Behind The Scenes: What Is A Barback? (Answered)

what is a barback
Joe | Last Updated: November 24, 2023
I'm Joe, a veteran bartender with over a decade in the industry and a burning passion for mixing drinks.

When you walk into a busy bar, you’ll see bartenders shaking and mixing cocktails, servers taking orders, and customers enjoying their drinks.

But have you ever wondered who keeps the bar running smoothly behind the scenes? Enter the barback.

Barbacks are the support system behind any successful bar operations, helping keep everything in order while other staff members focus on what they do best.

In this post, we’re going to take a closer look at these unsung heroes and answer a question that often comes up when discussing busy bars environments: “What is a barback?

So if you’ve ever been curious about barbacks and their responsibilities, stick around as by the end of this post you’ll know all there is about these under-the-radar workers and the importance of their role.

What Is A Barback?

Barbacks, commonly known as bar runners or bar assistants are support members of staff who work in bars, nightclubs, pubs, or restaurants to assist bartenders in their duties to help keep the operation running smoothly.

The position is an entry-level one, with barbacks often working under the guidance and authority of bartenders, and over time they may work their way up to a bartending role.

Barbacks are the behind-the-scenes staff that are the backbone of the bartending industry, providing support to bartenders so they can focus on excellent customer service and crafting delicious drinks.

what is a barback
Image by Sarah Stierch

Cocktails don’t create themselves, and some large orders can even take a couple of minutes to prepare the ingredients, create the cocktail and then serve it.

If the bar is particularly busy or there are other duties that need to be done in order to keep the flow of service going, bartenders may not have time to do everything, which is where the barback comes in.

What Does A Barback Do?

Barbacks have a number of responsibilities that are crucial to keeping the bar running successfully, and without them, bartenders would struggle to operate efficiently.

Without the support of barbacks, it would be much more difficult for bartenders to provide excellent customer service and create drinks.

Below are just some of the most common duties of a barback:

Open & close the bar

Barbacks are often responsible for opening and closing the bar.

Before the bar opens, barbacks may prep garnishes, organize and shelve liquor/beer deliveries, as well as stock glasses, napkins, and straws.

Before the bar closes, barback duties may include taking out the trash, restocking bottles, cleaning glasses, and wiping down the bar/tabletops.

Stocking the bar

Ensuring that the bar is fully stocked and ready to go at all times is crucial, especially during busy periods such as on the weekends or during events.

While bartenders serve customers, barbacks will be replenishing supplies such as bottles, liquors, ice, mixers, and glassware.

This means that bartenders always have the necessary supplies available to them to do their job as efficiently as possible.

Cleaning and organizing

Bars can become disorganized and messy very quickly, and it’s the barback’s responsibility to ensure behind the bar is kept in a clean and organized state.

This includes wiping down surfaces, ensuring bottles are organized in the fridge, cleaning spillages, and more.

what is a barback
Photo by Aleksandr Popov

During busy periods, things can become out of control quickly if they’re not kept on top of, which can make it more difficult for the bartenders to serve in a timely manner.

Clearing tables

In addition to the barback’s duties behind the bar, they may be responsible for clearing tables ready for when new customers come into the establishment.

In restaurants, barbacks may work closely with the serving staff to ensure they have the support they need in front of the bar too.

Assisting with customers

Although it’s unlikely for barbacks to interact with customers often, sometimes they may be asked to help with customer service tasks such as refilling water or answering queries.

Barbacks that have a lot of experience behind the bar may help recommend drinks to customers or provide general information on the bar and the surrounding area.

What Is The Difference Between A Bartender And A Barback?

The main difference between a bartender and a barback is that bartenders are responsible for making and serving drinks to customers, while a barback is a support member of staff who helps keep the bar stocked and clean.

The barback role is an entry-level one that is often seen as a stepping stone to becoming a bartender as it’s a great way to learn the skills needed to progress.

Bartenders are the primary point of contact for customers and have extensive knowledge of drinks, as well as provide excellent customer service to patrons.

They are responsible for making sure guests of the bar have a great time as their role is very much a customer-facing one.

On the other hand, barbacks are behind-the-scenes staff that rarely interact with customers at all, they have the demanding job of keeping the bar stocked and clean at all times and supporting the bartenders with whatever they need.

Whilst both roles work in close collaboration, barbacks often work under the authority of bartenders.

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Do Barbacks Make Good Money?

With all this hard work going on, barbacks must be paid good money, right? Well… not exactly.

A barback is typically paid minimum tipped wage, which can sometimes be below the national minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.

According to ZipRecruiter, barbacks in the US are paid a national average of $26,313 per year, but this largely depends on the establishment they work in.

what is a barback
Photo by Alexander Kovacs

Barbacks may also receive tips, with bartenders often giving a percentage split of their tips to the barback for helping keep the bar running smoothly.

The split percentage will vary depending on the bar’s policy and what has been discussed with the bartender, but it’s common for barbacks to receive tips as part of their wage.

As discussed earlier, the barback position is an entry-level one that is commonly used to gain the experience needed to work their way up to becoming a bartender.

Do Barbacks Make Drinks?

No, barbacks do not make drinks. Creating drinks is the job of the bartender, with the barback’s responsibilities being to assist bartenders to do their job as efficiently as possible by providing support.

That said, in some establishments, barbacks may be trained to make basic drinks such as beers, wine, or grab the odd bottle here and there.

This is quite common when barbacks are actively training to become bartenders and the bartenders need a helping hand serving.

However, serving and making drinks is not part of the barback’s primary role and will only be done on occasion if asked by the bartender.

What Does It Take To Be A Barback?

The barback position is a demanding one, it requires a lot of physical work, attention to detail, and commitment to be successful in the role.

Barbacks need to work well under pressure and practice many of the same skills as bartenders, such as efficiency, multi-tasking, and efficiency.

Whilst it’s certainly not an easy role, it’s perfect for learning how a busy bar operates which can help propel barbacks into a career within the bartending industry.

what is a barback
Photo by LYCS Architecture

Any employer within the industry will appreciate the fact that a person has worked as a barback, as it shows they are hard workers, committed, and know the ins and outs of a bar.

It requires a certain attitude to be a barback, as they’ll often be doing most of the strenuous work and do not receive the same “glory” as bartenders do.

Keep this in mind before applying for barback jobs, as you’ll certainly not get the same recognition or pay as bartenders, but it can be the perfect way to get into the industry.

Wrapping Up

To wrap up, barbacks are the support system behind any successful bar and have the important task of assisting bartenders to ensure they can do their job efficiently.

This includes keeping the bar area clean and tidy, stocking shelves, and cleaning glassware, among many other duties as outlined above.

It’s a role that is not for the faint-hearted as it requires a lot of physical activity and determination, but if you’re looking to get into the bartending industry, it’s a great way to do so.

Hopefully, you now have a much better understanding of what barbacks do and are responsible for.

Whilst they may be overlooked at times, they are a critical part of the team that bartenders could not do without.

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