When you have an impressive spirits collection, it’s only natural to want to show it off, but the bigger and more complex it gets, the more challenging it can be to organize, maintain and keep your staff knowledgeable. We caught up with several owners and general managers of establishments with large and complex back bars for their strategies for everything from design to staff communication.
The Baxter Inn, Sydney, Australia
Stuart Morrow is the general manager for The Baxter Inn, which currently holds between 750 and 800 whiskeys. “Our back bar is set up regionally, with each whiskey in its region alphabetised,” says Morrow. “We find this the easiest way to organise the back bar as, if somebody wants, say, a sweeter style of whiskey, the team can grab a few options from the Speyside region. Each bottle has a tag on it with the price, which makes it easy for the bartender and guest.”
The majority of the whiskey stock is housed on the back bar. Sliding library-style ladders allow access to the top shelves.
The Baxter Inn has a “Whiskey Bible” updated monthly, keeps an up to date 86 list, and has a board with about 200 of their most popular whiskeys, which is maintained by a full time member of the staff on a weekly basis.
Canon, Seattle, WA
“We carry an average of 3500 spirits at any one time with over 7000 bottles in house. All for our 32 seats!” says Jamie Boudreau, owner of Canon. To stay on top of this complex collection, Boudreau has three different organizational methods, depending on the spirit. “Our Scotch collection is located alphabetically. Certain bottlings and distilleries are found in a particular location (for example Laphroaig, Caol Ila, Bruichladdich, and Lagavulin are all located in the same hallway, in the order listed in the menu). The rest of the bottles are organized with a grid system (A-H, 1-9) and these bottles are marked with their location in the menu.” The system is as intuitive as possible, with like items close to each other. Agave-based spirits are all in row A, for example
The more often a bottle is used, the easier it is to reach, ranging up to the shelves that require a ladder.
For Boudreau, staff communication is paramount. “The hardest part is ensuring that the staff communicates outages and low bottles as well as ensuring that they put bottles back exactly where they found them. Any slip ups and we may end up looking for bottles that don’t exist, wasting our guests’ time (and disappointing them), as well as our time. A collection this big takes three days to do inventory, so we need to be organized. Staff has to understand how important the systems are to ensure a good workflow.”
Boilermaker House, Melbourne, Australia
“Our back bar has around 850+ whiskies and 100 odd other spirits,” says Jack Sotti, Boilermaker House’s General Manager. “The entire whiskey collection is categorized alphabetically with special bottles with the letter on to dictate progression. We only have one ‘top shelf’ where we keep our 30 most expensive whiskies because some guests still look for a ‘top shelf’ and it also helps with not having to make your way up to the top of the ladder frequently.”
Managing a back bar like this is no easy feat. “It takes the roles of three people to receive stock, enter it into inventory, manage the whiskey menu (along with our back of house whiskey cellar) and train the staff. We have also hired the equivalent of a whiskey Sommelier who manages all of the above for our four venues and ensures we have good stock rotation,” says Sotti.
Along with a library ladder to reach the high shelves, Boilermaker House has a short list of 50 whiskies which account for 70% of sales (these are kept on the bottom shelf for easy access).
The back up bottles are just as organized as the front of the house. “The back of house back up stock is all alphabetized like the front for easy access to restocking. We also employ a rather low-tech clipboard that we have on the bar. Bartenders are trained to write down when we are 86. Finally we post on our staff Facebook page when stock that was previously 86 has come back in.”
Sotti recommends writing the price per shot on each bottle to save staff time. As far as organization, he’s not a fan of elaborate systems. “Keep it simple, no need to use complex categorization.”
No matter the size of your back bar, these organizational principles will help you streamline your processes and serve your guests more efficiently — with or without a library ladder.