Last month, I visited The Blackheart on popular Rainey Street in Austin, Texas. The bar was packed, with a line at both bars, indoors and outdoors, and a crowd of people surrounding a live band.
As I watched the bartender prepare my Moscow Mule, taking care to smear the lime wedge against the rim of the glass, my eyes darted to another figure behind the bar, who was both everywhere and nowhere: the barback.
He flitted from bar station to bar station, refilling garnishes, helping punch orders into the bar POS, and chatting amiably with customers who had questions. My friends didn’t know what a barback was, but I knew: he was the person holding this whole operation together.
In this post, we’ll explore what a barback is, how much a barback makes, and common barback duties, so you can improve operations at your bar with this essential player.
What is a Barback?
A barback is the equivalent of a busser, except in the bar environment rather than the restaurant environment, and with approximately 20 more responsibilities. The barback makes sure that bartenders have everything they need at all times: glasses, garnishes, stocked bottles, etc. They’re also on the floor more often than bartenders, cleaning food and drink spills or hopping to the walk-in to get more bottles, and therefore act as good lookouts.
As A Bar Above says, “A good barback will keep the ship afloat and no one will ever know there was a problem.”
Related Article: Bar Management: 10 Ways to Be a Smart and Successful Bar Manager
Most bartenders are barbacks first and can spend as long as 6-18 months as a barback before becoming a bartender, depending on how fast they can learn. Many bars and restaurants, such as Eastern Standard in Boston, require staff to serve as barbacks before bartenders.
While the legal drinking age is 21 in the U.S., barbacks and even bartenders can be under 21 depending on your state’s on-premise alcohol serving laws. In Colorado, the age to serve alcohol is 18, while in Washington it’s 21. Some states place conditions on bartenders or barbacks under 21 years of age, requiring that a manager or supervisor 21 or older be present when the person is tending bar or that the bartender under 21 take special beverage server training.
How Much Does a Barback Make?
However, that doesn’t include tips. The barback tip out process, if established, helps barbacks make way more money than non-tipped positions like cooks and bouncers.
Related Article: 3 Ways Restaurants Can Bridge the Front- and Back-of-House Wage Gap
In many cases, each bartender will tip out the barback at the end of the shift, anywhere from 1-2% of sales or 5-20% of tips according to Bars and Bartending. If a busy bartender makes $200-300 on tips a night, the tip out could be anywhere from $10 to $60. Now multiply that by however many bartenders there are, by however many days of the week that barback works – you get the gist.
However, that of course depends on your establishment’s policy on tipping, tip pooling, and tip sharing. Every bar has nuanced policies on barback and bartender tipping; in this Reddit thread, restaurateurs and bartenders share theirs.
27 Barback Duties
Here are some common barback duties and responsibilities. Feel free to print out this list and share with your bar staff.
- Keep the bar fully stocked at all times.
- Cut garnishes.
- Juice citrus.
- Fill olive and lemon trays.
- Refill ice wells.
- Restock liquor bottles.
- Empty dispensers.
- Change out beer kegs.
- Replenish napkins, toothpicks, ashtrays, peanuts, and other counter items.
- Maintain clean rags in each bartender’s station.
- Clean counters.
- Clean furniture.
- Clean glasses and dishes.
- Run food and clear plates.
- Clean drink spills and sweep broken glassware.
- Take out the trash or recycling throughout the shift.
- Collect empty glasses from the bar.
- Repair sink clogs.
- Mop behind the bar.
- Clean no-slip mats behind the bar.
Opening and Closing Shifts
- Restock for next shift, including juicing citrus for bar use the next night.
- Put away the liquor and beer delivery that came in during the day.
- Track opening or closing liquor inventory.
- Set and tear down the bar at each shift, closing to open.
- Help the bartender with anything that he or she needs.
- Relay key info to security - line is forming outside, someone drinking out of an outside bottle, someone underage
- Help out with punching orders into the POS system if needed.
What’s In Your Barback Job Description?
When hiring excellent barbacks to keep the bar running smoothly, what do you look for? What traits do you recommend hiring managers keep an eye out for, and what barback duties and responsibilities do you highlight in the interview?
Comment below and share!