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Bar Management

Size Really Does Matter

August 20, 2013 By: Chris Lenahan


Bar Design The phrase “size matters" is a true statement in the hospitality business. Venues can be both blessed and cursed with the issue of size. Some wish their venue was larger while others want something more intimate. For me personally, I am comfortable with a venue between 7,000 and 8,000 square feet. How did I come to find out what size space works for my patrons? A principle I describe as “spatial dysphoria” – a state of feeling unwell or unhappy in a space.

It’s an emotional state characterized by anxiety, depression, or unease due to spatial relations to others. When uncomfortable with the surroundings, your guests develop a dissatisfaction and discontentment associated with the venue; leading to the unlikeliness of a repeat visit and short length of stay.

In order to provide a quick visualization of what I mean right before you open spread you staff out all over the bar, then turn the bar or club music and lights on as if you where open on a busy Saturday night. Now, stick all of your staff in the bathroom, crank up the music and licker the lights.  The point is that you are able to see one extreme to the other in order to find the balance that works for your venue and your guests.

Other elements besides density play into spatial dysphoria including a sense of superiority of VIP clients. To demonstrate have your staff gather on the dance floor or by the bar. Stand on an object about 7-10 inches or one step above the crowd, this should give you the feeling of superiority, this means that the higher you get, the greater that feeling should be correct? Wrong.

Now, step up and stand on top of the bar in front of your staff, Awkward!  You feel isolated and disconnected from them. This should help you define the comfortable height levels of the VIP areas and dance boxes. You want to make sure that your patrons are still able to have the appropriate interactions and make eye contact or they become disconnected.

By understanding the spatial relationships you can strengthen your venue. First things first, look at the layout; this is critical to determining the order and staging needed in expanding your venue as the night progresses. I prefer to open my venues in stages. I suggest moving parts that act as attachment points (areas for guests to congregate) for the venue.

Stage 1 Preopening: This period is the slowest and most challenging; therefore it needs the most attention to detail. During this stage attachment points would include bar stool, high top tables and furniture that can later be moved or removed to make way for growth of the crowd over the course of the night.  

Bar stools, tables and seating in general will increase length of and occupy otherwise open space. Using bar stools early at an actual bar is important as it creates the first attachment point; your base to build on. Tables and general seating are also very important in creating functional flow patterns. This turns an awkward narrow space into a functional space; simply by placing a line of high top tables with 2-4 bar stools at each down the center of the space. This effect adds layers of customers in the center not the edges of the venue which achieves the illusion of a busier bar.

Venue staging can be done using any number of additional dividers, everything from curtains to velvet ropes to furniture. The goal is to fill in the areas as you go, opening the areas up just before you hit capacity of those areas. This gives the illusion that the bar is always packed. One secret that I use during this stage is “Front Loading.” Adding attachment points at or close to the entry maximizes the illusion to the newly arriving customer that the venue is busy.

Stage 2 The Build Up: As the bar begins to fill, now this is the time to have security and staff pull the bar stools and reposition tables and furniture to maximize flow patterns, floor space and sales outlets of the venue. I pull the bar stools from the bars first, as these have become a liability and inhibit sales. You need the customers to continually rotate at the bar for high-volume sales; seating doesn’t facilitate this.

The bar stools at the high tops are also removed. Remove some of the high top tables and reposition the others to keep flow patterns and attachment points appropriate for the crowd; keeping the illusion intact. Never open this space up to an open free flow space. Instead layer from front to back breaking up sight lines and forcing the customer deeper into the venue increasing the overall commitment. This also allows maximum opportunities to socially interact with other customers while still having a comfortable spatial segregation.  

Stage 3 Packed: Once at capacity your staging areas and attachment points should be opened to match the volume of customers. This allows the venue to operate at the safest high-volume capacity possible. Then it’s up to you and your staff to maximize the sales during this time.

Remember every venue is different. Size does matter and space is your friend. Use your space to your advantage.


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