Bar Catering: 5 Essential Ingredients to Success

English: How to pour 5 martinis at the same ti...

Bar Catering: Typically not this hardcore… (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Often, people think regular bartending and bar catering are the same thing and if they’ve tended bar before, doing it at an event won’t pose any real problems. While they certainly have a lot in common, there are a few unique things that you’ll want to when you’re behind a catered bar.

Standardize the Set up

When you work the same bar every night, you become familiar with where everything is.  You can almost bartend with your eyes closed.  It’s not the same with a catered bar.  You usually have more limited space and supplies.  It’s almost like bartending MacGyver style.

If you are setting up the bar, set up in the same way every time or at least in a very similar way. Good bartenders, whether they’re behind a typical bar or a catered bar, are creatures of habit. The last thing you want when you’re bar catering a busy event is to waste time looking for vodka when someone orders a martini.

Manage Your (Limited) Equipment

You can plan as much as you want, but you will likely still be without things that you’re used to having at a full bar.  You probably won’t have a dishwasher, soda gun, and unlimited mixing tins.  That makes it even more important to use what you have intelligently.

  • Keep a bus tub to fill up with dirty glasses and make sure there is someone regularly arriving to take them away.  Dirty glasses do not make a bar look pretty.
  • Bring an extra trash bag –  Especially if you are using canned or plastic bottles for soda and mixers.
  • Place a small bucket or bus tub with water in it for yourself.  This way you can easily rinse things like mixing tins, wash rags, spoons, etc.  Just make sure you change out the water regularly.

Prepare Drinks in Advance


This is probably an obvious one, but open several bottles of wine before the event.  Generally you will only have wine from one wine maker: a red and a white.  Depending on the event, you may have champagne and blush wine as well,  Open those too.  This way you don’t waste time opening bottles wine while you have a crowd of customers waiting.

Specialty Cocktails

Mix Specialty Cocktails in Advance whenever possible

Mix Specialty Cocktails in Advance whenever possible

An increasingly popular trend at many events is to have one or two specialty cocktails instead of a full bar of liquor. This can be great from a bar catering perspective since it’s easy to know what to buy if you’re only serving a few different cocktails.

It also makes it easier to prepare in advance and speed up service. If the drink lends itself to being prepared in batches, you can make a large batch before the event instead of having to make individual drinks. If it’s not something that can be prepared in bulk, prepare a few servings before the event and then take advantage of down time during the event to keep it stocked.

Keep an Eye On Your Supplies


You probably won’t have an ice maker at your portable bar.  This means you or someone will continually have to go and get ice.  Keep an eye on this and get ice or ask for ice before it is getting low.  Generally if you are about half way out of ice, its time to fill up.  Keep in mind that the ice won’t arrive right away.  That’s why it’s better to ask for ice before instead of when you have five manhattans on the rocks to make.

Other Supplies

Use a Portable Back Bar to keep extra supplies of essential equipment and Drinks

Use a Portable Back Bar to keep extra supplies of essential equipment and Drinks

The same goes for things like cups, cocktail napkins, and mixing straws. Ice tends to be more of a problem since it’s more difficult to stock enough in advance to last the whole event. An easy way to manage most supplies is to set-up a portable back bar or something similar to use for additional storage.

Bar Catering Service

The name of the game with bar catering is speed and quality. Guests want their drinks fast and so do the servers, but not at the cost of being sloppy.  If you have a popular drink or specialty cocktails, such as mimosas at a brunch event, pre mix pitchers (if you have them and if you have space).  This way the drink is made and you can pour and go.

If you’re in the bar catering business, it’s important to realize too that your level of service is likely to help (or hurt) your ability to generate more business. Being friendly and outgoing with party guests can be a great way to generate more business and leads.

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