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What is a Barback? Roles and Duties Explained

Dahlia snaiderman

Dahlia SnaidermanAuthor

What does a barback do?

If you’ve ever sat at the bar and watched bartenders do their thing — making cocktails, pouring beers, schmoozing, splitting checks, and processing bar payments — you’ve likely also watched another figure darting around behind the bar: a barback.

Barbacks move from bar station to bar station, replenishing garnishes, polishing glasses, stacking napkins, hauling kegs, bringing glassware back from the dishwasher, helping punch orders into the bar POS, and chatting with customers who have questions. Barbacks, much like bussers, have a more behind-the-scenes role, and they’re instrumental to bar’s success.

Whether you're getting ready to open a bar, want to work as a barback, or are looking to improve operations at your current bar by hiring the right candidate for this essential role, keep reading. In this post, we’ll explore what a barback is, how much a barback makes, and common barback duties. 

What is a Barback?

Barbacks are an important support staff role similar to bussers, except they spend more time behind the bar. The barback’s primary mission is to assist bartenders and make sure that they always have everything they need (like glasses, garnishes, stocked bottles, fresh kegs). They spend more time on the floor than bartenders do, helping clean up spills and retrieving more supplies from the walk-in. 


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How to Hire a Barback — and How to be a Great One

Barbacks are an entry-level hospitality role, so they’re often hired with no experience. Barbacks tend to shadow and support bartenders, making this role an ideal stepping stone for someone who wants to be a bartender one day.

Many bartenders start out as barbacks first, and they can spend anywhere from 6 to 18 months as a barback before moving up, depending on how fast they learn.

Make sure to check your local alcohol serving laws before hiring a new barback. While the legal drinking age is 21 in the United States, barbacks and even bartenders can be under 21 depending on your state’s on-premise alcohol serving laws — make sure to Google those. For example, In Colorado, the age to serve alcohol is 18, while in Washington it’s 21. Some states place conditions on bartenders or barbacks under 21 years of age, requiring that a manager or supervisor age 21 or older be present when the person is tending bar, or that the bartender under 21 take special beverage server training.

The following traits are critical in a prospective barback:

  • A willingness to learn.

  • The ability to lift a certain amount of weight and work on their feet for 8+ hours.

  • A good attitude and a desire to work collaboratively with various other staff members.

  • A willingness to work late hours, often starting in the afternoon and going well into the night until closing and cleaning is complete.

  • To be the legal minimum age to serve alcohol.

  • Smart Serve certification.

  • The ability to multitask and to switch tasks quickly as needed.

  • Strong organization skills and a process-oriented approach.

  • Soft skills including communication skills, attentiveness, flexibility, quick thinking, punctuality, curiosity, and a customer-first mindset.

The following traits are nice to have, but not needed, in a prospective barback:

  • A high school diploma.

  • Experience in a fast-paced environment or in the hospitality industry.

How to Find a Great Barback

When trying to find a new barback, managers can find success by posting on job boards for students, neighborhood facebook groups, and job boards for newly arrived immigrants, as working as a barback is an ideal part-time job for a young person or someone with limited local experience. Asking around in your industry community is also a great way to find a barback eager to be trained and get to work.

When interviewing a barback, ask interview questions that let them prove their ability to multitask and their willingness to learn new workflows, as well as their availability.

How To Write a Great Barback Job Description

Like any job description, you only have so many words to succinctly and comprehensively discuss what a barback does, so don’t waste time. Provide the name of your establishment, where it’s located, what the expected pay is, and what day-to-day barback responsibilities candidates can expect. Once that’s established, briefly describe the workplace culture to let candidates know that their job is just as much about the attitude you bring in as the effort put forth to get the job done.

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What are a Barback's Responsibilities and Duties?

Here’s a breakdown of what barbacks can expect their shifts to look like before, during, and after service. They will vary from establishment to establishment. Tasks are often ordered by urgency each day, and by zone of the restaurant to maximize each trip across the restaurant and ensure the tasks get done efficiently.

Like any other role in the hospitality industry, the responsibilities may look the same each day, but getting everything done is easier some days than others, depending on lots of uncontrollable factors, like who’s on each shift, if anyone is out sick, and what requests customers bring into the establishment.

Before Service Barback Tasks

  • Arrive on time and clock in, usually on a POS with employee scheduling capabilities — but some restaurants and bars still use punch cards.

  • Change into a barback uniform, often all black with an apron and non-slip shoes.

  • Grab a clean rag or two for use during service. Place clean bar rags in each bartender’s station.

  • Check for low levels on liquor bottles and mixers, and stock the bar fully.

  • Prep garnishes (lemon and lime wedges and wheels, herbs, bloody mary garnishes, pickles, olives, etc), and label and date containers.

  • Juice citrus, pour into squeeze bottles, and label and date them.

  • Fill olive, lemon, lime, and cherry containers.

  • Refill ice bins.

  • Change out beer kegs.

  • Replenish napkins, toothpicks, straws, ashtrays, peanuts, and other counter items.

  • Dust liquor bottles and any other surfaces that collect dust.

  • Polish wine glasses.

During Service Barback Tasks

  • Restock empty liquor and wine bottles.

  • Wipe down counters and replace coasters as needed.

  • Bring dirty glasses and dishes to the dishwasher, and bring back clean glasses.

  • Polish freshly washed wine glasses.

  • Fill water glasses to bring to newly arrived customers.

  • Run drinks to tables on the floor and clear used glasses.

  • Clean messes and drink spills, and sweep broken glassware.

  • Burn the ice if a glass breaks near it, and clean and refill the ice well.

  • Help bartenders with anything they need.

  • Relay key info to security, such as if a line is forming outside, if someone is drinking out of an outside bottle, and if someone appears to be underage or too rowdy.

  • Help out with punching orders into the POS system as needed.

  • If needed, pour beers and wine for customers during busy times.

  • Interact with customers.

  • Take out the trash or recycling throughout the shift (and wash hands after handling any garbage).

  • Frequently collect empty glasses from the bar.

  • Follow directions from the bartender or bar manager, and try to anticipate their needs.

After Service Barback Tasks

  • Wipe down counters.

  • Take out the trash or recycling throughout the shift (and wash hands after handling any garbage).

  • Clean furniture.

  • Polish glasses and some dishes.

  • Set up and tear down the bar at each shift.

  • Restock all bar containers for the next shift, including juicing citrus for bar use the next night.

  • Unclog sinks.

  • Mop behind the bar.

  • Clean no-slip mats behind the bar.

  • Put away all liquor and beer deliveries that came in during the day.

  • Track opening or closing liquor inventory.

  • Collect dirty rags and put them with the rest of the linens that need to be laundered.

  • Complete closing duties alongside other team members.

Weekly or Bi-Weekly Barback Tasks

Different bars and restaurants will have different expectations around the frequency of these tasks, but they’re not done on a daily basis. Each business should outline the frequency of these tasks in their SOPs.

  • Assist with (and eventually lead on) cleaning keg lines.

  • Run an acid-based keg line cleaner through the keg lines.

  • Sanitize bar cutting boards using a sanitizing solution.

  • Assist with (or lead on) cleaning ice machine and/or ice wells.

  • Clean and maintain espresso maker.

  • Assist with deep cleans of the bar area.

What is a Barback Job like?

A barback job is busy, full of multitasking. Barbacks spend their shifts working through their daily tasks list, but also are called to help when anything goes wrong, like cleaning a major spill or pouring drinks if the bartenders are in the weeds.

At the beginning of their tenure, they’ll learn on their feet and learn by doing, but once the basic tasks are mastered (and they know where everything is stored in the restaurant), they’ll be able to move through their tasks easily. Eventually, they can help train new bar staff, from new barbacks to new bartenders who need to learn the nuances of their new workplace.

Barbacks also learn about bartending and everything that goes into it: chatting with guests and making them feel welcome, taking orders and preparing drinks of all kinds, tracking bar inventory, and mentoring other bar staff.

Cristian Galarza, a barback at Holiday Cocktail Lounge in New York City told Tales of the Cocktail that he loves getting to know the nuances and needs of different bartenders, and tailoring his tasks to ensure they can do their best work. “Little by little I started doing things on my own, moving faster, and making sure my bartenders were fine — because when the bartenders are happy, the guests are happy,” shared Galarza. “Anticipation and organization are the biggest keys for a barback.”

“We’re not just the people who come and build a bar for a second and that’s that — we do as much as bartenders do, and even more,” added Galarza. “The team wouldn’t be complete without us because the bartenders need the backup.”

We’re not just the people who come and build a bar for a second and that’s that — we do as much as bartenders do, and even more. The team wouldn’t be complete without us because the bartenders need the backup.

Cristian Galarza
Shared in Tales of the Cocktail Magazine

How Much Are Barbacks Paid?

Barbacks are usually paid hourly plus tips. Most restaurants and bars tip out their barbacks, which can leave them making more than non-tipped positions like cooks and dishwashers.

The minimum tipped wage varies by state, but the national average annual take-home pay range for barbacks is between $30k - $47k, plus $12k - $22k in tips, totalling $42k - $69k a year, according to Glassdoor estimates at the time of publishing. In states with especially low minimum wages, this number could be much lower.

In many cases, each bartender will tip out the barback at the end of the shift, anywhere from 1-2% of sales or 5-20% of tips, according to Bars and Bartending. However, the tip out amount entirely depends on your establishment’s policy on tipping, tip pooling, and tip sharing.

Every bar has its own policies on barback and bartender tipping. It’s a good idea to consult your whole bar team before making any sweeping policy changes — find out what makes the most sense for them, and reconcile their needs with the needs of your business and its bottom line.

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Training a New Barback

If they’ve never worked as a barback before, a new barback will need to learn all the basics of the role, which can usually be accomplished with a few days of shadowing an existing barback — plus providing them with a written barback job description and expectations, thorough SOPs, and an employee manual.

But every new barback, even if they do have barback or hospitality industry experience, need to be trained on how things are done at your particular restaurant. One business may want lime segments cut one way, and another business feels it’s better to do it another way. A list of SOPs can help outline the detailed expectations for a barback at your particular restaurant.

  1. Get them familiar with the facilities. Barback responsibilities are varied, but virtually all their tasks require them to dart around the restaurant, quickly taking care of small tasks. Get your hire ready by giving them a full tour of where everything is and what’s needed to operate as efficiently as possible. Show them where spare items are, where the cleaning items are, and all the tricks that help them do everything they need to do when they need it to be done. 

  2. Drill them on the drinks menu. On the busy nights, your barback will jump from order to order without much down time outside of any scheduled breaks. Make sure your barbacks know every item on tap, every drink special, and every wine you stock. If you serve food at the bar, drill them on the food menu as well. This will be more of an ongoing education, so make sure your barback makes a habit of staying curious and updated on new menu items.

  3. Give them room to grow. Through all the responsibilities and running around, don’t lose sight of the fact that your barback has ambition. The idea is to get this person ready to either temporarily or permanently assume a bartender role if the opportunity arises. Provide them the freedom to make those strides by letting them tag in on mixing drinks and other tasks usually reserved for bartenders. If a regular bartender can’t make it in or a busy night necessitates the need for another body, you’ll be happy you gave the apprentice a chance to get their feet wet.


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Promoting Your Barback to Bartender

As mentioned above, a good barback will learn quickly and get their tasks done largely independently, while supporting the needs of the bartender and, occasionally, the rest of the front-of-house team.

If your barback has started taking on more responsibility and is growing into the role of bartender, have clear discussions around transitioning to a new role with its new responsibilities and new pay. That way, you avoid barbacks doing bartender work for barback pay, and you show that you value their work and contributions to your business — which keeps them engaged and on your team for longer.

To get them started, let barbacks bartend during a slow shift or two, and start training them on the new role. Then, work them into the rotation and start the process for hiring a barback all over again. Eventually, you’ll have a full bar staff that’s well-trained and able to keep the drinks flowing all shift long.

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