Behind the Bar

Simple Steps for Better, Greener Bar Design

A woman and a man behind a bar.
Claire Sprouse and Chad Arnholt of Tin Roof Drink Community (one of the winners of our inaugural Sustainable Spirits awards) consult with bars on sustainability.

Whether you’re starting from scratch or tweaking an existing bar design, chances are you’ve thought about sustainability. When you aren’t used to thinking green, it can be overwhelming to wade into new terms and mindsets. To break down the process a bit, we caught up with Claire Sprouse and Chad Arnholt of Tin Roof Drink Community (one of the winners of our inaugural Sustainable Spirits awards), who consult with bars on sustainability.

Water, water everywhere

According to Arnholt, water waste is the first place Tin Roof looks when beginning a new project. With ice machines, dishwashers and tool rinsing, the footprint can be significant. For example, an under-counter glass washer can use anywhere from 0.8 to two gallons of water per cycle, depending on the model. Of course, the best option is to choose an efficient model in the first place, or replace an inefficient one, but that’s not always possible. Arnholt recommends an even easier fix. “If you're using big swimming pool sized martini glasses, you can only fit about 10 of those in a rack of glasses. If you're using modern day Nick and Noras, you can fit maybe 30, if you're using a flat rack. Slotted racks can be a problem this way because it's hard to make your rubric work, but a flat rack and a really skinny glass is a way that anyone can immediately save on water. You don't have to tear your bar up.”

Ice is another big player in the water waste game, and not all ice machines are created equal. “If you look at something like a Scotsman pebble machine or a Manitowoc pebble machine, 99% of all the water that goes in turns to ice. Or if you're freezing ice in a mold, 100% of that water turns to ice,” says Arnholt. “Now if you're talking about a reverse evaporator ice machine, something like a Kold-Draft or Hoshizaki, it's more like 60%. If you're looking at an old school machine from the '80s that uses a water-cooled condenser, 15% of the water becomes ice, the rest goes down the drain.”

Aside from choosing a machine (or ice molds), Arnholt recommends cutting down on water waste by pre-batching and diluting popular stirred drinks to keep in the freezer (many freezers will freeze a pre-diluted cocktail, so you’ll want to buy a temperature regulator). Not only does this save on shaking ice, but it cuts down on rinsing water as well.

Arnholt and Sprouse have spent a lot of time experimenting with the greenest ways to rinse tools. Their number one pick is a properly calibrated glass sprayer. “The glass sprayers need to be tuned and wired correctly so that they're super high pressure, that way they get all the grit out,” says Arnholt. “If you do the thing that I used to do and just lean on it for like 10 seconds, you're still going to be using about 20 ounces, so that's no good.” They like this option better than a sink of warm water and sanitizer, but that’s still better than turning on the water every time you need to rinse your tools. Still, you can cut down on water waste on your sinks as well by installing pedals or motion detectors.

Another way to save on rising water is to design a menu which utilizes less messy ingredients. You’ll spend more water if you’re constantly muddling berries or using sticky syrups than you will with spirit-forward drinks or those built in-glass.

Lights out

After water, Sprouse and Arnholt focus on energy. “The most energy that you use behind a bar is caught up in refrigeration or heating. That's gonna be that heater in your dishwasher or the condensers in all of your refrigerators and freezers. The more things that you have to freeze — ingredients, glasses — and the more things you have to refrigerate — juice, beer — the more energy you're going to use,” says Arnholt. He recommends looking realistically at how much ice and produce you actually use to see how many appliances need to be pulling power. “Once you juice a lime, you need to put that in the refrigerator. If I'm really judicious about how much juice I'm using and how much juice I'm juicing, I won't have to refrigerate nearly as much.” Even water efficient ice machines use a lot of power. “Make sure that the machine you're getting is actually suiting the amount of ice you're going to go through. They're still going to be producing ice, even if you're not going through it all,” says Arnholt.

One easy fix? Ditch the under-counter glass freezer. “Is that a better option than using a little bit of ice to chill those glasses?” asks Arnholt. “You have to make a choice.”

People power

It can be easy to overlook physical energy when creating a sustainable bar, but staff time and motion can be a huge part of bar energy waste. “The human element is absolutely important,” says Arnholt. “Motion is often what takes up the most time.”

“A well-laid out bar is one that's gonna make you drive more revenue, make more drinks, and have a happier staff whose backs don't hurt as much,” says Arnholt. “Claire and I like to design a station that doesn't require more than two steps to get anything the bartender needs. We like to produce 90% of the cocktail without any steps. If you're in a cocktail bar, there's no real reason your bartenders should be walking away from their station for anything. It should all be right there, with the exception of a couple items.”

Beyond stations, you’ll want to think about your menu when laying out your bar from scratch. “It is important to understand and design a bar with the consideration of what sort of drinks you will offer, how you are going to make them, and what sort of ingredients you have in mind,” says Arnholt. “There are different strategies for saving energy and water behind the bar, if you understand what exactly you will be serving and how early on, during the architect phase, you can set up the bar correctly for your specific use.”

Resources for sustainability

Sprouse and Arnholt have recently launched a new website dedicated to sharing and curating sustainable bar and restaurant practices. “The idea is that people can go on there and submit best practices, products, equipment, resources that they've either established in their bar or restaurant or have found to be useful, whether it's using a certain ice machine, or a gin that's extremely sustainable in the way it's produced,” says Sprouse. “As we've been doing all this research, we’ve noticed that there's not really a one-stop place to get info or to find inspiration.” Sprouse is very excited about the community element in the website. “It's not just our practices, she says. “We actually really want to be the smaller voice in it.”

“If you're gonna be trying to save, you're going to sacrifice somewhere,” says Arnholt. It’s important to make the best decisions you can for your guests and your budget. But many of these tips won’t affect guest experience and might actually save you money. “When you're saving electricity and you're saving water, you're also saving money and you're saving time,” says Arnholt. It doesn’t hurt that you’re also doing your part to save the planet.

Cara Strickland writes about food and drink for online and print publications. She’s always up for a conversation about cocktail history, preferably over a Corpse Reviver #2.

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