What sort of first impression does your bar and lounge area offer?
What are the first sights, sounds, and smells that a member or guest might encounter within twenty seconds of entering the space?
How do surfaces feel to the touch and underfoot? Are they sticky or slippery?
Is sound from televisions and speakers at appropriate levels?
Is lighting suited to the time of day, and are all light bulbs and fixtures in working order?
These first impressions will set the tone and expectation for the service to come.
When a member enters a bar or lounge and encounters an area that is neat and orderly, these perceptions can boost confidence that a positive experience will follow and can have just as much impact as a warm welcome. The key to delivering a positive first impression is the consistent use of procedures and practices that ensure these spaces are prepared for business each day.
Additionally, the responsibility of staff to protect patrons from potentially hazardous materials and foodborne illnesses is just as fundamental with products served from behind a bar as it is in a kitchen. Just as in kitchen prep, cooking, and storage areas, bar and lounge outlets should also have procedures in place to maintain a safe, sanitary environment. Achieve this by creating opening and closing checklists that contain best practices, regular maintenance standards, and cleaning schedules.
Here are a few areas in particular to look out for:
Any ingredient that goes into a drink has the potential to make patrons sick and must be treated accordingly. Ice qualifies as a food ingredient and care should be taken to ensure it is safe and sanitary.
Purchase containers specifically designed for the transfer of ice from ice machines to the bar. Residue on food receptacles or bus buckets has the potential to cross contaminate ice.
Make ice scoops available at all ice stations and ensure that they are used for that purpose. Hand scooping can transfer dirt and bacteria from hands to ice. Scooping ice with glasses creates the possibility of shards ending up in the bin.
Never store cans or bottles in the ice you are using to make drinks. Cans and bottles get dirty during storage and delivery. If they need to be kept cold they should be stored in refrigerators or in separate ice bins. The ice in your ice bins should be melted at the end of every day, and the bins cleaned and sanitized.
GARNISHES AND BAR SNACKS
Many new cocktail crafters are gussying up their garnishes with food flourishes such as pickled vegetables, cucumber slices, bacon, shrimp, tomato slices, and even edible flowers. All of these should be refrigerated at proper temperatures–and dated.
Garnishes should be washed and wiped before they are cut on a clean cutting board. Bar fruit peel surfaces are perfect hosting spots for bacteria.
Use picks or tongs to select and place garnishes such as cherries, olives, celery sticks, or onions from garnish trays into drinks.
Be aware of expiration dates for fresh drink ingredients such as juices, shrub mixers, pre-made batch cocktail mixes, and milk products.
Bar snacks should be served in individual dishes. Communal bowls of nuts or snack mix which multiple guests dip into will become host areas for bacteria and an opportunity for cross contamination.
EQUIPMENT AND BARWARE TOOLS
Of course, it's not just the ingredients themselves you should be paying special attention to.
Schedule regular cleaning and maintenance of keg lines, wine dispensing systems, and faucets. Draft lines, keg couplers, soda guns, holders, and drain lines are breeding areas for bacteria, mold, and yeast build up. Draft lines that are not regularly flushed will negatively affect the taste of the product.
Leaking refrigeration equipment or pipes and slow or clogged drains need to be repaired immediately. They are unsanitary and can create foul odors.
Regularly clean pour spouts and glass rimmers.
Change products in store-and-pour containers after each shift.
Almost nothing can make a patron recoil from enjoying that first sip of a drink more thoroughly than lipstick on the rim of a glass. Encourage your staff to keep an eye out for details like this, and always handle glassware by the stem or base, even when clearing.
Glassware must be clean and sanitary and polished before service.
Routinely check glassware for chips and cracks.
Glassware should be washed and rinsed to a temperature of 177 degrees. In-sink glass washers are effective if washing and sanitizing procedures are strictly followed, and glass washing machines are better designed for thorough cleaning of glassware and bar tools. In either case it is important to maintain the wash water and rinse cycle temperatures recommended for the detergent and sanitizer being used.
Glassware should be stored on glassware mats that allow for air flow around the glass. Those mats should be cleaned and sanitized regularly.
Bar surfaces should be kept sanitary. This includes floors, walls, well rails, foot rails, barstools and cocktail tables, menus, and POS screens. With so many sweet and sugary bar ingredients it is easy for surfaces to become sticky, and behind busy bars it can be challenging to keep bar tops and floors dry and thus free from bacteria.
Floors and stress mats should be cleaned and sanitized on a regular basis.
Caustic cleaning chemicals should never be used around the bar. Consumables being prepared there make it more likely that those chemicals will find their way into drinks or onto glassware or eating utensils.
Employ the use of sanitizer buckets to make good use of bar rags and keep one bucket for cleaner and one for sanitizing.
Cleaning agents should not be stored behind the bar but in janitorial supply storage areas.
The bar and lounge area should be a space filled with the friendly conversation and camaraderie of members, families, and guests. It is a welcoming place where people celebrate a special occasion, negotiate a business deal, or relax and revel in a well-played round. Bar cleanliness and sustained sanitation practices are a huge part of creating that welcoming atmosphere.
If your bar maintenance cleaning schedule has fallen behind, take the time to do some important spring cleaning. Then welcome your guests to the bar by offering this refreshing spring tipple on your cocktail menu. A friendly reminder…be sure to wash the strawberries!
“Eau de Printemps: Water of Spring”
Created by the Mixology Maven, Editor and Founder, Emily Arden Wells at Gastronomista
2 oz Grey Goose Vodka
1-1/2 oz Strawberry & Watermelon Syrup
4-6 oz Perrier Strawberry Carbonated Mineral Water
Watermelon, Mint, and Fresh Strawberries to Garnish
1. Build Perrier Strawberry, vodka, and syrup in a double rocks glass and add a large cube of ice.
2. Garnish with watermelon slices, fresh mint, and half of a fresh strawberry.
Chef Mary Howley is the culinary consultant to the RCS Hospitality Group and a former Executive Chef of her own catering company, several country clubs, and fine dining restaurants. She studied throughout Europe and honed her skills on the East Coast working with a myriad of culinary styles. She had the honor to serve as research and development chef for Food Unlimited, and held the position of Pastry Chef in two James Beard Dinner Events. Contact her at mary@consultingRCS.com or visit the RCS website at www.consultingRCS.com.