Bartenders wash a lot of bar glasses. 100’s of glasses each and every shift. There is a right way to accomplish this task – and a whole lot of wrong ways to get it done.

So, how do you wash and sanitize a bar glass? The best way to wash and sanitize dirty bar glasses is to use the three sink glass washing and sanitizing system. It’s fast, effective, and helps eliminate foodborne illness.

Let’s dive in, but first let me suggest a few tips on how to nail that bartender interview. Knowing the basics about bar cleanliness and sanitation could very well help you land your very first bartending job.

The Bartender Interview and Sanitation

Q. Will knowing how to properly wash and sanitize bar glasses help me get a bartending job?

A. Maybe. For all aspiring bartenders, any bar knowledge can be useful during the job interview. The Food & Beverage Industry is well-known for strict sanitation policies, and knowing how to properly wash and sanitize bar glasses is a no-brainer.

Q. Why is the bar manager concerned about the proper washing of glassware?

A. There are many reasons. Keeping the bar’s customers and employees free from illness is a good start. Health inspectors are always on the prowl, and maintaining that “A” rating is a high priority among bar owners.

I wrote an additional article all about the Bar Health Inspector. Health Inspectors don’t mess around, and all experienced bartenders understand the importance of bar cleanliness. You should too.

Q. Will questions about washing bar glasses and/or bar sanitation be asked in the interview?

A. Possibly. The person interviewing you could be a stickler for bar sanitation. A general knowledge of “how to wash glasses,” and the equipment used is a must for brand-new bartenders.

Example Interview Question: “We have the 3-sink method of washing glasses here at Mark’s Bar. Tell me, Sally, how would you go about setting up the glass washing system to get ready for our lunch crowd?”

Three Sink Glass Washing Station

            A Good Answer: “I would start by making sure all three sinks are free of debris, clean, and sanitized. I would then add the appropriate amount of fresh hot water and detergent to sink #1, fresh water only in sink #2, and fresh water and sanitizer to sink #3. Water temperature will be determined by House Policy and chemical directions. I would also make sure that I have plenty of back-up soap and sanitizer on hand.” Perfect.

Remember: Wash, Rinse, Sanitize, Air Dry – and you will be just fine. You will be given instructions/training, most likely on your very first shift, on the bar’s policy regarding the washing and sanitizing of all bar glassware.

Why Must Bar Glasses Be Sanitized?

I really don’t like getting sick. Do you? Foodborne illness can be a huge problem, and a restaurant or bar that gets a reputation for unsanitary conditions won’t be around long.

Foodborne illness is not something to mess around with. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a lot to say on the subject.

Bartenders need to understand how important clean and sanitized glassware is. In fact, many States now require classes on food and beverage handling for all Food and Beverage employees..

Washing and sanitizing bar glasses is one of the most important duties a bartender has. In fact, bartenders are probably going to spend the same amount of time washing and sanitizing bar glasses as they do making drinks. (I can’t wait to get comments on that statement!).

Glasses MUST be clean! They MUST be sanitized! I’m going to break all of this down in the upcoming sections, so stay tuned.

Bartender Mistakes When Washing and Sanitizing Glassware

Washing and sanitizing bar glasses may seem like a pretty basic task for bartenders. It is, but there are certain procedures you need to follow. No shortcuts! Below are some common mistakes that bartenders make when washing bar glasses:

  • Improper temperature of water
  • Failure to drain sinks and replace with fresh water on a consistent basis
  • Wrong proportion of soap/sanitizer to water/sink size
  • Washing hands in one of the 3 sinks
  • Glasses piling up creating an “unsightly” bar area
  • Drying or “polishing” glassware with a bar towel or napkin
  • Breaking a glass and leaving the shards in the sink
  • Failure to empty glassware of ice, garnishes, and straws before washing
  • Failing to coordinate with fellow bartenders on distributing workload
  • Washing bar towels, food plates, or anything else in the 3 sinks

Common sense goes a long way here. Bartenders must take washing and sanitizing bar glasses seriously. The bar owner does.

Your bar trainer will (I hope), provide instruction, probably on your very first bartending shift, on exactly how that particular bar washes glasses. Pay attention!

Why Do Bartenders Wipe Glasses?

Only in the movies. You won’t catch experienced bartenders drying glasses with a bar towel. It’s one of the most unsanitary things a bartender could do.

How clean is that towel that is used to wipe glasses? You just sanitized the glass – why would you “un-sanitize” it? How will it effect how a poured draft beer looks? More on that later.

Yes, I get it. What about that glass that has lipstick on it? Or, carbon residue from a flaming drink? Here you go: wipe the glass with a towel or napkin and then run it through the wash system again. Simple.

The Best Way to Wash and Sanitize Bar Glasses

What is a “Beer Clean” Glass?

There’s a lot of confusion about what exactly a “beer clean” glass is. Let me set you straight here.

It’s a clean glass. That’s it.

  • There are no lipstick or other markings on the glass
  • Glass is free of any type of impurity
  • Maintains a “head” as you drink it down
  • Bubbles consistently rise to the head
  • Lacing effect after every sip
  • No bubbles cling to the side of the glass

What is the draft beer “lacing effect?” Lacing is the foam residue that clings to the side of the glass as you drink it down. If you drink the beer slowly, you’ll see lines of foam left on the glass. That’s good.

Draft beer, as well as bottled beer, is extremely popular these days. Home brewing, micro beers – you name it. There’s nothing worse than drinking out of a dirty glass – or one that smells heavily of soap or sanitizer.

This article is about cleaning and sanitizing glassware, but for you aspiring bartenders out there I found a great website that’s all about draft beer quality. Interesting stuff there.

Who Washes All of Those Dirty Bar Glasses?

Here are the 7 basic ways that bar glasses get washed:

  • Bartenders and/or bar backs take care of it using the 3 sink method
  • Commercial glass washer behind the bar
  • Servers and bussers run the glasses to the kitchen
  • Nifty pass-through window straight into kitchen
  • The bar manager jumps in and helps. (Really?)
  • Servers or bouncers pitch in and save the day
  • For a couple of free drinks – a bar regular saves the day. (Yes, this happens).

Any way you look at it, bar glasses need to get washed. The bar’s house policy will determine the flow – and who does what.

What is the Best Method For Washing Bar Glasses?

A commercial glass washer behind the bar would be ideal. However, many experienced bartenders claim that using the three-sink glass washing system is the best. I could go either way.

Some bars run all of their glassware through the kitchen dishwasher – or industrial strength glass washer. Personally, I’ve always found that keeping the glassware close is the only way to go.

I’m not going to elaborate on commercial glass washers here. Pop the glasses in and let it do its thing. Of course, you do need to stay on top of the usual things: Water temperature, detergent, sanitizer, etc.

Let’s look at the most common way to wash and sanitize bar glasses: The 3 Sink Method.

Bar Hand Washing Sink

The 3 Sink Glass Washing System

Most bars will have a sink or designated area (probably right next to the 3 sinks), where bartenders throw the leftover ice, straws and garnishes. And wash their hands.

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

Set up the 3 sinks:

Bar Sink Drain Stopper

Make sure all three sinks are clean and free of debris.

Insert the water or sink “stoppers” in all three sinks and the washer/scrubber in sink #1. Hopefully, your scrubber is motorized.

The temperature of the water in all three sinks will be determined by local health laws as well as the directions on the soap and sanitizer products. Always ask your trainer or bar manager what the correct procedure is for that particular bar. Don’t assume! And, “more” is not “better.”

Electric Glass Washing System

Sink #1 – Fresh, clean, hot water. Around 110 – 120 degrees Fahrenheit. As hot as you can stand. Some bars will supply/require that you use “wash gloves.” Ugh.

Add soap towards the end of the filling process to mix it up. Sometimes the detergent flow is set up through an automatic system that evenly releases the proper amount when it’s needed.

Sink #2 – Fresh water, and usually same temperature as sink #1. Your boss may demand very hot water. Go with the flow.

Sanitizer For Washing Bar Glasses

Many bar managers will insist that you leave the faucet barely on and flowing – allowing a constant fresh water supply. Good idea – but expensive.

Sink #3 – Fresh water. Generally, 75 – 120 degrees F. Some sanitizer brands will demand cold water. Add the appropriate amount of sanitizer towards the end of the filling process to mix it up.

The type or brand of sanitizer, as well as local health laws, will determine the water temperature and amount of sanitizer.

Wash – Rinse – Sanitize – Air Dry: The Process

It’s a very simple process:

  • Give the glass a good scrubbing in the first sink. Lipstick marks are sneaky.
  • Completely dip glass in the second sink removing soap film. Dipping a couple of times doesn’t hurt.
  • Thoroughly immerse glasses in third sink to sanitize. Again, dip a couple of times if possible.
  • Allow to rest on drying area

As you can see – this process doesn’t take a whole lot of brain power. Just remember wash-rinse-sanitize.  Every bar is different, but you’ll find that most bars use the above method for washing glasses.

An important note about air drying: The bar will most likely have a designated area for air-drying the clean glassware. This area is usually just to the right of the third sink.

Once that area gets full, or the glasses have pretty much dried, move them to the proper area behind the bar – ready for their next use.

Most bars will hang stemware from some sort of overhead glass rack. Other bars will store all glasses on the back bar somewhere – with rubber matting underneath. Simple.

Cleaning Bar Glasses Conclusion

You’ll figure out rather quickly if the bar (and your fellow bartenders), take sanitation seriously. The Health Inspector certainly does.

Follow the advice of your bar trainer. Every bar is different, but most will use the 3-sink method of cleaning and sanitizing their glasses. Good luck!

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

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