Bar Tools for Your Feet

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Our good friend Erick Castro recently posited a question on Facebook about bartenders’ footwear of choice, which got me thinking about mine. So I thought I’d share my experience with you in the hopes that folks could chime in and build a discussion that might be of help to other bartenders out there.

About thirteen years ago, after years of working on my feet in normal, uncomfortable, black dress shoes, it became nearly impossible for me to stand. It happened pretty quickly over the course of opening a new bar I started working in. The long hours on my feet spent getting the place off the ground, combined with new lengths of walking quickly developed into the most excruciating foot pain I had ever experienced.

A visit to the doctor informed me that I’d fallen prey to the ailment suffered by so many of us who work on their feet, plantar fasciitis. And holy shit does it hurt. There’s really no way to describe the pain other than a hot needle being shoved into my heel every time I took a step.

A friend and longtime server suggested I try a change of footwear, a hideous clog I’d seen before but would have ever considered placing on my own feet: Danskos. The footwear of choice for midwives, alternative bookstore employees, energy healers and vegan baristas everywhere, these monstrosities have literally changed my life.

But not at first. See, after just a week or so after adopting Danskos behind the bar, my symptoms had disappeared and I was running around again, stoked to be able to walk without pain. So I switched back to my normal, uncomfortable, black dress shoes. And then it happened: while running into the kitchen I hit a patch of wet, oily kitchen tile and landed flat on my back. And it occurred to me then and there, lying on my back on a greasy kitchen floor in the middle of a busy service, that those ugly Danskos I’d been wearing were totally non-slip.

The next day I switched back to my Danskos and I’ve never worn anything else behind the bar. My plantar fasciitis has never returned, I’ve never slipped on the floor since, and my lower back — subjected to years of abuse from lifting kegs and cases of liquor — is still in great shape. You can get a pair here, and I highly recommend the oiled leather finish as they’re much easier to break in than their other offerings.

Since a large percentage of you reading this are bartenders, I’ll put it to you: what do you wear behind the bar to combat foot pain, slipping, and lower back issues? On behalf of other service industry workers out there, your advice is appreciated.

50 Replies to “Bar Tools for Your Feet”

  • atalanta says:

    Set the wayback machine for the 1970’s and Earth shoes. Yeah, the funky shoe where the toe is higher than the heel. Well, a couple years ago, I found out that they were still around and have sneakers, some cool vegan boots (I’m not vegan), and I absolutely ADORE my slip-on mules. I have high arches and the weird design seems to help. For sandals, I go birks. Though, if I could get away with it (and was as brave as a friend of mine), I’d be a bare-footer.

    I knew I was in trouble when I stepped on that Dr. Scholls foot mapper and it said “Please remove your shoes”. I was barefoot.

  • Nancy G. says:

    I don’t work in a bar but I do work in a busy surgery! Working conditions are very similar to the restaurant business with wet floors no cushioning. But I walk miles every day on these floors.

    I’ve worn walking shoes, tennis shoes, Danskos (the Professionals) and finally found my favorite; the Timberland ProRenova.

    I’m almost at the end of the life of my first pair of Timberlands but I’ll buy them again in a heartbeat. The Timberlands have a clog-like style similar to the Danskos but are much lighter weight. They are also very slip resistant. The insoles of my Timberlands are actually the first thing to give out (I think it’s been about 8 or 9 months since I bought them new). I’ve replaced the very worn insole with some Super Feet and that has made a huge difference.

    I tried the Dr. Scholls foot making gimmick but each time I do it recommends a totally different insole. Guess I’ll stick to the Super Feet!

  • Micah Silke says:

    Dr. Scholl’s custom inserts eliminated about 85% of my foot pain,which was so bad I had to limp at the end of long days.

    I am still searching for the right shoe. A lot of guys in the kitchen wear clogs. But they seem a little cumbersome for bar-work and I wore them in high school so I have a little experience with them.

    I tried a pair of Danner, light weight, tactical boots that claim slip resistance. They were downright dangerous. I’ve always found Shoes for Crews to be poorly constructed and I hate that I can’t try them on first, though that’s what I stand in these days.

    Sketchers are nothing special. Danner Quarry are too heavy, and to stiff for a year until they finally break in and soften.

    I am in shoe limbo.

  • Jamie J says:

    Clarks!

  • nick says:

    Danskos! I cooked for years and got behaind the bar and kept wearing them. Redwings are definitely my second choice for durability and comfort, but Danskos are pure luxury when working long hours. important note about danskos is to make sure you buy the looser than your normal shoes or you’ll be in a world of hurt. Another crucial piece for comfort if you’re working long shifts is to bring an extra pair of socks to change half way through the shift (particularly on a double) makes a huge difference!

  • Shannon says:

    Troentorps- they’re like Danskos but there’s no insoles- you’re just standing on wood. Sounds awful- I was expecting to hate my life until the break-in period. Never had a break-in period (except for stretching the leather on the top of my foot)- my feet never hurt in these shoes. They’re made out of alder wood which is flexible, so it forms to your foot. Also, instead of staples there are nails which I think looks like better construction. (BTW, I work in healthcare and am on my feet all day. But I got the recommendation from other bartenders when searching for new shoes. So glad I listened.)

  • Donna says:

    Finn comfort shoes. Expensive but worth every dime! Well made and last forever!

  • Jake Fuller says:

    I’ve been bartending for about a year, worked as a batista for two years before that, and did sales and bike repairs at a coffee shop for a year before that. It’s been four years of working on my feet four or five days a week, and the common denominator that has always worked has been my pair of Sole inserts. I see Dr. School’s mentioned often here, and I cannot emphasize enough how much better some of the options are with regards to inserts. Sole is one of several brands that offers inserts that you can mold to shape your feet, giving you a custom orthotics feel, but for about $50 on average. My current pair is finally wearing out after 4 years of daily use. As far as comfort standing on your feet is concerned, these work. I’ve occasionally swapped them for other inserts, and always regret it.

    Behind the bar, I’m currently wearing them in a pair of Shoes For Crews, and I couldn’t be more pleased. I’ve luckily found something that works perfectly very early into my bartending career.

  • Tahra says:

    Alegria clogs have been my saving grace….after blasting through Danskos (new manufacturing materials =rock hard footbeds, boooo), and not getting enough support from my rubber Klogs, these save the day!! Some styles look a little “nurse-y”, but the bigger toebox is awesome after 12 hours of shaking, stirring, and smiling!
    Plus, my drinks are stronger when my feet are happy!

  • Kris says:

    I would add to the suggestions that especially if you have trouble finding shoes you are happy with, it’s worth the investment of going to a good doctor just to discuss your feet and get some recommendations.

    I’m not in hospitality but I used to do film which meant many hour days standing up and walking/running around, carrying heavy items, etc. plus the safety hazard of glass from the occasional broken light bulb and I have arthritis in my feet and a visit to a good podiatrist made a huge difference in simplifying shoe shopping because he explained what I should be specifically looking for in a shoe, and also recommended a couple of off-the-shelf insoles I could add to improve support in shoes that didn’t have it if they fit well otherwise.

    Another tip – have more than one pair if you possibly can. Shoes last longer and are better for your feet if they get ~24 hrs rest time between wearing – it lets them dry out properly and any cushioning material in the construction has a chance to recover and rebound, which makes the shoe more supportive when you put it on again. I’ve bought shoes two pair at a time, identical, and then just marked one pair subtly somewhere when I got them home so I could wear one pair one day and the other the next. I know with the cost of some of the better shoes this can be a tough expense to swallow, but it does make a difference.

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