Behind the Bar The Business of the Bar

Cleanup Chronicles: 5 Tips for Keeping a Spotless Bar

bar cleaning. Image: Anna Konevskaya / EyeEm

Keeping a bar clean is no easy task. Whether a high-volume space that’s keeping a seemingly endless number of guests happy or a more intimate spot where conversation is the key, it can sometimes be difficult to find the time to maintain an orderly and sanitary station. As Brooklyn bartender Stevie D. Gray says, weekends alone are a massive challenge that can make closing the bar a drag if no one has been cleaning during a shift. We chatted with some bartenders to get their tips and tricks for keeping the bar sparkling as the night goes on.

1. Reset the Station Every Time

Tyler Zielinski, the creative director at Lawrence Park in Hudson, N.Y., and a Liquor.com contributor, advises bartenders not get distracted. “Sometimes when you’re a few guests deep at the bar and have your head down just trying to get drinks out, keeping up with the cleanliness of my station can prove to be difficult,” he says. “That said, I’m always one to reset my station ASAP because I was taught that a clean and organized bar and backbar represents a quality bartender.”

It’s important to maintain this resolve even during slower times, because one never knows when the next rush will come. “Many bartenders just relax and turn off after serving a round of drinks, leaving their station and well untidy and not reset for service,” says Zielinski. “Even if you only have one to two minutes of downtime, make it a habit to reset your station every single time, because it will keep your station in order and will speed up service when your next order comes in. Guests like to feel like their bartender has control of the space, and a big part of that is making sure everything behind your bar is in order.”

It will become like second nature, says bar manager and head bartender Andrea Grujic at The Highwater in Queens’ Astoria neighborhood. “Once my body became comfortable in that particular space and aware of the exact placement of everything I might need, I developed a habit of cleaning as I make each order and automatically resetting my bar station,” she says. “I have come to the point where I don’t even think about it. I simply do it as if I’m on autopilot all while engaging with my customers. That’s how I know I’m truly ‘in the zone.’”

2. Stay Consistent

This is Grujic’s mantra. “The biggest challenge is motivating the entire team to stay consistent with the cleaning rituals every night of the week,” she says. “We all know how badly we just wanna lock up and go home after that monster weekend shift, but in my book, no matter how drained you are, you’re going to have to snap your gloves on and clean that bar as if it were your own.”

And that consistency needs to be distributed across the board. “Every bar is different, but the habit of being neat, organized and properly prepared for a shift is key to keeping your bar station clean across all borders,” says Grujic. “The entire setup—with tools, bottles, juices, fruits, mixers and garnishes—is identical for each employee, and everything has its designated place in the bar station. Keeping a mental checklist and step-by-step system has proven to be the most efficient, hence whenever I’m behind the stick, I automatically clean and reset as I go.”

3. Learn to Multitask

“I feel like one of the unmentioned prerequisites of being a bartender is having the ability to multitask efficiently,” says Zielinski. “While you may need more focus while building a cocktail—and even so, you should still be able to hold a conversation—cleaning your bar station is a relatively mindless task. A good bartender will use that opportunity to check in on guests and ask how they’re doing and if they need anything wiped up while you’re cleaning. A small gesture such as that goes a long way for guests.”

For Gray, cleaning and talking at the same time is a key skill. “It makes you look so smooth when you’re keeping guests entertained and suddenly everything they need is there and everything they don’t need is gone,” she says.

4. Communicate with Co-Workers and Guests.

Gray is no stranger to guests who like to snack from the garnish tray, but she advises being strict with communication in order to keep all things neat and sanitary. “Communicate with your team and communicate with people who have exhibited loose sanitation standards when seated at your bar,” she says. “Specifically saying, ‘Please don’t fondle my garnishes; if you need anything, you can ask for it’ usually gets the point across in one swoop.”

5. Remember That a Clean Station Is an Efficient Station

“While there will always inevitably be a mess because nobody’s perfect, do your best to not be sloppy in the first place and make every action purposeful,” says Zielinski. “You’ll be surprised how much time you get back during your shift by staying focused in this way.”