Barbacks – Backbones of the Bar Industry
What is a Barback?
“What is a barback?” is a solid question as bar backs are a little misunderstood. Many people don’t really understand what constitutes a barback job or what a bar backer really does. Typically called a runner or bar runner in Europe, it’s probably one of the most important positions in a bar. For without a competent bar backer, the bartenders will run out of stock and glassware and have to leave the bar area to go and get new bottles of liquor and change beer kegs.
Barbacks, a.k.a. barbackers, bar backers or bar backs, are the people responsible for backing up the bartender(s).
A Job Description for a Barback (Bar Runner)
Bar back Job Duties
- Ensure there is always enough back up liquor
- Run to the storage area to get alcohol if any bartender runs out
- Change kegs when required
- Pick up empty glasses and bottles from the tables and outside the bar (called bussing)
- Wipe down tables and bar tops
- Re-stock garnishes and mixes
- Always ensure there is enough clean glassware
- Re-stock ice when needed
- Maintain clean rags in each bartender’s station
Other Responsibilities of the Bar Runner
In addition to the above list, some bar backers will also have the added duty of being a cleaner – having to take care of cleaning and maintaining the washrooms. Barbacks may also be responsible for an opening or closing liquor inventory or helping the bartender in this capacity. A bar backer’s job is to help the bartender(s) to ensure they are able to do their job.
They are to be a ghost – someone behind the scenes who makes the operation of the bar run more smoothly. Great bar backs are those that don’t need to be told or asked to get something. They are constantly aware of what’s on hand in the bar and what’s needed and get items before a bartender has time to run out.
A bar backer has interaction with customers as he / she will be on the floor whereas the bartender will not. This allows them to relay key information to security as well as to the bartenders or manager. They could, for example, witness a customer drinking out of an outside bottle and have to tell security. They may see a huge lineup forming outside the bar and need to make the bartenders aware that the onslaught is coming. Or they may see someone who they know are underage and need to tell security.
Although barbacks are often seen behind the bar, they are not there to engage customers, they are there to make sure the bar is running efficiently and is properly stocked. Even taking orders and then relaying them to the bartenders will slow the bartender down.
One thing a bar backer is NOT supposed to do is take drink orders.
How Much Money Do Barbacks Make?
Bar backs can make some serious cash if they work at a busy club or bar. A bar back’s salary is not going to be as much as the bartenders, but it will work out to a lot more than any of the non-tipping positions like cooks and security. Take, for example, a busy bar that has four bartenders working. Each of the bartenders will tip out the bar back at the end of the shift. The tip out to the barbacks can be anywhere from 1-2% of sales or between 5-20% of tips. If a busy bartender makes $200-300 in tips for the night – on $1500 in sales, the tip out will be anywhere from $10 to $60. Now multiply that by four bartenders and you’re looking at an average of about $100.
Now that you know how much a bar runner can make, check out how much bartenders make.
If you’ve read this far then you’re likely interested in a bar back job or learning how to become a bartender. Be sure to check out our other resources such as how to write a great resume and how to ace your bar interview. Oh, you’ll also want to learn your drinks by downloading our Free Bartender Cheat Sheet