Bartenders Better Know Bar Sanitation!

How did that quarterly inspection from the Health Inspector turn out? Were your prepared? Was the bar owner prepared? Were bar sanitation procedures properly implemented?

I bet the Health Inspector let you know.

Bar sanitation is important. Vitaly important. To customers, employees – and especially that pesky Bar Health Inspector. All bartenders need to take this seriously.

Q. Will knowing anything about bar sanitation help me get my first bartending job?

A. Possibly. Proper sanitation in the Food & Beverage Industry has always been a big deal. It’s even bigger these days. Learn the basics!

Sanitation is all about common sense. Washing hands, sanitizing glasses, and keeping food and beverages at proper temperatures.

Q. Will any questions on bar sanitation be asked in my bartender interview?

A. Maybe. I frequently asked bartender applicants a question about sanitation – but that’s just me.

You might get something like, “What do you put in each of the three sinks used for washing glasses?” Or, “You just finished cutting fruit garnishes for the day – how would you sanitize the knife and cutting board?”

As I mentioned above, sanitation is vitally important. Health Inspectors do not mess around, and the last thing the bar owner wants is a less than “A” rating posted in the front window.

Read through this bartender sanitation lesson and you should be up to speed – at least enough to be able to answer basic questions if they should come up during the interview.

Lots of general information here – but important. Most of this is common sense, but I know that there are many of you who have never worked in a restaurant or bar before.

Give it a good read-through to prepare yourself for any question on sanitation you might get during a bartender job interview. You’re going to learn a lot about bar sanitation here!

Why Is a Bartender’s Personal Hygiene Important?

You may be wondering what personal hygiene has to do with bar sanitation. Well, it all starts with you – the bartender. Show me a sloppy looking bartender and I’ll show you some gross sanitation violations.

Personal Appearance

Who wants a slob serving them drinks? I certainly don’t. I shouldn’t even have to mention this, but show up clean and dressed appropriately. Customers notice the little things.

When conducting bartender interviews, I always looked at the applicant’s fingernails. Is your hair washed? Uniform clean and pressed? Cat hair removed? Oh-oh.

Washing Hands

As a bartender, you’re going to be washing your hands frequently. Not to mention having your hands in the 3-sink glass washing system all the time.

Think about it. Handling money, fingers all over the POS System, dirty glasses and dishes, shaking hands, etc. I could go on and on. And, believe me, customers notice.

Again, common sense here, and if the health inspector happens to be around, make it a point to give those hands some extra washings.

Food Handling

Bartenders these days handle a lot of food. Follow normal, common sense procedures here. There should be a designated place behind the bar for dirty dishes – if the food servers or bus people aren’t taking them back for you.

Sets of condiments will be kept behind the bar. And silverware. Keep them clean as you would any other food item.

Eating and Drinking Behind the Bar

If you’re eating and drinking behind the bar you run into the possibility of transferring germs and nasty bacteria directly into your system.

That’s my take on it anyway. But then, I’m a bit of a germaphobe. This is why most bars have a policy against eating behind the bar.

No one is going to complain about you drinking water, or whatever, behind the bar. Eating is a different story, so be careful here and follow the bar’s policies.

I know. Many times, a bartender just doesn’t get a decent meal break. We get extremely busy. It happens, so go with the flow. Maybe grab something light and eat at the end of the bar. Or not.

The bar will have some sort of meal break policy – and there’s always going to be some controversy over this. Ignore the noise.

Drinking/Eating a Customer’s Drink or Food

I go into more detail on tasting a customer’s drink in a different article. For now, just know that you should never drink from a customer’s glass. Or eat off their plate. Really?

Yes, I get it. Your significant other stops by for a quicky (a drink, that is), and orders a bar appetizer. There’s nothing wrong with gobbling a jalapeno popper – but it’s still considered “eating behind the bar.”

It’s just unprofessional – and unsanitary. There’s probably a little leeway here on the food because of the meal break controversy – but follow the bar’s policy. All bars are different!

How Much Does It Cost to Maintain Bar Cleanliness?

Bar owners spend a nice chunk of money keeping their bar neat and clean. Anything that requires sanitization – is sanitized. Or should be.

Bar Owners are always concerned with their profit and loss. They should be – it’s what keeps them in business. And, it’s why they’re constantly harping on their bartenders about pouring costs.

A restaurant and bar will show “cleaning costs” (or cleaning materials), on their Profit and Loss statement. Usually a subsection of “Operating Costs” or “Controllable Expenses.” Something like that.

And, Bar Managers will notice if you’re wasting cleaning materials and equipment. Stay smart.

Chemicals cost money. So does cleaning equipment. The point here is that bar owners trust their bartenders to be responsible when it comes to maintaining a clean and sanitized bar.

Bar Sanitation supplies cost money:

  • Detergents and Sanitizer
  • Mops, Mop Buckets, Brooms, Squeegees, etc.
  • Dish and Glass Washer Maintenance
  • Gloves, Brushes, Towels, Squirt Bottles, Sponges
  • Kitchen Grill Blocks, Cleaning Pads, Scrubbies
  • Water

Bars use a lot of water. Water will most likely be listed under “Utilities” on the P & L. In my experience, water and cleaning supplies/equipment is going to run about 5% of gross sales per month.

It’s estimated that an average sized restaurant and bar uses around 5,000 gallons of water per day. Compare that with about 100 gallons that an individual will use in his own home. The cost? You do the math.

The cost of maintaining a clean and sanitized bar is nothing to laugh at. As a bartender, keep in mind that all of those products and equipment you’re using to keep your bar clean and sanitized costs money!

Commercial Cleaning Services

Hiring an outside cleaning company to perform daily cleaning chores is beyond the scope of this article – so I won’t go into any great detail.

There are, however, different areas of the restaurant and bar where the bar owner may decide to hire outside vendors to perform some cleaning tasks:

  • Kitchen “Hood” System
  • All Restrooms
  • Window Washing
  • Outside Maintenance

The kitchen “Hood” system, by the way, is the ventilation system located in the kitchen directly above the deep fryers, broiler, ovens, etc.

This “Hood” system gets clogged with grease, and whatever, and needs to be professionally cleaned on a regular, consistent basis. There is no need to sanitize it.

In fact, most States and local safety laws will require this to be done – and restaurant and bar owners must provide proof that it HAS been done.

The Health Inspector is probably going to take a very good look at the hood system. So will OSHA.

How Do You Maintain Cleanliness In the Bar?

Maintaining a clean and sanitary bar is not hard. Follow the bar’s cleaning policies, listen to your bar manager, and quickly make any corrections that the health Inspector suggests. Remember to:

  • Clean as you go
  • Follow daily and weekly cleaning checklists
  • Maintain a neat and well-organized work area
  • Have cleaning materials close at hand – but stored properly
  • Understand what foodborne illness is
  • Remove dirty dishes and glassware immediately

Experienced bartenders are very good at cleaning as they go. They also understand how important cleaning schedules are to the overall cleanliness of the bar and restaurant.

The 6 Steps of Bar Sanitation

The basic six steps needed to clean almost anything in a bar or restaurant:

  • Remove All Noticeable Debris
  • Give it a Good Rinse with Clean Water
  • Scrub Vigorously with Soap to Remove Any Unseen Contaminants
  • Rinse Well, Removing All Soap Residue
  • Allow to Air-Dry
  • Sanitize the Entire Surface

Glassware is a bit different, and that section is coming up next.

Simple stuff here. Of course, many restaurants and bars have a dishwasher (or glasswasher), that will accomplish much of this.

The 3 Sink Bar Glass Washing System

Most bars will have a sink or designated area (probably right next to the 3 glass washing sinks), where bartenders will toss the leftover ice, straws/picks, and garnishes.

Most likely, in this fourth sink, there will be some sort of mesh to capture the straws, picks, and garnishes – and allow ice to melt. Every bar is different.

Bartender 3 Sink Glass Washing Station

From here, it’s a very simple process:

  • Sink #1 – Wash glasses thoroughly
  • Sink #2 – Rinse glasses
  • Sink #3 – Sanitize by dipping the glass in and out of the water a couple of times
  • Allow to Air-Dry. Never dry glasses using cloth towels!

Health Inspectors are probably going to test the water in each sink for the proper temperature- as well as detergent and sanitizer levels. In another post, I go into much more detail on the importance of washing bar glasses properly. Check it out.

Sanitizing All Bar Coolers and Refrigerators

Thoroughly clean and sanitize all coolers periodically. The bar should have a cleaning schedule, so follow it. Check temperatures frequently – the Health Inspector will!

Back-Bar Refrigerators

Bottled beer, chilled wines, back-up juices, milk/cream, and some liquors are stored here. Within easy reach of the bartender.

The Health Inspector always takes a peek in here – and probably checks the temperature. Weekly cleaning schedules may dictate that the entire cooler to be sanitized.

Clean up spills immediately! There’s nothing worse than being extremely busy and that bottle of beer you just grabbed has sticky fruit juice or cream on it. Your Customers won’t appreciate it either!

Walk-In Beer Cooler

Anywhere there are kegs – there will be a mess. A blast of beer in the face will get your attention and force you to slow down and change kegs properly – and avoid having to clean and sanitize everything in the cooler.

Regardless, there will be “accidents” at one time or another. The maintenance crew (if the bar has one), will usually take care of the floor.

Many times the beer keg cooler doubles as a sort of supply area for other perishable bar products, so there may be shelves for fresh fruit and other garnishes located here. Keep these shelves clean and sanitized. Again, the bar should have a cleaning schedule.

Kitchen Walk-In Coolers and Freezers

Some bar perishables like fresh fruits and juices may be stored in the kitchen coolers. Grab what you need and get out of the cooks’ way.

Kitchen coolers and freezers are the kitchen staff’s responsibility. Of course, if you notice warm temperatures or food on the floor – you might give the manager a heads-up!

Sanitizing Bartender Tools and Equipment

The bartender tools and equipment – take care of them! Sanitize when needed (or required), and make sure they’re in good working order. It’s your responsibility!

Knives and Cutting Boards

This is a biggie in bar sanitation. Wash and sanitize after every use. And, before using – it doesn’t hurt. Keep the knife sharp.

Bartenders will argue about the proper type of cutting boards all day long. Plastic or wood? Use what the bar has.

Please – don’t wash and sanitize these items in the 3-Sink glass washing system. Glasses ONLY in there!

Liquor/Soda/Wine/Juice Dispensers

The “guns.” One of the Health Inspector’s first stops. Most bars will have you remove and clean the rubber nozzle holders at the end of each shift – probably immerse in some sort of sanitizer solution overnight.

Ice Bin/Ice Scoop

Another of the Health Inspector’s favorites. Make sure the ice scoop is not stored in the ice! Most bars will have a slot next to the ice bin for the scoop.

The ice scoop should be sanitized after every shift. I know bartenders that periodically run it through the glass washing system.

Many bartenders will run the ice scoop, along with other bar utensils, through the kitchen dishwasher at the end of every shift. As it should be.

The ice bin is for ice only! DO NOT put juices or garnishes in the ice bin. ICE ONLY! Many bars have a “cold plate” at the bottom of the ice bin that the soda system runs through.

Nothing wrong with that, but I have had Bar Health Inspectors dig down into the ice and “feel” the cold plate. If they’re not cleaned every night – sometimes a slimy film gathers – and you’re in trouble.

All ice should be “burned” (melted), at the end of the night. Then, sanitize the empty bin. Simple. For new bartenders, pay strict attention to the bar’s closing procedures – there’s probably a list somewhere.

A word about broken glass. I don’t know of any experienced bartender that has NOT broken a glass in the ice at one time or another. It will happen to you!

If this happens, or even if you suspect that some glass might have fallen into the ice – burn the ice. No exceptions! Find the glass, if any, and dispose of properly.


No Nonsense Bar Sanitation Tips For Bartenders

Rotate properly, never mix the old with the new. Common sense here. Probably kept in one of the back-bar coolers overnight. Or the keg beer cooler.

Wash fruits thoroughly before dicing and slicing. Liquids should be keep in clean, sanitized containers – probably run through the kitchen dishwasher at the end of each day.

Bar Towels

Start every shift with fresh bar towels – if possible. Cleaning bar towels costs money, and bar managers will monitor the cost.

Never soak bar towels in the 3-Sink glass washing system. That is for glasses only! There should be an additional sink behind the bar somewhere that’s available for this task.

Bartenders will many times soak a bar towel in some sort of diluted sanitizer solution to wipe down equipment, utensils, and bar counter tops.

POS System/Handling Money

Money is dirty. So are credit cards. So is the POS System. Common sense here, and wash your hands frequently.

Many bars require that the POS System and credit card terminals be wiped down each night (or even more frequently), with a cloth towel soaked in sanitizer. I’m all for it.

Draft Beer System

The bar will probably have a contract with a beer line cleaning company. Sometimes, one of your draft beer vendors will do it for free.

Their job is to unhook the beer line system and run some sort of cleaning/sanitizing solution through the lines. Nice.

Notify the bar manager if draft beer is not pouring properly – or customers complain about an “off” taste. Bartenders should be cleaning and sanitizing the pour spouts at the end of each day.

Bar Rubber Matting

Usually on top of the back bar, this is where glassware is air dried. These mats must be cleaned on a regular basis. And sanitized.

The bar should have the bar matting listed on some sort of cleaning schedule. However, I know some bar managers insist that they be removed and sent through the kitchen dishwasher every night. Ugh.

Bar Rubber Floor Mats

Some bars will have the bartenders pull them up each night and stack them out back. Or, the maintenance crew will handle it.

Either way – they get sticky. A good “power wash” out on the back dock usually does the trick. They’re heavy – so watch your back!


Blenders are cleaned or rinsed after every use (usually), and probably run through the kitchen dishwasher at the end of the night. Bartenders are busy, so a simple rinse is what happens during the shift.

The “stand-up” mixers are also cleaned and sanitized at the end of every shift. Or should be. Most bars that I have worked at will soak a bar towel in sanitizer and give it a good wipe-down every once in awhile.

Garnish Trays

Emptied every night. Wash the tray and containers through the kitchen dishwasher. Simple. NEVER pour existing fruit, juices, and other garnishes back into their original container!

Bailey’s Irish Cream, Vermouth, Cream

Always refrigerate. Many bars have an empty bottle of Bailey’s (and some other liqueurs), behind the bar simply for show while the real stuff is in a cooler.

Capping Liquor Bottles

Some bars will cap all liquor bottles at the end of the day. This prevents fruit flies and other debris from entering the bottle.

Most bars require their bartenders to wipe down all liquor bottles at the end of each day. Some will require that sanitizer be used.

Bar Sanitation Conclusion

There you go. How bartenders keep their bar clean, organized, and, most importantly – sanitized!

Most bartenders get very good cleaning as they go, and understand the importance of proper sanitation. Be one of those bartenders.

If you’re following along in the Basic Bartending Course:

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Previous Lesson: Introduction to Bar Sanitation

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