Products

The Bartender’s Guide to Taking Care of Your Feet, Part Two: Shoes

Overhead of two pairs of Converse sneakers
From work boots to athletic shoes to, yes, Chucks, these are the shoes that help some bartenders survive their shifts. (Photo: The Macx via iStock)

Last week, we brought you a slew of foot care wisdom from a group of podiatrists and podiatric surgeons, who shared their advice for preventing aches and pains after a long shift spent on your feet. This week, we’re turning the tables and asking you for advice — specifically, your tips for the shoes that are durable, comfortable and waterproof enough to meet the standards of the busiest high-volume bartender.

Why shoes? Chris Lowder of Seoul’s Charles H. bar puts it best: “Like Lieutenant Dan says, ‘Rule number one is to take good care of your feet.’ As bartenders, we notoriously take poor care of our bodies. If your bar shoes aren't waterproof, it's easy to fall into poor hygiene and even get fungal infections. Poor arch support, too, can lead to long-term back and knee problems. The most important thing is to make sure your shoes are non-slip. I've seen way too many workplace accidents to let my bar team work in the wrong footwear. I don't want to get too graphic, but I have seen three coworkers slip and have serious accidents that both led to functional losses in their hands and knees. This is serious, guys.”

We recently surveyed over a hundred bartenders to find out what shoes work for them. Here’s what we found.

The runaway winners:

Dansko

  • Women's Martina, $130 (note: this style isn't technically designated as slip-resistant by Dankso)
  • Women's Pro XP, $139.95
  • Men's Jackson, $175
  • Men's Walker, $135

“They're a godsend. I wouldn't change anything, they're built solid and the break-in time was minimal. Reading how it helped Jeffrey Morgenthaler had me reconsider them. I only wish I had been wearing them sooner. It pays in dividends not just to your feet, but to the rest of your body. I love them.” - Daniel Castro, Toronto

“They last for years!! They are so comfortable and I can wear them for hours without foot or back pain. They are expensive but worth the price.” - Caitlin Lawless Castay, New Orleans

“Comfort, but pricy. Considering they last a year plus, it's worth it. My feet are rarely sore.” - Robert Jones, Spoon & Stable, Minneapolis

“I wear Dansko clogs and have for 10 years. These are the only shoes I have found that I can wear for long periods of time and not be in pain at the end. They are slip-resistant, look great in a professional and formal suit, and I also love that they add some height for me.” - Cris Dehlavi, M Restaurant, Columbus OH

“Dansko Walkers (not clogs) are the best I've ever worn for work. Great shape to the foot, back support, water resistant, and they make wide options.” - Dylan Regan, Aspen CO

Dr. Martens

“Doc Martens Emmeline are non-slip and super durable, supple, resistant to spills, and they look good if I wear them to or from work. The cons are that they are really difficult to break in and painful during this time. They also lack arch support and require insoles. I also recomend their balm to help break them in and waterproof. They are the same price as Shoes for Crews but 3x as durable and just as comfortable, even lighter. They are less comfortable at first than PayLess shoes but they actually last. I wear my $20 PayLess shoes while breaking in new docs... as in I switch shoes during bathroom breaks when I am almost ready to cry.” - Megan Fraser, CUT by Wolfgang Puck Four Seasons NY

“Doc Martens 1460. They keep my feet dry, no back or knee pain and are way more stylish than clogs. The breaking in process is incredibly painful.” - Clairessa Chaput, Highball Lounge, Boston MA

“Doc Martens steel toed boots. They are incredibly comfortable and easy to move in once they are properly broken in. Would recommend having them stretched before wearing them for a long period of time.” - Tom Street, Eloisa Santa Fe NM

“Dr. Martens forever. I currently wear the "1461 Mono" which are their classic all black oxfords with black trimming around the soles instead of the typical yellow. They are durable, comfortable, stylish. The only downside to any style of Dr. Martens is having to break them in because the leather is so stiff. The best way to help break them in is to buy moleskin padding liners (you can get them at any drugstore for $5). They don't called them "AirWair" for nothing. They keep your feet protected from water, slippery floors, and glass breakage. They last forever. They are slightly expensive but you are paying for quality shoes that will last you years. I used to wear the classic boots which are also great, but eventually had to retire them because after five years of wear they aesthetically look bad, but nothing is wrong with how they function or how comfortable they are. I still wear them around in my day to day life. Again, the extra couple bucks to pay for a pair is worth the investment.” - Maggie Morgan, Meauxbar, New Orleans, LA

“I currently work with a pair of Dr. Martens greased leather brogue boots (with medium arch inlays). Although tough to break in, afterward they behave perfectly resisting a rough treatment, being low maintenance and with an excellent grip. Being boots with laces, they take longer to tie up, but totally worth the wait. I would recommend any quality shoe that makes your feet step in the correct way, keeps a good shape and favors correct foot movement and arch repose.” - Ivan Villegas, Swift, London

“Dr. Martens, son! They've held up amazingly and they have pretty nice grip behind the bar. I've had the same pair for almost two years! My laces keep dry rotting though…” - Kyle Law, The Grey, Savannah GA

Birkenstock

“Birkenstock makes a lace-up oxford that I've been wearing for years. They are snug on the foot with plenty of room in the toe box. Cramped toes are what causes pain for me. They do look like a hobbit would wear them, if they wore shoes.” - Dean, Self Employed in Tampa, FL

“Birkenstock London clogs. Comfy but kinda ugly. Excellent support especially for people with high arches. I have mine re-soled at least twice before I have to retire them. On the expensive side but can be found on sale.” John W, Inn at St. John's, Plymouth, MI

Shoes for Crews

“They are super non-slip… but they aren't very stylish.” Nathan Reffell, Bovine and Barley Houston

“Shoes for Crews nonslip canvas ‘Vans style,’ I have to wear canvas shoes at work and I like the nonslip and they are more stylish than other options. I would make them more durable and waterproof. Adding heavy duty work insoles really makes a difference as well.” - Steven, The Dawson, Chicago

“They’re non-slip, super comfortable, and they have a 60-day ‘wear and compare’ guarantee. I wish they were a little more breathable.” - Colin O'Neill, Oyster House, Philadelphia, PA

“Shoes For Crews ‘Cooper.’ They are 100% non-slip, they look good, the leather holds up to any substance they come in contact with — liquor, syrups, rain, snow, road salt — without cracking. They're easy to clean and last a really long time. I'm coming up on my fourth year with the same single pair. I will definitely purchase a new pair when my original pair finally starts to fade (but who knows when that will be?).” - Yi Chen, Berlyn Restaurant, Brooklyn, NY

“They are slip-resistant and fairly water resistant, but also are somewhat stylish. My only wish is that there were some shoes like this that came in brown, maybe an imitation leather, or another color besides black. Black really isn't my style and doesn't totally match with a lot of my other clothes as much, but I don't like wearing anything that is expensive and easily damaged.” - Henry Boyd, Red Cedar Spirits, East Lansing, MI

Nike athletic shoes

“I can't stand athletic shoes. I used to be style over substance and only wear cowboy boots and work boots. As I got older, my back started killing me. I wanted to find chefs’ clogs but was concerned they would slip off in a high volume bar. I started wearing Nike cross trainers out of desperation and they saved my back. They look silly and contrary to my style, but there is nothing more comfortable. I'd love it if they were non-slip and oil resistant. Maybe if they looked more like a Redwing work boot or something. But I'm dressing from the ankles up now.” - Ryan Sumner, Whiskey Cake, Houston, TX

“Nike Air Force Ones: it's the only shoe I wear. They go on like slippers, which is great when you're Asian and need to take shoes on and off often. They always look good.” - Daniel Eun , Los Angeles, CA

“Nike Airs: Comfortable while they are still fresh, but they get dirty quickly and the air pocket doesn't last as long as I would like.” - Elizabeth Poerll, Ox/Superbite, Portland, Oregon

“Nike Air Huarache iD. Due to hot weather here I feel much comfortable and don’t feel heat in them. Most of my bartenders wear them as well. I would love to have my name customized on it with my country flag also.” - Tapatheo Amu Nyamekye, Burger and Relish, Accra, Ghana

Redwing boots

“They have Vibrams soles and are very sturdy and comfortable. Would change nothing. Nice dry comfy feet. Wish they were non slip but they do have good traction.” - Corbin, Casa Costa Mesa California

“Redwing Iron Ranger boots. I love the support and ankle stability but the old soles are not as resistant to slip as the new models are.” - Jason Coleman, Sazerac Co, New Orleans, LA

“Redwing Heritage Collection boots. I wouldn't change a thing. They're the most comfortable, durable boots I've ever owned. They're very slip resistant and have a great, supportive, chunky sole. Red Wing Heritage Collection is 100% American made. They're expensive but they last. I've had my current pair for 3 years and I plan to wear them at least another year.” - Will Groves , Maggie's Farm Rum, Pittsburgh, PA

"Worx by Red Wing. They are sturdy and last longer than most shoes I've tried. Yes, we have a dress code...but these shoes I'd buy no matter what." - Allicat, Harbor Lights, Tacoma WA

Honorable Mentions


Chuck Taylors are minimal, inexpensive, and have enough tread; I have very flat feet so they work for me. Would love if they had a little water resistance and more grippy tread.” - Mike Ryan, Kimpton Bars Global

Vans Sk8-Hi. They're comfortable, fit well and wrap around your ankle tightly so nothing can drop into your shoe.” - Sam McGarry, Nightcap, Edinburgh

Blunnies. Oil free soles. Very supportive. Impermeable. Long lasting.” - Warren Bobrow

Mozo chef shoes. Lightweight, comfy, aesthetically pleasing to my style. I used to swear by Shoes for Crews till I found Mozo which is considerably lighter and better looking. The cost is about the same and so far durability has been much better.” - Margie, Maxfields on Main, Boonton, NJ

Adidas Samba Classics. They're excellent in all situations, wet surfaces and whatnot. They also hold up for a long time.” - Benjamen Hart, Homestead, Meridian, Idaho

John Varvatos Chelsea boots. They are comfortable and stylish, but not fully waterproof.” - Leo Robitschek, Nomad, New York

PF Flyers Center Lo. I love that they are nonslip, comfortable enough to wear being on my feet for 10 to 12 hours at a time, and if I need to run on the other side of the bar, they look casual and fitting. I wish they were waterproof, on any given night of the week you are standing in 2 inches of standing water. At $50 a pair, if I can get 6 months out of them, they've paid for themselves.” - Elliott Mizuki, Polite Provisions, San Diego, CA

Laforst Jess Work Flat. I like the fact that they look relatively normal! They are very comfortable, slip resistant, and I don't feel super out of place wearing them out after my shift. I do need to layer insoles in them to get the support I want / need out of a work shoe. That is the one MAJOR thing I would change about them. I do think there are others that work better behind the stick, but if you are out in front of people often (I am, as a manager), I really like the look and feel of these shoes.I can fix the comfort and the waterproofing myself, but if they fall apart after a tough week, it just isn't worth it. I have found myself spending more money than I would like to on work shoes because even the "new trends" haven't been able to hold up.”

Emeril Lagasse non-slip sneakers. I only recently bought them, but so far I love them! They are very comfortable and don't get very smelly. They are the most comfortable service shoes I've had so far. Also, they have great heel support. Don't have anything to change, yet! I'll have to see how durable they are. Already seem more durable than the other pairs I've had.” - Kimberly Gagnet, Red Zeppelin Pizza, Baton Rouge, LA

Bragard Josias Black Chef Shoes. They're amazing, but you have to change out the insole for an athletic gel insert. These things are steel-toe tanks that last forever. Very safe, non-slip, and make you into a bartending terminator. They last forever, and you just have to change out the insole ever 6 months. Waterproof, steel toe, durable, non-slip, leather appearance, with good support. These shoes nail all six categories. You just have to change out the insoles and you're set!” - Chris Lowder, Charles H., Four Seasons, Seoul, South Korea.

Payless StepSafe. They're practically disposable but they are fake leather, so my feet don’t get soaked if there is a spill behind the bar. They also come in wide which is very important for me. They can be worn with the skinny jeans I am required to wear at my bar and not make me look like I have giant feet. I would only change their insoles and durability. But at less than 40 bucks, I’m not complaining.” - Kate Carpenter, Ovinte, Jacksonville FL

Crocs. I wear bistro-style Crocs and I also wear them everywhere else in the world as well. They are like walking barefoot and the whole world is covered with rubber. I would strongly consider not working for a place that wouldn't allow me my Crocs. I fought to get married in the and barely lost that battle. My Latin Nickname is El Crocodrilo. I like Crocs.” - Nathan Dalton, Catahoula Hotel, New Orleans LA

Sanitas. Dansko was the shoe I used till I found out they were made by Sanitas. Danskos are good but Sanitas soles last longer and are more comfortable. I have been wearing them for 9 years. I also always recommend gold toe compression socks to help with leg and calf pain.” - Ted Kilgore, Planter's House, St Louis MO

Words of Warning


“I did work at a bar that required black and white Chuck Taylors. Irresponsible and dangerous, I say. Shame on them. I really messed up my ankle by busting it on the kick rail after slipping on a puddle of beer. They refused to admit they made a poor choice. Shoes are important to safety. Vans and especially Converse are NOT nonslip. Skate grip or not. Most stylish non-slips are not comfortable. Many clogs are not affordable. We need a better shoe!” - Akiko Hagio, Sanctuari Bar at Triniti, Houston, Texas

“Shoes for Crews fall apart too fast. Danskos wear down and hurt my ankles because there is not enough support.” Caitlin O'Brien, Felipe’s Taqueria, New Orleans, LA

“Harvard and Stone was all denim and workwear. So my shoes clashed and it made me want to wear boots more often. Which wasn't smart. My current bar requires us to wear Converses or Tom’s. That's suicide behind the bar, so I'm back to my Nikes, in violation of the dress code.” - Ryan Sumner, Whiskey Cake, Houston, TX

“The restaurant I work at allows Converse, and most of the girls wear them. I wore Converse for one shift and my feet were killing me.” - Kimberly Gagnet, Red Zeppelin Pizza, Baton Rouge, LA

Food for thought


“I'd really like bar shoes that are anti-microbial.” - Timothy Skondin, OC Tavern

“I shop for quality for the money while factoring durability and price per wear. As a third generation bartender one of the earliest lessons I learned after ‘no talking politics’ was ‘wear good supportive footwear’.” - Megan Fraser, CUT by Wolfgang Puck at the Four Seasons, NY

“I think style is super important to work shoes — so many of the non-slip shoes have this sort of glossy, black, "you-can-tell-I'm-a-work-shoe" look. Something about that cheapens one’s attire if they aren't top tier quality. I do feel that good work shoes are incredibly important, but I don't think that many people are willing to spend good money on a good brand.” - Kaleena Goldsworthy, Flying Squirrel Bar, Chattanooga TN

“Something that also aids in comfort is to buy separate arch support insoles. Stretching the lower back often helps most pain from standing all day. A little yoga goes a long way!” - Douglas Bedford, The Double Standard, Oakland, CA

“Investing in good quality shoes can never go wrong. We spend on our feet way more hours than the average worker and we can't afford wearing bad quality shoes that can ruin our health and end up causing injuries. It's true that in some bar jobs shoes get destroyed and badly treated, but going for the cheapest option can end up being more expensive from a health-related point of view." - Ivan Villegas, Swift, London

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