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10 best bar design ideas for 2024

For your new bar to thrive, a lot is riding on choices you make before it even opens—and high up this list are your bar design choices. Even a few poor design decisions can mean the difference between customers who keep the bartender busy for hours and customers who take off after one drink. Not to mention, the difference between a happy team and a burnt-out one.

Every space is unique, but every optimized bar setup gets key things right. Want the secrets? We’re going through the 10 best bar design ideas to inspire your new bar. But first, let’s get into why bar design matters so much.

Why does bar design matter?

Whether you want to craft Insta-famous cocktails or cater to the Sunday Night Football crowd, bar design matters immensely. Your bar setup directly impacts the ambiance and efficiency of your space, completely changing the kind of customer experience you create, the satisfaction of your team, your business branding, and even safety. Put simply: 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 entice customers 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.

If the space is a large one, it needs the flexibility to feel intimate even when it’s empty—your bar should feel equally inviting to visitors at peak and 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.

Brand identity

Another crucial role of bar design? 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. Planning for things like fire safety, accessibility for people with disabilities, and proper ventilation will ensure a safe, comfortable environment for both 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 starting a whole restaurant or a standalone bar, how many bartenders and bar backs 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 and will come from carefully considering all these factors.

And—it can’t be said enough—make sure you’re meticulously researching your competitors. Your bar should be meeting a market need, and you’ll want to choose the bar setup that will help you achieve this. 

What about how to design a small restaurant bar?

When it comes to small restaurant bar design ideas, a modest scale doesn’t mean you can’t get creative. For smaller 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 thing to consider, perhaps with a small overhang or ledge to extend the countertop so you’re not encroaching on the bartending area. 

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. 

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 that’s needed.

10 bar design ideas for your new business.

Alright—now for the good stuff. Read on for thoughtful (and fun) ideas to consider as you start to bring your bar to life.

1. Add interesting, functional lighting 

Not getting your lighting right is one of the most common new bar mistakes. It needs to be soft and warm enough to set a mood, but not so dim that it seems dingy. Functional lighting for your team behind the counter is vital. Dimmer switches are your friends, but when someone leaves a dimmer too high—which will happen—you’ll wish you’d invested in additional switches and circuitry. 

Carefully consider the aesthetics and the space taken up by your fixtures. Are you going to go with something industrial, repurposed, and rustic, or wow with chandeliers? Across all styles, your lighting should be matched to the negative space of your ceiling. 

In both form and function, lights are critical to guest experience, so it’s worth your time and pennies to give your bar lighting extra attention.

2. Use 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. 

If space allows, a comfortable lounge area with soft sofas or armchairs offers a more personal vibe, which is, after all, a huge draw for people out to socialize. 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—people love to drink outside—perhaps by having an indoor-outdoor bar that opens up when it’s warm.

3. Be intentional with your glassware choices.

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 it 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, so if you put love into your decorative details, you’ll get more people coming in the door, snapping pics, and telling their friends or followers. 

5. Get the music ambiance just right.

Want people to keep their tabs open? Get the music right. The perfect bar music strikes that balance between being heard everywhere while not being overpowering. Loud enough to drown out other people’s conversations, but not so loud as to hamper yours. Sounds simple? It can actually take significant effort—and cost—to do this well.

Sound dampening and absorption helps get rid of overly loud or quiet spots, and a greater number of speakers in your sound system ensures that no seat is more than eight feet away from a speaker (a good rule of thumb). These details can go a long way in encouraging people to stay beyond the first drink.

6. Think about the practicality of POS systems for servers and cash registers.

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 over traditional ones, since they have smaller designs and will take up less room in your bar layout. Portable POS devices (for tableside ordering via tablet) will have an even tinier footprint and reduce the amount of server trips. Plus they let you provide faster, more accurate service—and that usually means higher tips for your servers, since customers aren’t getting annoyed waiting to pay and leave.

7. Arrange bar bottles as eye-catching decor.

Make your bar bottles pop with tiered displays, floating shelves, or backlit bottle holders, grouping them by color or by 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 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 your flooring, carpeting is best avoided. If your barstools need to be moved for cleaning every night, then stackable, lighter stools could 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 pickleball. 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 and food. 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 design examples 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.