Setting Up a “Starter Bar” in Your Small Restaurant

If you own a small restaurant and have recently obtained your liquor license, you might feel overwhelmed at the task of now having to outfit the bar with a lot of equipment and ingredients. While having a fully stocked bar is a great thing to aspire to, you don't have to dive in overnight. Consider setting up a "starter bar" with just the basics. You can operate this smaller bar as your customers become accustomed to you offering drinks and while you make bigger plans for your full bar down the road. Here's a look at what your starter bar will need to include.

Basic Glassware

You don't need sixteen types of glasses right away. With just these five, you can serve most any drink in style.

  • Lowball glasses
  • Highball glasses or pint glasses
  • Martini glasses
  • Wine glasses
  • Shot glasses

Basic Drink-Prep Equipment

You're probably going to have just one bartender behind the bar for now, but purchase two sets of these basics so your bartender does not have to wash the restaurant bar equipment between each and every drink.

  • Metal cocktail shaker
  • Strainer
  • Long-handled spoon

Liquor and Mixers

To keep things easy, have your bartender concoct a cocktail menu. This way, many customers will order off the menu rather than requesting drinks that you're not quite prepared to make. The collection of items on this list will allow you to make most classic drinks as well as some unique ones your bartender can design.


  • White Rum
  • Spiced Rum
  • Gin
  • Vodka (plain)
  • Bourbon Whiskey
  • Rye Whiskey


  • Cola
  • Soda
  • Lime Juice
  • Orange Liqueur
  • Bitters
  • Lemon Juice
  • Cherry Juice
  • Peach Schnapps
  • Raspberry Liqueur
  • Tonic water
  • Orange Juice
  • Cranberry Juice

Other Necessities

There are a few other items that will come in very handy behind the bar, though they're not entirely essential. Obtain an array of garnishes. Olives, cherries, lemon slices, and lime slices are a good start. If you cater to a crowd that likes a lot of gin and tonics, consider stocking cocktail onions and cucumber slices as well. If your crowd prefers fruitier drinks, stock some strawberries or melon slices.

Also invest in a good cocktail recipe book. This will help your bartenders greatly if customers order something they're not familiar with. Some coasters, cocktail napkins, and attractive straws are also important. Make sure you have an ice machine so you can have ice on hand at all times, and then get ready to open the bar. Bottoms up!