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Building the Perfect Bar: The Tools of the Trade

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22/02/2019 Satisfy your bar staff as much as you satisfy your customers. Here’s what you need to know about the tools of the trade.

One of the keys to running a successful bar is simply having the right tools of the trade for your staff. Unfortunately, too often the tools that bartenders use tend to break or are too uncomfortable to use, thereby dragging down the efficiency and productivity of your bar staff.

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So if you’re looking to satisfy your bar staff as much as you’re satisfying your bar customers, here’s what you need to know about the tools of the trade.

Shaker Sets

Without question, the No. 1 tool on your list should be a high-quality shaker set. Look for Boston shaker sets that offer a nice tight seal, but that also come apart very easily. The focus here should be on shaker sets that are well constructed and durable. After all, this is going to be your go-to tool for creating just about any cocktail a customer orders. So if you’re going to splurge on quality, this is the place to do it.


If the shaker set comes in at No. 1, then the jigger is easily No. 2. Sure, you can trust your bartending staff to make precise pours each time around, but the jigger solves all those problems for you. It’s a simple, easy way to ensure that your bartenders are adding just the right amount of alcohol to every cocktail. Jiggers can be made of metal, plastic, or glass, and the ones that are now most popular are the metal ones. In addition to different materials, you will also have a choice of different pouring sizes. Go with the classic jigger configuration, which enables you to pour a full one and one-half ounce of alcohol on one side, and a smaller pony shot (one ounce) from the other side. You’ll never worry about over-pours again.


Now that you have the shaker set and jigger, it’s time to turn your attention to strainers. There are three basic types that you can choose from, and most full-service bars have all three: Hawthorne strainers, fine mesh strainers, and Julep strainers. Depending on which drink a customer orders, you’ll want to use a slightly different type of strainer.

The Hawthorne strainer is the one strainer that you will want to buy first. It’s basically a disc with a handle and one or more stabilizing prongs. The strainer quickly adapts to the size of a glass and allows you to strain out any ice before serving. Since you’ll be using it over and over again, you’ll want it to be both durable and comfortable.

In addition, you’ll want to buy a fine mesh strainer. Again, the emphasis should be on comfort and durability. Look for a comfortable handle that’s easy to grip. And also check to see if the handle has reinforced welds; if it does, it means that it will hold up well to repeatedly being shaken against the side of a shaker.

And, finally, you’ll want to purchase a Julep strainer. This is the perfect strainer for a Martini or Manhattan and comes with a classic oval shape. This shape actually enables it to be deployed in a variety of different ways: whatever the shape or size of a mixing glass, pint glass or shaker tin, you’ll be able to use it. Since it is so multi-purpose, make sure that it is durable and well-made.


When it comes to purchasing the perfect muddler, probably the biggest debate you will have is over the appropriate size of the handle. Many bartenders opt for the regular-size muddler, which is approximately 8 to 9 inches long. However, don’t be afraid to go longer – as in 12 inches long. This is really for the benefit of the bartender – it means he or she won’t have to worry about constantly knocking their knuckles against the side of the glass.

You have two basic choices of materials for muddlers: plastic and hardwood (usually beech or a similar type of wood). A hardwood muddler looks and feels better, however, the big benefit of a plastic muddler is that it’s completely dishwasher-safe. When buying a muddler, also look at the shape of the head. Some are round and some are flat: while the ultimate choice is a matter of personal preference, just be aware that a flatter head is much more effective at releasing the aromatics in fruits and herbs.

Bar Mats

Too many bar owners make bar mats a secondary consideration, believing that a bar mat is a bar mat is a bar mat. You get the idea. However, savvy bartenders will tell you that you should be looking for a thick, sturdy bar mat that is made of food-grade silicone rubber. Unlike a standard black PVC mat, a silicone rubber mat won’t lose its shape or become warped with too much usage. They might be more expensive up-front, but since you won’t be constantly buying new mats over time, they usually end up being more cost-effective in the end. And, since these bar mats are food-safe, it means you can use them with garnishes and cocktail ingredients.

Cocktail Picks

Look for standard, all-purpose cocktail picks that can be used for garnishing any cocktail, as well as for appetizers and small food items. Typically, you will have a choice of 4-inch and 8-inch picks. And you will also have a choice of glass, plastic and metal picks. The best choice here is actually stainless steel – they hold up better over time and also look surprisingly good from an aesthetic perspective as well.

Bar Spoons

It’s far too easy to opt for cheap, lightweight spoons. Instead, look for bar spoons that are heavyweight, reinforced and perfectly balanced. You’ll want to have at least a few of these bar spoons available at any time, and many high-volume bars carry a few dozens at any time. So it’s not really a question of whether or not you should purchase bar spoons, but rather, how many to purchase.

At the end of the day, great bartending is all about caring about your craft. And the key to any great craftsman is having great tools. So resist the temptation to pay down for cheaper, poorly constructed tools and, instead, pay slightly more for sturdy, durable, and multi-purpose tools that your bartending staff will actually enjoy using.