Bar Design: Beautify Your Bar With These Top Ideas

If you’re new to bar design, your countertops and walls might be bursting with potential—but not much else. You want your new bar to thrive, and that means making bar design choices that entice customers, create an ambiance, and make functional sense for your staff.

Every space is unique, but every optimized bar setup gets certain key things right—and every bar with regulars draws customers back into the space instead of sending them home. Want the design secrets to make your bar a smash? We walk you through 10 great bar design ideas to inspire your new bar.

But first, let’s get into why bar design matters!

Why does bar design matter?

Whether you want to craft Instagram-famous cocktails or cater to the Sunday Night Football crowd, your bar should dress for the job it wants. In other words, your bar setup directly impacts the ambiance and efficiency of your space, completely changing the kind of customer experience you create.

Bar design also has major consequences on the satisfaction of your team, your business branding, and even safety. Simply put: strong bar design makes bar management easier. After location and licenses, it should be your top concern.

A bar design that works well for both your team and your guests considers:

Customer impressions and clarity

From the moment people walk in, the layout and design of your bar needs to draw customers in and make them feel welcome. There shouldn’t be any confusion about whether there’s a host or a self-seating system, or whether or not there’s table service—they should be able to tell these details from the design.

If the space is on the larger side, you’ll want to arrange furniture and maybe even divide the space to make your bar feel intimate even when it’s empty. Your bar should feel equally inviting to visitors at rush as it does at quiet times. Any well-designed bar will eliminate “dead” areas, providing a mix of seating types that are all comfortable and all have easy access to drinks. 

Efficiency and service flow

Aesthetics and mood are important, but functionality is critical. Effective bar design should minimize your team members’ movements—both to reduce waits for customers and to avoid team burnout.

At the same time, practical components that should be hidden from your guests as much as possible include:

  • cleaning supplies
  • trash and recycling
  • prep areas
  • dump sinks
  • ice machines
  • refrigeration equipment
  • point of sale (POS) devices 

Your customers’ minds should be on the fantastic experience they’re having and the fantastic drinks they’re sipping, period. Don’t let them think about how the cocktail gets made!

Brand identity

Another crucial component of bar design is communicating your business’s brand and identity. Your design elements, decor, and overall ambiance should align with your bar’s theme and target audience, helping you stand out from your competition and stay in people’s minds. Since 60% of restaurants fail within their first year, a defined bar concept and a plan for marketing and promotion need to be part of things from the start. 

Safety and compliance

You’ll thank yourself later on if your bar design accounts for safety regulations and health code compliance from the jump. Planning for things like fire safety, accessibility for people with disabilities, and proper ventilation will ensure a safe, comfortable environment for your customers and your team.

How should a bar be set up?

The annoying answer is: “It depends.” Your bar setup will depend on the size of your location, whether you’re opening a whole restaurant or a standalone bar, how many bartenders and barbacks you’re going to be fitting behind the counter, and how much seating you plan on having in your space. Your setup will be unique to your situation.

This said, functionality and customer experience should always be at the forefront. Make sure you’re meticulously researching your competitors to see what they’re doing right—and pitfalls to avoid. Your bar should be meeting a market need, and you’ll want to choose the bar setup that will help you achieve this. 

How to design a small restaurant bar.

A modest scale doesn’t mean you can’t get creative. For smaller restaurant bar spaces, be sure to:

1. Maximize your seating.

Without sacrificing comfort, have a mix of space-saving seating options like high-top tables, multi-functional pieces, and diagonal or curved seating configurations that make full use of corners and irregular spaces.

Slim-profile bar stools along the bar counter are a great feature to consider. A small overhang or ledge to extend the countertop so you’re not encroaching on the bartending area can also go a long way toward increasing customer capacity.

2. Give enough room behind the bar for fast service.

In a smaller space, streamlining your behind-counter layout is doubly important. Choose compact, space-saving equipment designed specifically for small bars, like undercounter refrigerators and narrow ice machines.

3. Keep the bartop clear with accessible shelving and vertical storage.

Get smart about storage. Use your vertical space to store your glassware, lesser-used tools, and less-requested bottles. This will free up valuable counter space for your team to work efficiently and to easily access the most popular alcohol. Wall-mounted shelves, pegboards, and hanging racks can be great options to increase storage.

4. Include ice troughs.

Another important design element for small bars is undercounter ice machines. Having ice readily available in ice troughs improves the efficiency of your bartenders’ workflow, saving time and cutting down on the amount of back-and-forth movement involved in filling orders.

10 bar design ideas for your new business.

Now that we’ve got the functional stuff out of the way, let’s get to the fun part! Read on for thoughtful and funky ideas to consider as you start to bring your bar’s aesthetic to life.

1. Add interesting, functional lighting.

Not getting your lighting right is one of the most common new bar mistakes. Lighting needs to be soft and warm enough to set a mood, but not so dim that it’s hard to see the person across the table from you.

Functional lighting for your team behind the counter is vital. Dimmer switches can be great options for setting different moods depending on the occasion, but they can be irritating to fiddle with and may require extra wiring elements to get you up to code.

Lighting can also make or break your bar’s aesthetic. Are you going to go with something industrial, repurposed, or rustic? Or will you wow with chandeliers? Think about matching your lighting against the negative space of your ceiling. Or, for bar design on a budget, you could install a different second-hand fixture over every table and make every experience feel slightly different for your patrons.

2. Install comfortable seating that maximizes space.

With your bar seating, make sure your selections visually complement the rest of your bar design. Always strike the right balance of comfort and functionality. Stools with footrests, for instance, make a big difference for people at the counter. It may seem simple, but this one additional posture support could make the difference between patrons staying for one more drink or heading home to nurse a sore back.

If space allows, a comfortable lounge area with soft sofas or armchairs can create a more personal vibe. This sort of environment can be a huge draw for groups who want to spend a good, long night out. The lounge can also add to your profits as a place where customers can order food and drinks while waiting. 

If any seating area is creating a “dead” zone or causing problems with foot traffic, rethink it. And keep open to the possibility of outdoor seating to maximize your space, maybe by having an indoor-outdoor bar that opens up when it’s warm. (Just make sure you have a patio permit!)

Read more: Plan how to grow your team with seasonal hiring.

3. Be intentional with glassware.

Don’t neglect the small details of presentation: they may end up being the thing that elevates the guest experience. Just like your seating and lighting, your choice of glassware makes a noticeable difference to the mood of your bar. 

Does it make sense to think beyond pint glasses with big brand-name logos and consider custom-branded ones instead? Will you offer specific glasses catering to different cocktail styles? What about adding some color and originality with tiki glasses? Your glassware should complement the overall theme and ambiance of your bar, reinforcing your brand identity. (And please, make sure you’ve got an efficient glass-washing system!)

4. Find memorable, photo-worthy decor.

Your bar’s aesthetic choices not only contribute to its overall appeal, they make your establishment memorable… and photo-worthy. Think oversized art or photography. A cool floor pattern. Framed movie photos. A fun, quirky quote in neon lettering. Or the ever-popular (and selfie-friendly) wall mural.

Modern word-of-mouth marketing is strongly visual. If you put love into your decorative details, you’ll get more people coming in the door, snapping pics, and telling their friends—or social media followers. 

5. Get the music just right.

Want people to keep their tabs open? Get the music right. You want your music to be familiar to your clientele. That can mean identifying your target audience, figuring out what they listen to, and making playlists to keep them happy. If you’re catering to a high-class clientele looking to enjoy a glass of wine on their way to the symphony, the music choice will be a lot different than if you run a punk bar.

Then there’s the question of volume. Turn up the music loud enough to be heard over other people’s conversations, but not so loud as to hamper conversation at your own table.

How you design your bar in other areas can help with sound control. For example, for an industrial bar, you might get more echoing than a bar with velvet walls. Your seating can even make a difference: soft chairs could contribute to sound dampening and absorption. Well-placed speakers can create or avoid quiet spots and loud spots. Sound design details can go a long way in encouraging people to stay beyond the first drink.

6. Install modern POS systems.

Floor and surface space matters in every part of a customer’s visit—even in the way they settle the bill. Modern point of sale (POS) solutions are often worth your investment; their smaller designs will take up less room in your bar layout.

Portable POS devices (for tableside ordering via phone or tablet) will have an even tinier footprint and reduce the number of server trips. Plus, POS systems let you provide faster, more accurate service—and that usually means higher tips for your servers.

7. Arrange bar bottles as eye-catching decor.

Make your bar bottles pop with tiered displays, floating shelves, or backlit bottle holders. You could also try grouping them by color and type, or playing with height variations.

Your bar display doesn’t just have visual appeal: it’s also an opportunity to flex the quality and variety of your offerings. Spotlighting single bottles can elevate your bar’s vibe, while rotating displays can draw people’s attention to featured, limited, or high-end offerings.

8. Make use of mirrors.

Classic French bistros make use of mirrors in their decor for good reason. Mirrors make your space feel bigger and give you a creative place to display the day’s specials. Placed in the back bar area, your bartenders will use the mirror to watch what’s going on while their backs are turned, and customers will feel the excitement of watching the drinks being made. 

9. Don’t forget about cleanability and durability.

Nothing will turn your customers off faster than a dirty bar environment. Since bars and bar tops see more wear and tear than other furniture, you’ll save yourself a lot of trouble in the long run by using durable materials that are easy to clean.

If you’re going with wood, seal it with a catalytic varnish, or opt for polished and sealed stone. With flooring, carpeting is best avoided. If your barstools need to be moved for cleaning every night, then stackable, lighter stools are likely to be the better option.

10. Provide unique offerings that meet the needs of the market.

When you created your business plan for your new bar, you researched a specific gap in the market. Your design choices are an enormous part of what will help you fill that gap.

Will you be hosting NBA watch parties? What about corporate get-togethers? Consider a special room for private parties. Will you feature live musicians, classic board games, or arcade games? You could even consider large-format Jenga or Connect Four, immersive experiences like themed settings, or popular activities like ping pong.

Think about the big details—like TV screens for a sports bar—and the small ones, like hooks to hang purses or jackets under the bar.

With Generation Z drinking less alcohol than prior generations, forward-thinking bar owners are going beyond simply offering alcohol. With a unique, well thought-out offering, you’ll move from being just a place to hang out to being a go-to event location. 

3 standout bar design examples

Let’s take a look at three very different bar designs that hit it out of the park, and why their unique design and decor approaches make them so memorable.

Dauphine’s restaurant and bar in Washington D.C.
Dauphine’s restaurant and bar in Washington D.C.

Dauphine’s | Washington, DC

DC may be a thousand miles away from the bars of Bourbon Street, but the second you walk in the door of Dauphine’s, you’re instantly transported to good old New Orleans. Every inch of the space hums with French and Spanish touches, which change across the different indoor and outdoor seating areas to immerse you in the varied moods of NOLA.

“Kitchen views add a dose of action. The convivial bar area is punctuated by suspended greenery that dares to descend toward the marble bartop or high-top tables as well.

Private dining conveys a darker, richer New Orleans character with black, gold, and embossed crocodile skins. A 150-seat outdoor patio complements the design of Dauphine’s with its glass box-style design that includes a bar, fire pit, and custom fountain inspired by the iconic courtyards of the Big Easy.”

-Griz Dwight, GrizForm Design Architects

Dullboy bar in Jersey City

Dullboy | Jersey City, New Jersey 

It’s the little things that make the bar design of Dullboy so interesting. The bar’s speakeasy vibe pulls you in with moody lighting, 1920s-style couches, and vintage literary decor like old typewriters and a wall covered in books. Playful touches like mismatched china and tiki mugs add to the unpredictable fun, while regular movie nights draw crowds every week.

“It’s the kind of place where you just feel cool sitting and sipping a drink… We especially love hanging out here in the summer but in the winter the heat lamps keep this space very cozy. Every Sunday night, Dullboy shows a movie in the outdoor Pala Bar.” 

Stephanie Brown, The Hoboken Girl

Loco Taqueria in Boston
Loco Taqueria’s 401 Lounge in Boston

Loco Taqueria | Boston, Massachusetts

Salvaged New Hampshire tiles, reclaimed wood and windows, antique lighting—Loco Taqueria took a gutted-out space and turned it into a stellar example of a captivating bar restaurant. Loco boasts a memorable lounge that plays with pattern and texture, turning what was once a low-ceilinged, characterless space into something energetic and unexpected. 

“The biggest challenge the team faced when designing the 410 Lounge at Loco was the need to bring warmth, character, and attitude to a painfully new space that was also lacking ceiling height.”

– Michael Diskin, Assembly Design Studio 

When you’re ready to open your doors, Homebase is here to make it easy.  

At Homebase, we know how much you put into your business, and how much bar owners have to juggle. We’re proud to be a trusted partner for thousands of bars and restaurants—helping make everything from staffing to scheduling to payroll to team communication easier for bar owners.

Ready to get your team in sync with our easy-to-use, all-in-one employee app? Get started for free with Homebase.

Bar design FAQS

How do you design a new bar?

Design a new bar with atmospheric, functional lighting, comfortable seating that maximizes space, and memorable decor and glassware. To see how the design is flowing and make any last-minute adjustments, get feedback and insights from the bartenders and team who’ll be using the space.

What makes a great bar design?

Great bar design has visual flair, maximizes room space, avoids dead zones and foot traffic problems, minimizes bartenders’ movements, and gives customers different kinds of comfortable seating options for socializing.

What is the best shape for a bar?

The best shape for a bar depends on the specifics of your location. Whether you choose a straight bar, L-shaped bar, or U-shaped bar, pick a bar shape that complements your space and works well with your service style. If standard underbar equipment is important to your space and budget, then a curved bar is probably not your best bet.

How do you design for a restaurant bar?

When designing a restaurant bar, create a functional layout with a focal bar counter, choose diverse comfy seating options and atmospheric lighting, ensure efficient storage, and align the design with the restaurant’s theme to keep it cohesive.

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