If you’ve ever worked a double behind the stick, you know that a crappy pair of shoes can ruin your shift quicker than a night of lousy tips. Yet still many bartenders pay little to no attention to what they put on their feet. Think of proper footwear the same way you do your mixing tin and jigger: It’s a tool to help you achieve success. So stop trying to look cute and take care of the toes that take care of you. We’ve gathered advice and recommendations from top bartenders on how to best tie one on.
Stand Up for Nonslip
Barroom floors can be slippery and wet, so your shoe’s number-one job is to keep you upright. A strong rubber sole is best to prevent sliding around and possibly risking a sprained ankle. “My shoes must be nonslip,” says Nicole Muang, a bartender at Roux in Tampa. “I’ve taken too many tumbles and have learned the hard way.”
“Doc Martens are a great, comfortable and rugged shoe,” says Bryson Downham, the beverage director for Toups’ Meatery and Toups South in New Orleans. “Plus they’ve got a lifetime warranty. Can’t go wrong with a pair of Docs behind the bar.”
Support Equals Comfort
After safety comes comfort. While ballet flats and Chuck Taylors may be tempting, they can leave your foot fatigued after just a couple of hours. You’ll want something with proper arch support when you’re standing all day. This will equally distribute your body weight, lessening targeted aches and pains. A quick test is to bend the shoe in half. If it bends easily, it’s likely not supportive enough.
“I prefer to wear comfortable shoes that have good arch support and padding but that are still stylish.” says Muang. “Shoes for Crews are a favorite of mine.”
If you simply can’t live without your Chucks, there’s a way to make them more tolerable. Invest in a good insert that’s fitted for your foot and that you can insert and remove from most shoes on your own. You can find cheaper versions online or visit select shoe stores for something more custom.
“It’s important to get a little cushion in the form of an insole,” says Downham. “I get Dr. Scholl’s and super-glue them into my shoes to keep them in place.”
“I like Sam Edelman ankle boots with Superfeet insoles,” says Cynthia Tran, the beverage director at Tratto in San Francisco. “It feels like you’re walking on clouds.”
No Water, No Cry
Drinks spill, ice melts, and even the best dishwashers can make a mess. So it almost goes without saying that your shoes should be waterproof. And you’ll want to make sure water can’t creep into the seams. The last thing you want is to be sloshing around in wet shoes all night.
“Bullboxer makes an affordable set of leather boots that are sturdy, comfortable and understated,” says Matt Ray, the beverage director at Ace Hotel New Orleans. “You could wear them to a work meeting or construction site.”
Leather is an obvious choice, but these days you can find lots of synthetic materials that will keep your feet dry. “Leather is important because a bar floor can be a pretty wet place, and you want a material that will keep your feet dry and last a long time while damp,” says Downham. “That’s also why I prefer slip-ons. Water can seep past the laces and tongue of a lace-up shoe.”
If the shoe isn’t presentable, none of this matters. “Let’s not pretend that aesthetics aren’t part of the equation,” says Teresa Loughner, a bartender at Grange Restaurant & Bar at The Citizen Hotel in Sacramento. “Looking good, clean and fresh translates to our guests and their experience. Making guests happy starts from the top down but also sometimes from the ground up.”
Her current favorite is the Lola shoe by Mozo, which is a part of the Shoes for Crews line. “There are multiple benefits to this shoe,” says Loughner. “Namely, that it’s more widely available for restaurant workers and a bit more moderately priced than some other companies.”