Reopening After Lockdown: A Guide For Your Cellar and Bar

December 4, 2020
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News of a second national lockdown came as a hammer blow for the hospitality industry last October, especially as the green shoots of recovery were just beginning to emerge. However, the sector was much more well-informed than the first time round and many decided to repurpose their business as a takeaway. But for those who closed down completely, a lot of planning went into the safe disposal of stock (both food and drink), shutting down non essential appliances, and securing the premises. Our Close Down Guide outlined the steps business owners needed to take.

As we look ahead to summer, reopening a pub or bar similarly requires days of preparation, particularly with regard to the cellar and bar. There are multiple things to organise, from ordering stock to checking all the equipment is in working order. 

In November 2020 Ralph Findlay, chief executive of pub group Marston’s, told a Government Select Committee he would need “at least a week” to prepare his 1,300 sites for reopening.

After the first lockdown ended, many suppliers and maintenance contractors became overwhelmed by demand and were unable to meet all their customers requirements. For this reason, with pubs reopening in the UK we have put together a step by step guide counting down the key tasks you need to complete in your cellar and bar before you open. This includes a free checklist that you can download and print off to help you.

What Do I Need To Do In The Cellar? – One Week To Opening

At least one week before reopening, check the remaining stock in the cellar. Look at the best before dates on all the unopened kegs and casks. Some suppliers will grant an extended date on some products, so when you place your first order, speak to them about their returns policy. When putting together your first order, be realistic about how much you can actually sell, considering your premises are still going to be operating at a reduced capacity. You can always ask for a ‘top-up’ delivery after the first few days of trading.

Don’t forget to order a supply of dispense gas at the same time as your stock; if you’ve no gas cylinders in the cellar, you won’t be able to dispense any keg products!

Next, it’s time to get the cellar ready for that first beer delivery. Get rid of any stale air and odours by opening up the cellar door, and, if it’s safe to do so, open the cellar drop. You want to ventilate the whole cellar for at least an hour, and whilst this is happening, you can give the cellar a deep clean (it’s an ideal time to do it whilst there’s very little stock in there). With a long handled brush, scrub the cellar floor, walls and sink with a sanitiser solution, and rinse everything down with the hosepipe. In fact, it’s a good idea to open the taps in the cellar and on the bar and leave them running for at least fifteen minutes to flush out any potential microorganisms.

Now the cellar’s clean, you can check the pub cellar equipment and tools. Over time, dust and debris will have accumulated in the cellar cooling fan and remote cooler ventilation grills. Use a stiff brush to sweep this out, and then switch the equipment on. At this point you can check it’s working correctly and if not, you still have time to place a call with a maintenance engineer. In addition, the remote cooler (and the Ale Python Control Unit, if installed) will need topping up with fresh water.

Finally, clean and sanitise all loose cellar equipment, such as taps, keg connectors, auto-tilts, extractor rods and beer line exteriors. Take a bit of time to re-organise your cellar tidy, and throw out all those redundant pieces of broken kit and useless items which accumulate over time. These are all things you’ve probably wanted to do for ages, but never had the time.

What Do I Need To Do In The Cellar And Bar? – Three Days To Opening

Your first delivery should have arrived by now, into a pristine cellar. If you stock cask ale, clean the keystones and shives on all the containers and start venting and tapping them. Most cask ales will take up to three days to fully condition.

Next, connect up your gas cylinders and give your cask and keg lines a thorough clean using a good quality chemical. Good practice is to agitate the line cleaning solution through the lines at least three times during the process to remove any stubborn build up or biofilms which have formed in them. Connect the clean lines to the casks and kegs, but don’t pull the beer through just yet. Everything is now set up in the cellar, and it’s time to look at the bar equipment and tools.

Start with the commercial bar equipment such as your glasswasher and ice machine. Clean and sanitise all the internal surfaces, and switch them on. Use our Guide to Cleaning a Commercial Ice Machine checklist for reference. Run a cycle through the glasswash machine to check all the sprays and jets are still working correctly. Then, empty the glasswash machine to get rid of the first reservoir of water, which may be contaminated. Sanitise the machine again, and refill it. Similarly, it’s recommended that the first batch of ice produced in the ice machine is disposed of. There is a small risk of Legionnaires’ disease in the water supply, of which more information can be found here.

Have a look at your bar equipment layout, glass shelves and glassware: when did you last pull out all the glasses and Renovate every one of them? If the premises is not yet open, this is an ideal time to spring clean the shelves, the webbed mats and give every glass a thorough renovate treatment. It’s also an opportunity to get rid of those scuffed, chipped and scratched glasses lurking at the back of the shelves.

Sparklers and nozzles are next. The last thing you want on reopening day is to be searching high and low for missing nozzles! So with three days to go, you’ve got time to check they’re all there, and order replacements if necessary. Like everything else, these will need sanitising and rinsing before they are attached to the beer spouts.  

Carry out a final check in the cellar: is the temperature between 11 °C and 13 °C? Is all the cooling equipment operating correctly? You’ve still got a chance to contact your supplier or maintenance contractors to help resolve any last minute issues.

What Do I Still Need To Do With One Day To Go?

Most of the hard work is now done, and you’ve reset the standards in your cellar and bar. There are few final tasks to do before opening the doors, one of which is turning on your back bar fridges and refilling them. Stock should be refilled using the FIFO principle (First In, First Out) so check all the best before dates on the bottles. Bottled beers will take approximately eight hours to chill down to serve temperature so you’ve given yourself plenty of time ahead of reopening.

It’s now time to connect the beer up in the cellar. Attach the couplers to the kegs, and replace the water in the fob detectors with beer. Turn the gas taps on and pull the beer through to the bar.

At this point, it’s worth checking the beer is dispensing at the correct temperature, so using a beer thermometer (or the probe from the kitchen) dispense a pint of each of the keg products into a glass and check the following:

  • Extra Cold Keg (most lager) is served at between 2 °C and 5 °C.
  • Standard Keg Products (products like keg ale) is served at between 5 °C and 8 °C.

Check a sample of each of the cask ales in the cellar, before you pull it through to the bar. Dispense a small amount into a glass directly from the cask (use a syphon tube if you use vertical extractor rods), and check the clarity, aroma and taste of all the beers you have conditioned. It’s recommended that cask ale is not connected up or pulled through until you’re just about ready to open – it’s an unpasteurised live product, and is at its best when pulled directly from the cellar. 

Free Cellar and Bar Closing Checklist

We have created a checklist for you with some examples of checks you should make, along with some blank spaces so that you can fill in your own procedures. Fill this in as you go through the steps of reopening your premises. This can be downloaded on the button below and filled in electronically, or printed and completed manually. 

You should now have a better understanding of the tasks which need to be completed in the cellar and on the bar before reopening your premises. We’ve outlined some of the key actions you need to take to open successfully, safely and efficiently.

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