Are you equipped?

Elite bartenders are increasingly working like chefs in sourcing and handling fruit and veg for garnishes in cocktails. But do they follow good hygiene practices and are they properly equipped? Christian Davis reports


I RECALL JUDGING A bartender competition in London a couple of years ago. I noticed that one of the contestants had dirty fingernails. It looked as though he had just changed the oil in his car or done a spot of gardening before he had come along.

Now if I were in a top bar spending a lot of money for a cocktail and I saw that lad, would I want to consume something prepared by him?

One always thinks of Americans being fastidious, very particular about sharing something that has been touched by someone else. So what would a wealthy American in an expensive hotel make of a bartender who has poor hygiene practice?


As a former editor of a magazine that went to professional chefs, this man’s fingernails got me thinking...

  • Are bartenders aware of food hygiene procedures and do they uphold good hygiene practices? Are they using the correct equipment in terms of refrigerated units and prep areas?
  • Do they clean down work surfaces properly during service and at the end of the session?
  • What sort of equipment should they be looking to use?

So, I went to the Hotelympia show for professionals in foodservice back in January and asked some foodservice equipment experts. Here are their responses to my questions.

Malcolm Harling, sales and marketing director of Williams Refrigeration, says: “It is true that bartenders may not have the same food hygiene training as kitchen staff. It is essential that all staff who are in contact with food – from management to casual or temporary staff – are trained in good hygiene practices.

“This is not only for protecting customers, but for protecting the reputation of the business, too.”

According to Harling, there has been an increase in the number of budget-priced imported fridges coming into the market. “Some of these imported products are semi-domestic models that are being mis-sold. Many are allegedly commercial models that are simply not up to the job. If the equipment can’t maintain temperatures they fail HACCP guidelines or simply break down.

“Areas where food is stored, prepared and served should be regularly cleaned during service and at the end of service. Any spills should be dealt with immediately,” advises Harling.

Coping with the demands of a busy venue means back bar refrigeration has to operate efficiently to maintain temperature as doors are continually opened and closed. It also has to be robust enough to survive a punishing level of wear and tear.

“If the bartender is using fresh ingredients in, for example, cocktails then the venue may want to consider a prep counter, which has chilled wells for holding fresh food safely, or a specialist ingredients holder such as a Williams Thermowell.

“A refrigerated, standalone prep well, the smallest Thermowell, the TW4, operates efficiently in ambient conditions up to 32°C and can be sited on worktops, wall-mounted or even mounted on extendable legs. It holds up to four ingredients wells and ensures the food is kept safely,” pitches Harling.

Did you know that ice is classified as a food? Simon Aspin, commercial director for Hubbard Systems, distributor of the well known Scotsman range of ice machines, says: “Ice is classified as a food and regular cleaning will help ensure you comply with food hygiene regulations. Make sure you empty, clean and sanitise the storage bin on a regular, weekly basis. Having a maintenance schedule for the components that need regular cleaning will help keep your equipment in peak condition.”

Here’s a leap for many bartenders on ice: “Never use bare hands, which is unhygienic, or a glass, which is incredibly dangerous,” advises Aspin. “It is impossible to see broken glass among ice. When it comes to handling the ice, always use a scoop or tongs.”

He also stresses that bar staff need to be trained, not only to follow the manufacturer’s suggested cleaning schedule, but also to be aware of how the equipment works, as this will help them recognise any faults if they develop. Hubbard Systems has produced videos showing how to clean ice makers. They can be found at:

“The latest back-bar icemakers are designed to produce large amounts of ice without taking up too much space. Cocktails, shorts and soft drinks all look and taste better when served in quality glasses with a generous amount of crystal clear, long-lasting ice,” says Aspin.

“If you’re thinking of investing in a new ice maker go for a quality brand with decent after-sales support. What you don’t want is an ice maker that breaks down and then can’t be fixed because there are no spare parts available. Also look for machines that are easy to clean and maintain on a day-to-day basis.”

With Drinks International’s increasing involvement with bartenders through our The World’s 50 Best Bars survey, supplement and event, it has become apparent that many top bartenders’ working practices are, or should be, not dissimilar to that of chefs.

Many bartenders are handling and preparing fruit and vegetables to be either ingredients or garnishes in cocktails. They may also be handling and serving food during service. Plus, they may be handling ‘dirty’ coins and cash, which have been in someone’s soiled pocket.

It goes without saying that no bartender wants either to give someone food poisoning or damage the reputation of his/her bar. Nevertheless.


Aspin advises choosing models with practical features. For example, when it comes to a back-bar ice maker with an integral storage bin, you should be looking for half the capacity as storage. For a machine that makes 40kg of ice a day you should have ice storage for around 20kg.

By the way, Aspin says: “If you’re getting a new ice maker check what sort of ice it makes ­and make sure it’s the right type of ice for your site (Guide to Ice:

Hoshizaki claims to make the largest machine-made ice cubes in the world (Hoshizaki makes a machine that makes an even larger shaped ice block, not technically a cube).

The supersized cubes produced by Hoshizaki’s IM-65NE-LM measure 48x48x58mm. The company says the cubes make a dramatic statement in any drink served in any glass large enough to accommodate them, typically a highball or rocks glass.

Apart from the obvious wow factor, Hoshizaki says these large cubes have real advantages:

they melt very slowly so have maximum cooling power with minimum dilution;

they are unique, achieving an effect that can only be replicated by hand-sawing or chiselling a block of ice.

Hoshizaki IM ice machines are said to be designed with hygiene as a priority and use a closed cell ice making system that has an automatic rinse and flush cycle. After every new batch of ice, the water reservoir will drain, rinse and refill with fresh water. Each cube is made individually by a jet spray to ensure the highest ice quality.

Peter Alsworth, chemical sales director at warewasher systems manufacturer Winterhalter, warns: “Good hygiene practices are essential throughout the back bar area and should be taken seriously. Non-compliance with hygiene regulations could lead to fines, temporary closure and risking illness among customers and staff. Customers have come to expect high standards and will vote with their feet if they consider an establishment to be ‘dirty’.

“In these days of social media no bar can risk bad publicity, which could severely affect their livelihood. Even staff uniforms can tell a story.”

Winterhalter boasts a range of environmentally-friendly cleaning chemicals formulated, it claims, to deliver results that match or better traditional chemicals. The Blue range includes catering products, such as detergent, degreaser and sanitiser, as well as housekeeping chemicals like glass cleaner.

Chemicals suppliers produce cleaning rosters and also offer advice on the use of products. Winterhalter says bar staff should be aware that general cleaning needs to be carried out throughout the day. A cleaning roster identifies equipment and gives a recommended cleaning frequency. This allows staff to get into a routine of cleaning, so it becomes part of the structure of their day. Winterhalter says it can give advice on COSHH (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health) training for staff.

Alsworth adds: “Training on cleaning techniques is important, as staff will use domestic cleaning products at home but they need to understand the chemicals used in the hospitality industry are much stronger and require careful handling. These days, concentrates that use special dispensing systems are generally used throughout the industry.”

So, bartenders handing fruit and vegetables along with money and even ice have to think and act like professional cooks and have the appropriate hygienic, practical professional food-grade equipment.

The message of this feature: Get clean, get trained. When did you last wash your hands?