What is a barback?

In bars all across the country, barbacks are an essential part of the service team. To bartenders, having a great barback on their team can mean the difference between an easy and a difficult shift. Once a bartender finds a great barback, they’ll want that barback to keep coming back again and again. After all, with a barback supporting them, bartenders can provide better service and earn more tips, which are shared with the barback as well. But what is a barback exactly, and what do they do?

At the highest level, barbacks play a supporting role to bartenders, which involves many different tasks. Currently, there’s a high demand for service and support staff like barbacks all across the nation. As a result, many barback positions are paying more than ever — especially on Instawork!

So what does a barback’s day-to-day look like? How much does a barback get paid? And more importantly, what makes a great barback? Read on to find the answers to these questions and more!

What is a barback?

Barbacks are not there to take orders or make drinks. A barback’s job is to provide support to the bartenders doing these things. If the bar is in a restaurant, the barback may also be asked to support the floor staff by bussing tables or running food.

Usually, there is only one barback, but in very big and busy bars, there will often be a team of barbacks working together. A barback’s job remains the same in pretty much every bar across the country. This means that once you’ve learned the skills required of a barback, you can take them to a different bar and be successful there too!

What does a barback do?

A barback supports bartenders by making sure that they have everything they need. This is something that will stay constant from place to place. A barback’s specific task list may vary a bit by location, however — it just depends on how things are run and organized at that bar. A barback’s task list might include:

  • Filling ice wells
  • Preparing garnishes
  • Stocking shelves and fridges
  • Changing kegs
  • Clearing used glassware and plates from the bar top
  • Cleaning the bar top
  • Cleaning up spills, broken glasses, and other messes
  • Refilling guests’ water glasses
  • Washing, drying, and replacing bar glassware and bartending tools
  • Emptying bus tubs
  • Refilling garnishes
  • Stocking other bar items as needed

Being a barback is physically demanding. Barbacks are always on the move and can be required to move multiple cases of wine and spirits in a shift, run up and down stairs carrying heavy items, move full kegs, and be constantly bending and flexing as they refill shelves and fridges.

In some bars, the barbacks will start work at the same time as the bartenders, helping them set up the bar for the coming shift. In other bars, the barbacks will clock in before the bartenders and begin setting up the bar alone. Other times, the bartenders will do all the setup and the barbacks will start their shift once service begins. Some bars will have barbacks close the bar down for or with the bartenders. Others will have the barbacks go home as soon as it is no longer busy enough to need them. It all just depends on how the bar runs things.

Some locations will put barbacks they trust in charge of managing the stock room and the bar’s inventory. This is a position of trust earned over time as bartenders and managers become familiar with their barbacks.

What is the difference between a bartender and a barback?

Bartenders make the drinks that guests order and then serve them. Barbacks do not make drinks or serve guests, however — they’re there to support the bartenders. Barbacks make sure bartenders have everything they need to serve their guests and complete their drink tickets.

What qualifications does a barback need?

In terms of educational background, a barback will only need a high school diploma or GED at most. However, this is not necessary to do the job, and some bars won’t require this — especially if the person shows the skills of a great barback (more on that below).

A barback does not necessarily need to know all about beer, wine, spirits, and cocktails. But if you are looking for barback shifts with the hope of eventually becoming a bartender, then a good knowledge of the above will help you. Working as a barback is an excellent way to learn how a real bar works and provides invaluable experience to want-to-be bartenders. You may also want to attend bartending school to learn more about drinks and how to make them.

Depending on where you live, a barback might need to have certain certifications, like TIPS or ServSafe Alcohol Training — click here to see what the requirements are in your state. Some states and cities will require these certifications for bartenders, but not for bar support staff (i.e. barbacks). Even if the place you live doesn’t require this certification, though, some establishments may still require it.

Tip: On Instawork, most employers won’t book Professionals unless they already have the certificates they need — so make sure to upload yours so we can review and verify them.

And because being a barback is such a physical job, you’ll also need to meet some basic requirements like being able to stand for hours at a time and lift a certain amount of weight — kegs and trays filled with glasses can get heavy!

What does a barback get paid?

According to Glassdoor, the average barback earns $28,013 per year, which works out to be about $13.47 per hour. On Instawork, however, the pay for barbacks tends to be higher than average! And on top of their hourly pay, barbacks receive a cut of the tips earned by the bartender(s) they supported during their shift. This means that the busier a bar is, and the harder a bar service team works, the more money they can make. After all, the more orders they get through, the more tips they’ll end up receiving.

What makes for a great barback?

The good news for those that want to become a barback is that there’s a fairly low barrier to entry. Anyone who meets the minimum requirements can pick the job up pretty quickly. However, there are still many qualities that can set one barback apart from another. If a barback has the right set of skills and a good attitude, they will likely find that many bars want to hire them. So what makes for a great barback?

Attention to detail

A good barback will do something before the bartender even realizes it needs to be done. For example, the ice well should never be less than ⅔ full. Barbacks should also be first on hand when an accident happens behind the bar. If someone spills a drink, the barback should be there with a towel. If a glass gets broken, the barback should get the broom and dustpan immediately.

Knowing where things are

A good barback will know where everything is in the establishment they are working in. This means that they do not need to ask where products or items are before going to get them. This usually isn’t something that you’ll learn all in one shift, but after a few different shifts, you should be able to pick it up.

Learning quickly

A barback needs to be able to learn new tasks and adapt quickly. A barback will also continue to learn as they work more and more. This might mean learning more about the bar they’re in, or more about spirits, beer, and cocktails. The more a barback knows about the bartender’s job, the better they can do their own job.

Spatial awareness

A great barback is never in the bartender’s way. The bartender is the one serving and the one who has the right of way in the bar. Knowing what moves the bartender is about to make allows the barback to stay out of their way and keep things running smoothly.

Being a good listener

A barback should listen closely so they can do their job without interrupting others too much. Depending on the bar they’re working in, a barback may also be asked not to talk to guests unless the guests talk to them first. Barbacks should also listen to what’s happening at the bar — hearing the different orders and goings-on will tell them what the bartender will need next.

Keeping busy

A great barback should never stand around doing nothing (outside of their breaks of course). They should always be working on the next thing that needs to be done.

The bottom line

A barback’s ultimate job is to support the bartender with whatever they need. It’s a great position if you want to become a bartender, or if you just like the hustle and bustle of the hospitality industry. And fortunately, it’s fairly easy to become one.

Being a barback can be hard work, but it’s also often rewarding — both in terms of money and in the knowledge of a job well done. If you have the qualities needed to be a great barback and develop your skills over time, you’ll find yourself in high demand.

And if being a barback sounds like a great job for you, you’re in luck — there are lots of well-paying barback shifts available on Instawork right now. So sign up and start searching!


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