Flasks (quarts and pints and 1/2), Forks, Funnels, Furniture oils and polish, Gimlet, Hammer, hot water kettle, ink, Ice pick, Ice scoop, Ice shaver, Jars, jiggers, knives (fruit and table), labels, lemon squeezers, liquor gauge, liquor pump, liquor thieves, mallet, matches, measures (for beer and liquors), muddler, nails and tacks, Newspaper file, nutmeg graters, paper (wrapping and writing), paste, pens, pitchers (honey and syrup, water, punch, molasses), punch ladles, rail road timetables, rubber hose, ruler (for beer foam), screws, Cigar cutter, set of books, Shakers, sieve, soap, spittoons, sponges, spoons (long and short), stepladder, stoppers and corks, Strainers (for individual drinks), straws, sugar tongs, telephone, thermometer, towels, trays, waiters, Washing soda, water pails, whitening.
That’s a long list. I couldn’t finish reading it. But If you had, you’ll find that some tools are not needed in modern times (a telephone? ink? a Gimlet?), while others sound plainly ridiculous to even be considered today (a comb?). However we may notice a few cheap items that will make customers happy (carrying a high ROI), like racks for newspapers or the rail road timetable (if you have a railroad nearby…).
When choosing bar tools we need to ask ourselves what is really necessary and what will make a real impact in our business while surpassing the guests expectations.
A few questions you may like to ask yourself are, Do we really need a super expensive Cocktail shaker or Japanese tools? Do we have enough (shakers)? Are those tools adequate to our concept and the ambiance we want to recreate? Will that be appreciated by the guests and will it benefit the business or just the bartender’s ego? Can I make that investment and make the bar staff happy and in return get their commitment?
You need to bare in mind your concept and the needs to implement it. For example, let’s say that you want your bar to serve the latest trends in cocktails; then you will need specific tools like a rotovapor, ice molds or Isi siphons, as much as 100 years ago they needed a “bung starter”. You will have to add all this to the rest of the standard bar equipment, which will also need to be congruent with the image and quality of your establishment. For example, don’t spend money in a rotovapor if you have cheap Chinese shakers or a TV showing sports in your front bar. The quality and style of the tools has to spread throughout all of the bar equipment, and that includes the bar top, the uniform and the hair of your staff (they may need to buy the comb themselves this time).
As a rule of thumb, the more sophistication you want in your bar and in your cocktails, the higher the budget you’ll need in tools and bar equipment and the more professional your staff needs to be.
You should however be conscious that bar tools are intensively used, so buy quality. Quality tools are actually cheaper. They last longer, they look better, they don’t break down or worn out easily and they make your staff happy. You’ll save (and make) money in the long run. Consider the amount of times a knife is used (a lot, right?). A u$10 knife wont do it, and what is worse, it will cause you losses.
How does a knife relate to your profits? You may ask yourself.
Well, simple put: a knife is used to cut garnish with speed and precision for all your drinks, which are the little dwarf that generate your income. Guests will see the difference of a good knife, even if they can’t clearly spot what it is that makes the lime peel in their drinks nicer than the ones at other bars. Also you’ll allow your staff to work fast while preventing them from cutting their fingers when struggling with a blunt knife.
As a conclusion: the tools that are mostly used should be of the best quality possible according to your budget. No excuses there, don’t buy crap. (HINT: Take sometime to consider the relationship of other tools with your profits, now go and check out your bar. Are you loosing money there? What does your staff think)
Now, How are you going to prevent quality tools to get “lost”?
Well, for big volumes you’ll have to ask your bar staff and manager to keep a record of them. Start by taking a picture and writing down brand and model, cost and purveyor of all your tools and if you know it, the date of purchase. Keep it in a binder or in your computer. This will allow you to keep track of your buying and replacements so you’ll see if something gets lost too frequently, if the quality is not really that good and track the cost of your bar tools. Barstaff should make sure that all the bar tools are present everyday, and if one tool needs to be replaced, add the new date of purchase in its particular file. If you have a “lost tools problem” you can also include the date in which it was lost and see if your tools get lost in a particular pattern, for example Saturday nights or during shift changes. This will also allow you to spot any thieves. however the best way to avoid loosing them is by hiring professional staff to begin with, and keep the most expensive tools secured under lock. No need to have a record binder if your bar is small.
A standard set of bar tools will be composed of: Cocktail shaker, corkscrew, cutting board, a small and a bigger knife, electric blender, bar towels, jiggers, pour spots, citrus squeezers, hawthorne and julep strainer, ice tongs and ice scoop, bar spoon and mixing glass. And don’t forget the straws ad napkins.
Conclusion. Happy staff with quality tools makes your business more profitable and it also minimizes staff rotation. The details make all the difference in this competitive market. Buy what you need according to your concept, buy quality, help your staff work faster, minimize looses. Whenever possible, ask your purveyors for samples before committing to buying them.
Be my guest, Lucas Ranzuglia