if you design it, they will come.
December 18, 2008 9:44 PM   Subscribe

Fellow baristas! What would your ideal bar set-up look like? Opportunity has knocked. I may be in charge of designing the cafe of my dreams! I know what I like, but I need the opinions of you other java-slingers.

If you've worked in a cafe, what things worked really well? What things did you wish management had thought of, i.e. placement of hand sinks, to make the flow as efficient as possible?

I'm talking ideas about everything here...syrups located on front counter or against a back wall, refrigeration underneath counter in a small unit or a large one over to the side?

Help me make this a place where other people will want to work!
posted by ms.jones to Work & Money (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I worked at a cafe this summer (not focused on coffee) and found that an under the counter fridge got in everyone's way. Someone would inevitably be standing in front of it (it was underneath a register), crouching down to get stuff from it was a pain in the ass, etc. I would rather take three steps over and use a larger one in a place that did not get in everyone's way.
posted by MadamM at 10:49 PM on December 18, 2008

This might sound too simple, but LOTS of towels/paper towels, easily accessible, at all times. We rigged up two garbage bags to hang off a shelf where customers couldn't see them - one had clean, bleached towels, and the other was handy to chuck dirty ones into. It'd be nice if there were bins for these instead - would look nicer?

It was really handy to have an endless supply of clean towels for *whatever* as well as a place to throw the MANY dirty ones we used for wiping up everything. This way we could use a towel to clean off the steamer wand, for example, and when it got grody, *pop* it into the bag and have a fresh one handy right away. This also kept our paper towel use to a minimum. And in THAT regard... Should be able to get paper towels with one hand, without needing the other to tear.
posted by keribear at 3:19 AM on December 19, 2008

What always bothered me was that our syrups were stacked stadium style up against a back wall. Any of the ones in the back row were hard to reach (especially for those shorter baristas). It might have saved space, but it wasn't faster or easier to access.

Sounds like fun! Good luck!
posted by ginagina at 5:32 AM on December 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Make sure you have a sink as near as possible to the espresso machine, for rinsing out steaming pitchers.

Make provisions to have a hole in the counter for your knockbox, with space for a trashcan underneath. An on-counter knockbox works well enough, but in-counter is more convenient and less messy.

At the coffee shop where I work, for the syrups we have a wall-mounted bartender's well. Two, actually. Also, instead of pumps, we use bar pour spouts on the bottles. Classier, I think.

Invest in a powerful minivac--they are a boon to barista area clean-up, especially if they are wet/dry and cordless.

There exist hot cups, the manufacturer of which I forget, that have built in heat insulation, eliminating the need for cardboard sleeves. 'Insul-Air' is what they're called. One less thing to do before service.

Put drink lids on the condiment bar, instead of having the baristas do the lidding. That way customers can see what they're about to swallow.

Which means, however, that the drinks themselves must look good. That is to say, in the midst of designing the layout, naming the place, making fancy menus with fancy drinks, and buying high-quality machines, for the love of all things PLEASE remember, if you haven't already, to learn how to make espresso and steam milk correctly.

Perhaps it's just the town I live in, but I am sick to death of smartly decorated and vibed out coffeeshops with awesome equipment who have NO IDEA what espresso or steamed milk should look or taste like.

Don't be those guys.
posted by Darth Fedor at 6:13 AM on December 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Seconding the shop vac; but please make sure you stock up on replacement filters. They get gross fast.
I like our under the counter fridge, you just have to have one large enough to make it worth carrying milk etc from the back to restock. If it only holds a few gallons, you might as well get a big one on the side instead.
I really like our spoon rinsing well; and having an ice bin nearby is indispensable.

Ok, I'm gonna stop listing and go with this basic advice: everything needs to be crammed into a tiny space. You may think it's nicer to have a great wide layout with lots of room, but as someone who's had the experience of working in both types of store.... I definitely prefer a bar that has everything important (fridge, sink, towels, sanitizing solution, knockbox, syrups, ice, blenders, cups, lids, etc) within arm's reach. You will soon perfect what I call the "barista pivot" and the only time you leave is the space is for restocking purposes.

Also, you need to get rubber floor mats.
ok, I'm done.
posted by purpletangerine at 7:10 AM on December 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Have a good place for sanitizer rags where the customers can't see them. This was the biggest PITA when I worked as a barista - there was no good place for the steaming wand rags where a) we could reach them and b) they weren't in view of customers. Lots of little hiding spots for rag bins everywhere, rather than one bin the middle of the counter, would be awesome.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 7:54 AM on December 19, 2008

I definitely prefer a bar that has everything important (fridge, sink, towels, sanitizing solution, knockbox, syrups, ice, blenders, cups, lids, etc) within arm's reach. You will soon perfect what I call the "barista pivot" and the only time you leave is the space is for restocking purposes.

Oh yes, I totally agree. If you organize the space well with a few shelves under the counter, you can even have a few items ready to restock. We kept condiment bar sugars, napkins, straws, etc. under the counter as well as soy milks and a few other boxed items. Also, the shop vac for cleaning the beans out of the espresso machine* went on a shelf under said espresso machine. Not a perfect system when things got crazy busy and cluttered, but on days when it was well organized it made it a lot easier not to have to go to the back for EVERYTHING.

And oh yeah, be sure your back of house is well organized. This is crucial. You have to be able to actually FIND what it is you want and GRAB it within thirty seconds. Picture it: you run out of syrup in a rush. You run back there and find you have three boxes of syrup... BEHIND a stack of 5lb coffee bags. Don't let this happen to you.

*Another thing. HAVE TWO SHOP VACS. If anyone uses the "ESPRESSO MACHINE ONLY" shop vac for ANY other purpose, kill them. Honestly.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 7:59 AM on December 19, 2008

Best answer: I always liked it when they had fully stocked "stations" so that if someone was making a blended drink they could make one start to finish and never got in the way of someone making an hot espresso drink. I figure it's worth the doubling up on syrups, cups, and such to be as efficient as possible. Oh and of course a deep sink for cleaning out blenders quickly.

At my cafe, the person taking the order marks it on the cup right away, so no matter who is the first free to fill the order, they can do so without asking any extra questions. Handy when that Iced Chai, soy milk, light ice person comes in (and handy for when they are passing out drinks at the office later).
posted by CoralAmber at 9:29 AM on December 19, 2008

I worked at a cafe where there was a very low counter on which you would make the drinks in front of the customers (espresso machine was on the opposite counter, you would pull a shot and turn around and make the drink). I really liked them being able to see what I was doing and being able to see them. It made it more apparent I think that baristas are skilled craftspeople (well, they ought to be), and not just a faceless entity that passes you a drink from behind a machine.

The other great thing about that cafe was that the machine was at the end of the bar, so there was no traffic to and from anything else. Milk fridge was directly below the machine, and there was a sink on the side. Overall a very good setup, with room for a barback when necessary.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:30 AM on December 19, 2008

Best answer: Oh, and the milk fridge underneath was fairly generous, but was restocked from a much larger fridge in the back. The other great things we had: real whipped cream we made with vanilla syrup in those NO2 powered canisters, syrups in easy reach on the back wall with pour spouts (not pump! ugh!) and a wide, generous counter free from pastry cases and other crap. (Pastry case was dealt with by the cashier). Traffic flow through the cafe was well thought out, with the entry right in front of the cashier, and an exit in front of the barista's counter, next to which stood the table with the sugar and spoons and cream. It was a long, flat space.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:36 AM on December 19, 2008

As a former coffee slinger, I second (nth) the advice to have everything within arm's reach.

As a customer, for god's sake, please have whole milk! I do not enjoy a hot chocolate or coffee (or anything) made with steamed skim milk.
posted by bilabial at 12:17 PM on December 19, 2008

Response by poster: thanks everyone for such thoughtful responses. keep 'em comin'!

i am curious as to how to poured syrups stay consistent vs. the pumps. what's that trick? i think that would look more streamlined, but we also want to make we are producing a drink the customer can depend on tasting the same, no matter the shift/day/barista.
posted by ms.jones at 12:50 PM on December 19, 2008

You can get measured pour spouts (scroll down). However, we practiced pouring (slowing it down if necessary with a finger over the air intake) and counting and tasting. It was more important to be able to control how much or how little syrup at my cafe, rather than having each amount be exactly the same (a quarter ounce of vanilla syrup is a lot more appealing than a quarter ounce of peppermint). I also like them because they're faster- you can pour two different syrups at one time. They can be thrown in the dishwasher and actually get mostly clean. I shudder to think how many layers of crust are on the top of some pump dispensers.

However, if your cafe is going to have a high rate of turnover (college town or ski area) pumps might be better.
posted by oneirodynia at 4:05 PM on December 19, 2008

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