How to Run a Bar: Basics of Glassware

When you are setting up your bar, you could spend a fortune in terms of dollars and storage space to keep a slew of glasses for every occasion. Customers expect cocktails and drinks to be served in specific glasses. Although that’s all well and good, it is recommended you keep it simple. How much you’ll spend depends on the style of glasses, size, price, number, and so on.

Here are the glasses you really need:

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  • Shot glass: You serve 1- to 1½-ounce shots of a single spirit, such as whiskey or tequila, in these. Some people also use them to measure liquor for cocktails.

  • Shooter glass: This glass is like a taller shot glass; it holds a 3-ounce shooter, like a dreamsicle or kamikaze.

    If you plan to sell lots of shooters, you may consider getting disposable, plastic shooter cups. Environmentally speaking, you’ll need to balance the trash created by single-use cups against the amount of resources (soap, sanitizer, and hot water) needed to clean the glass version. Aesthetically, a plastic shooter cup may be perfect for a great dive bar, but not as appropriate for a high-end nightclub.

  • Wine glass: Choose an all-purpose wine glass for both red and white wine, rather than one for each type. Most people choose a 5- or 8-ounce size. In a pinch, you can also use wine glasses to serve drinks that you’d normally serve in a rocks, highball, or collins glass.

    Of course, if you plan to run a wine bar, invest in a variety of glasses to match the variety of wines you serve. Your customers will expect nothing less.

  • Rocks glass: Drinks served on the rocks, or with ice, like martinis and manhattans, are often served in these glasses. Some people call them old-fashioned glasses, not because they’re not hip, but because a cocktail of the same name is served in them. Use the 5- or 6-ounce variety.

  • Highball and collins glasses: You can choose one or the other, depending on your preference. Use them to make popular drinks, such as a Bloody Mary or Tom Collins, and cocktails ordered tall (or served in a taller glass containing the same amount of alcohol, but with extra mixers). Many bar owners recommend a 10- to 12-ounce glass.

  • Martini glass: The age of the cocktail is back in full swing. You definitely need many martini glasses, especially because 40 percent of cocktails are called martinis. Don’t buy really large martini glasses unless martinis are going to be your specialty cocktail. Stick with a 4- or 5-ounce size.

    Only serve martinis in martini glasses if you serve them up, or without ice. Ice in a martini glass is awkward, so serve martinis on the rocks in a rocks glass.

  • Beer glass: The most common choices are pint glass (either 16- or 20-ounce), pilsner, mug, or beer glass. Ask your beer distributor for good buys. Fancier choices include the tulip and wheat beer glasses. If you’re going to be known for your beers (especially draft beer), consider investing in a few different types to match your styles of beer.

    Consider carrying two sizes of beer glasses, say a pint (16-ounce) glass and a 22-ounce glass or mug. You can offer draft beers at two different price points, offering a better value to the customer who chooses the larger pour.

  • Coffee glass/mug: Many bars use your average, everyday coffee mugs for coffee drinks, but some invest in special mugs to differentiate coffee from coffee cocktails. Choose what fits your budget and your bar.

Do not buy any glasses unless you have a rack to wash them in. let’s repeat: Do not buy any glasses unless you have a rack to wash them in. You should be able to buy racks from the same company you buy your glasses from.

Without the proper rack, glassware can and will get broken in the dish machine. If yours is a busy bar, don’t try to rely on just an in-sink washing unit to do the job. You need to be able to wash racks of glasses at a time in the machine in the kitchen. You can also use the racks to store the glasses.

If you really want to get fancy (and your budget and glass storage space allows), add a few other stems to your glassware entourage, like these:

  • Snifter: This glass is reserved for cognac and brandy. Look for a 7- or 8-ounce glass.

  • Champagne: Two styles are available (flute and coupe), but the flute is more common these days. Usually a 6-ounce glass is sufficient.

  • Margarita: Many versions of this glass are currently available from very rustic, hand-blown versions to elegantly simple ones that resemble champagne coupes. Look for a 6- to 8-ounce glass for margaritas served up and a 10- to 16-ounce glass to serve on the rocks or frozen.

  • Cordial: A cordial glass can be used to serve cordials, layered shots, port, or anything else served in small (6 ounces or less) but potent quantities. This glass may be called a distillate glass.

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