Everything You Need To Know About Barbacks

Grace Weitz
Post by Grace Weitz
July 1, 2022
Everything You Need To Know About Barbacks

A bartender is essential to any drinking operation. Of course you need someone behind the bar slinging cocktails, stirring glasses, and pouring beers. But a role that is just as important in a bar is a barback. Someone who might not necessarily stand front and center in the eye of the customers, but rather scurries around washing glasses, refilling garnishes, stockpiling napkins, and pretty much doing all the other little tasks that make sure a bartender can perform their best.

Similar to bussers in restaurants, barbacks fill in behind the scenes, performing necessary duties that keep your establishment running smoothly everyday.

For that reason, barbacks are one of the most important pieces of a bar team.

If you’re becoming a new bar owner or looking to improve your current bar staff, hiring a knowledgeable, hard-working barback is key.

Photography courtesy of Andrey Grodz | Unsplash

What Exactly Is a Barback?

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The easiest way to describe a barback is by comparing them to a busser. In a restaurant, the busser is responsible for all those little nitty gritty details such as refilling water glasses, keeping the salt and pepper shakers filled, and getting food out to tables, along with many other menial things.

Similarly, a barback performs those equivalent duties in a bar. For example, a barback could do anything from keeping the lemon, lime, and orange wedges stocked and cleaning up spills to bringing up fresh kegs and polishing glasses.

A great barback has their eyes peeled and thinks twenty steps ahead, seeing what needs refilling, restocking, or replenishing and doing those assignments without being asked.

For this reason, a barback doesn’t necessarily have any skill requirements, but they do need a good work ethic, attitude, attention to detail, ability to adapt in a fast-paced environment, and capability to carry heavy items (such as kegs).

Oftentimes barbacks work their way up to bartenders, learning skills of the job on the fly by watching others.

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What Are the Essential Duties of a Barback? 

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A barback’s duties can change by the minute, but to give a general overview, here’s what you should expect of and assign to your barback during and after service:

During Service

  • Changing out empty beer kegs with fresh, full ones
  • Restocking liquor bottles
  • Keeping essentials topped off such as napkins, toothpicks, straws, etc.
  • Refilling ice wells
  • Cutting garnishes such as lemon, lime, and orange slices or fresh herbs as needed or filling olive and pickle jars
  • Getting bartenders clean rags as needed
  • Cleaning and polishing glasses
  • Keeping counter spaces clean
  • Sweeping up any spills or broken glass
  • Helping punch in drink orders as needed
  • Running trash and keeping the trash cans clear
  • Running drinks and clearing tables with empty glasses

After Service

  • Taking out the trash and recycling
  • Breaking down the bar area
  • Cleaning, cleaning, cleaning! This could include washing dishes and glasses, wiping down the counters, sweeping and mopping the floors, etc.
  • Restocking the bar for the next shift with the appropriate bottles, kegs, and supplies
  • Handling any liquor deliveries that need to be put away

Because all of these tasks could be considered physically demanding, there are some important considerations to keep in mind when hiring a barback.

What Should You Look for When Hiring a Barback?

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Your first step before hiring any barback is to check your state’s on-premise alcohol serving laws. While the legal minimum drinking age in the U.S. is twenty-one, for many states you can actually start serving alcohol at the age of eighteen.

For example, in California, the minimum age to serve beer, wine, and spirits is eighteen, while in Arkansas it is nineteen, and in Alaska it is twenty-one. Going even further, some states have extra restrictions for those under twenty-one. For example, a supervisor might need to be present while someone underage is barbacking, or a minor might need to receive additional server training. Again, you must check your local state laws regarding underage serving before hiring any barback. Additionally, we highly recommend checking with your lawyer, so you can fully understand the policies and legal responsibilities in your area.

After squaring away the legalities of a barback, we’ve listed a few qualities you should look for in any potential hire.

As we mentioned, a barback doesn’t necessarily need any specific degrees or qualifications, but you should look for someone that has at least some or a mix of these traits:

  • Works calmly and cleanly in a high-pressure environment
  • Thinks on the fly and on their feet
  • Calculates numbers in their head quickly
  • Communicates well with others
  • Stays organized in chaotic situations
  • Carries large loads easily
  • Maintains a positive attitude
  • Keeps constantly moving and on the lookout for things that need to get done
  • Desires to be a bartender one day

That last bullet point might be the most important.

According to our own guide to hiring in the hospitality industry, if someone has the desire to work in the bar, hospitality, or beer industry, seeing themself as a bartender or brewer in three to five years could be a good sign they’re more committed to the grind.

Still wondering how you can spot these qualities in a potential candidate? With any potential hospitality candidate, here are 11 essential questions to ask

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How Much Should You Pay a Barback?

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According to Glassdoor, the average amount a barback makes in the United States is $32,601 per year. But barbacking is normally an hourly position with tips added on at the end of the night. Traditionally, bartenders will give their barbacks anywhere from 1-3% of sales or 10-20% of tips according to this article from Binwise

For example, if a bartender garners $300 in tips a night, they might give their barback anywhere from $30 to $60

Of course, all this depends on the actual rules in your bar for tipping and tipping out. Every establishment handles tipping a little differently, so make sure that you have a firm tipping policy in place. And most importantly that your entire staff knows the rules and follows them.

How Can You Attract a Barback to Work at Your Bar?

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Beyond respectable pay and a fair tipping policy, attracting potential barback candidates will come down to how you pitch your business.

In the job description you write, keep things super simple. People who work as barbacks most likely just want to know the basic details: What is the name of your bar? Where is it? What is the expected hourly wage? What are the day-to-day duties? And most importantly, what is your bar all about?

Are you an Irish pub that serves mostly twenty-two-year-old fresh-out-of-college graduates? Are you a sports bar dedicated to one team? Are you more of a craft beer bar? That last little detail can be essential to attracting the right person to work for your team. Someone who is passionate about your bar identity will be more likely to become a loyal employee, working their way up from barback to bartender to even more one day.

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Three Tips for Training Your Barback 

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You’ve found the perfect candidate and asked them to join your team, now what? You need to prepare a new barback for success. Here are three tips we have for making sure your barback maximizes their training:

Give Them a Chance to Shadow

The best way to learn is by doing. A simple but true mantra. To start, take your barback on a tour of your entire establishment and get them familiar with all the different areas. From there, have them shadow another barback or simply watch a bartender during a shift, pointing out all the areas and duties that need to be covered. Have them spend time directly with your bartenders so they can learn their needs along with any tricks or tips to make service run more smoothly.

Pave Their Career Path

Chances are if you hired the right barback they’re interested in the hospitality industry and potentially working their way up to bartender one day. Encourage them to get to know your bartenders and learn from them. Those whom you groom in your organization will be more likely to stick around and grow with your team. A loyal team member tends to give better service, which reflects better on you and your establishment. It’s a win-win for everyone.

Learn the Menu Like a Playbook

All of your cocktails, beers, wines, spirits, drinks, and food are like the playbook for your bar. Your barback should be fluent in this language. Make them study the menu over and over again until they know it back to front. Chances are they’ll be called upon to enter orders, describe items to customers, and create garnishes or restock items needed for everything on your menu. It is crucial that your barback understands and becomes well versed in your menu.

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Grace Weitz
Post by Grace Weitz
July 1, 2022
Grace is the Managing Editor for Hop Culture and Untappd. She also organizes and produces the largest weeklong women in craft beer festival in the country, Beers With(out) Beards and the first-ever festival celebrating the colorful, vibrant voices in the queer community in craft beer, Queer Beer. An avid craft beer nerd Grace always found a way to work with beer. After graduating with a journalism degree from Northwestern University, she attended culinary school before working in restaurant management. She moonlighted as a brand ambassador at 3 Sheeps Brewing Co on the weekends before moving into the beer industry full time as an account coordinator at 5 Rabbit Cerveceria. Grace holds her Masters degree in the Food Studies program at NYU.