A restaurant’s bar and kitchen can act as completely separate entities, an integrated ecosystem, or something in between. But as bar programs evolve and improve to include fresh juices, garnishes, homemade syrups, and other ingredients there is an increasing need for bartenders to do prep work that crosses into kitchen territory. This leads to both problems and opportunities.
“Mise en place is more than ingredients in their place. It’s the base of the bar-kitchen-management relationship,” says Marcelo Nascimento of CIRCA Craft Consulting. At one of his clients, St. John’s Restaurant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the former bar manager had the kitchen prepare syrups and other ingredients, but Nascimento changed the system so that the bar now acts independently. “I had to earn their trust and prove that I could simmer water and add sugar without getting in their way,” he says.
Jessamine McLellan, beverage manager at Hakkasan San Francisco, says that unlike most everywhere else she’s worked, “The kitchen does not help us at all.”
That’s not a complaint, but a calculated design feature of the restaurant. “We have a dedicated area in the bar for infusions, coffee, juicing, etc.—and we have ownership over it. We are our own bar world and we do things our way. Of course, it helps that I’ve worked at other places and learned from chefs’ prep work and knife skills,” she says.
McLellan says teamwork is emphasized between the bartenders, bar backs, and baristas by not offloading work to the kitchen. “Bartenders learn all of the syrup recipes. They’re ultimately responsible for [the syrup], even if bar backs make it. And bar backs can take over a well so they can make drinks while bartenders are serving guests.”
Christopher Longoria, bar manager for 1760 restaurant, also in San Francisco, says he negotiated separate space for the bar, but only in storage. “When designing our kitchen and bar, Chef Adam Tortosa and I agreed on the space the bar can use without affecting the kitchen’s storage areas in the walk-in refrigerator, freezer, and dry storage.”
Longoria also uses kitchen equipment including blenders, the sous-vide bath, and ovens to prepare his complex ingredients for the bar.
His biggest challenge is in scheduling this work with the kitchen before service, and generally trying to stay out of the kitchen staff’s way. Luckily, this was considered and planned long before the restaurant opened.
“Trying to create a bar program that employs kitchen tools, time, and storage space when the design wasn’t meant for that wouldn’t be impossible, but it would be more challenging,” he says. “It would take a lot of communication on both teams. And in my experience, the plan should be plotted before trying to put it to work.”
Division of Labor
Like Hakkasan’s McLellan, several bar managers say they wouldn’t want the kitchen to prepare all of the ingredients for the bar, since the bartenders—not the kitchen—are ultimately responsible for ensuring the quality and freshness of the cocktails.
Cris Dehlavi, who works at M Restaurant in Columbus, Ohio, and has consulted on other restaurant bars, says one system she had to change was having the lunch bartender cut up citrus for the evening shift.
“That should be the 5 o’clock shift job; do it as close to service as possible,” she says.
Dehlavi and other bartenders at M Restaurant cut and juice fruit and prepare garnishes just before service, and make infusions and carbonated cocktails at other times. But Dehlavi does borrow the kitchen staff for syrups, candied ginger, and homemade tonic. “If it requires cooking, we let them do it. A lot of chefs don’t want you on their line so they’d rather do it themselves,” she says.
Eric Passetti, a partner in Café Terminus in San Francisco, agrees. “When bartenders are responsible for prep that requires actual time in front of a burner, it can be unsuccessful and a nuisance to the kitchen’s workload,” he says. “In small restaurants it makes sense to divide and conquer. When I was the bar manager at Pesce on Polk, the dishwasher handled the juices, the cooks prepared the syrups, and the bartenders cut and picked the garnishes.”
Frank Cisneros of The Bounty in Brooklyn, New York, works both on the line in the kitchen and behind the bar, as does the bar manager. Cisneros says that generally everybody has a good understanding of one another’s roles, and they can find ways to work together, and The Bounty is one of the rare venues where bar staff does prep work for the kitchen.
“A good example of integration of labor is the prep work for the raw bar and the restaurant bar,” explains Cisneros. “Both of us have to cut lemons in similar ways—lemon wedges for garnishes on cocktails and as an accompaniment for oysters. Whenever possible it’s best to have the bartender do both.”
“A lot of what’s done for desserts or sweet accompaniments can be done by the bar,” he continues. “For example, one of our salad dressings consists in part of a cranberry sauce, which is a simple syrup infused with cranberries. Every bartender knows simple syrup, so it’s easily something you can make extra and hand off to the kitchen for their use.”
Other bar managers also mentioned the alignment between dessert ingredients and those used for the bar, though most suggested the pastry department should help bartenders and not the other way around. But no matter who is preparing ingredients for the food or the cocktails, most bar directors acknowledge there is room for improvement in procurement processes and there could be better ordering systems for base ingredients used in both kitchen and bar.
At St. John’s Restaurant, Nascimento does the majority of the bar’s prep work and says after he earned the trust of the kitchen by making his own syrups and other ingredients, he helped change the way they order together.
“Now, both the kitchen and the bar use the same seasonal products,” he says. “When we make a beet syrup, the kitchen uses the left-over candied beets for garnish or to make jelly, and the bar uses some of the jelly in a cocktail if the kitchen has no more use for it. By working together and using the same ingredients for completely different applications, we learn that—with open communication—we further reduce loss and keep both menus interesting by cross-using ingredients.”
This change came with another unexpected benefit: “Through the culture that has evolved, the kitchen has a whole-hearted interest in the bar program,” Nascimento says. “They will ask to help do my prep now because they have a vested interest in its success. They enjoy being a part of the creative process in the restaurant as a whole.”