What Are the Best Shoes for Bartending?
After you complete your first shift as a server or bartender, you're probably going to regret wearing whatever shoes you already had lying around. Whether you slipped and broke a glass, soaked your feet with a sloshing drink, or just feel sore and exhausted, you're probably just realizing you need new bartending shoes.
But you're probably still in the dark on what features make the best shoes for servers and bartenders. What should you shop for and how do you tell if a pair of shoes has what you need?
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Features That Are a Must for Bartending Shoes
Obviously, your shoe style needs to mesh with your workplace and you want a pair that feels comfortable on your feet, but you (hopefully) already know how to shop for those criteria. We're going to focus on the special qualities that will make your workday (or night) a little better.
There are four features that make the best shoes for bartenders. Bartending shoes must be supportive, slip-resistant, water-resistant, and well-ventilated.
Support and Structure
The most comfortable shoes for bartenders and other servers will provide support and structure.
First, you need good arch support. Exactly how much and what kind will depend on you. If you have arch problems already, you might need rigid orthotic support or softer arch cushions. If you're just trying to be comfortable and prevent future foot issues, then cushioned insoles will probably work just fine.
One way you can check whether a shoe has enough structure is called the "twist test." A shoe with proper arch support should resist any attempt to twist the heel one way and the front of the shoe in the other.
You also want to test for support around your ankle. Good work shoes will have a padded collar, and when you press down on the "heel counter" (the part of the shoe upper that sticks up at the back), it should provide resistance rather than collapse.
To minimize fatigue, you also need soles that provide good shock absorption and plenty of cushioning. Some of this is built into the outsole, but if there isn't enough cushion for the insole, make sure you have enough room in the shoe to insert a high-quality insole.
During the peak bar rush, you've got to move fast, which inevitably means spilled liquids, skittering ice, and quick feet.
It's a recipe for slip and fall injuries, and if you're handling glass or knives when your feet go out from under you, cuts and other injuries are also possible – not to mention expensive breakages.
You want to back up your workplace's non-slip mats with anti-slip shoes. We'll take a closer look at slip-resistant shoes and how to tell if shoes are non-slip in a moment.
The other problem with spills? You may end up wearing a customer's drink. There's nothing worse than hours of hustling around in wet shoes and socks. It's not just gross in the moment – it can lead to blisters, foot fungus, and smelly shoes.
To keep your feet dry and happy, you want water-resistant bartender shoes. These can be made from fully waterproof materials or just materials that are treated to repel water.
An extra bonus: water-resistant shoes are easier to care for. The inside should stay insulated from outside spills (no sticky insoles), and the outside can be wiped down to remove residue at the end of the night.
Being on your feet for hours at a stretch comes with one other source of moisture: sweat. To minimize that, you want bartending shoes with adequate ventilation. This will keep your feet cooler to prevent sweating and carry away any moisture you do generate as water vapor.
Finding shoes that are both water-resistant and breathable can be a balancing act, but there are plenty on the market that offers a degree of both.
What Are Non-Slip Shoes?
Slip-resistant or anti-slip shoes are designed to reduce the chance of an accidental slip and fall on wet, oily, or otherwise slippery surfaces.
It's the last part that's important when you're searching for bartending shoes. Some shoes will grip dry surfaces but skid easily when it's wet – basketball shoes, for example.
According to statistics released by Liberty Mutual, the foodservice industry's leading cause of employee injury is slipping and falling. That's why anti-slip bartending shoes are so important.
What Makes a Shoe Non-Slip?
There are a few crucial elements that make a shoe slip-resistant in wet or oily conditions.
EVA Rubber Soles
Non-slip shoes typically have an EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate) rubber outsole. These outsoles are made of synthetic, foam-like material. It tends to feel soft and flexible, qualities that contribute to its ability to grip wet, oily, or slick floors.
True rubber outsoles actually provide even greater traction. However, EVA soles are lighter weight, thicker, and more shock absorbent, all of which help reduce fatigue for your feet.
Non-slip shoes have a tread pattern that helps create friction with the floor. Smaller tread patterns generally provide greater traction.
Open, Rounded Sides
Not every treaded EVA sole is non-slip.
Flat-edged soles and closed tread actually can cause slippage on wet or oily surfaces. If a liquid is unable to escape through the sides of the sole, it gets trapped under your shoe and the tread can't make solid contact with the floor. You slide, the same way a car hydroplanes.
Soles that round upward at the edges allow water to escape so your tread can get a grip. Open tread, where grooves extend all the way to the edge of the sole, will channel water out with the same effect.
How To Tell If Shoes Are Non-Slip
Many slip-resistant shoes with all the features a bartender needs are specifically labeled as non-slip. Some may simply say "slip-resistant," "non-slip," or "anti-slip."
Better yet, you can look for labels that meet ASTM international safety standards. This means the shoe has passed systematic performance tests on a variety of wet, oily, and dry surfaces.
If a shoe isn't specifically labeled as slip-resistant, look for the qualities we discussed above in the product description and by examining the shoe itself. You want:
- An EVA or rubber outsole that feels flexible (without sacrificing structure and support)
- A fairly small tread pattern that won't trap water beneath the shoe
- A shoe upper that is water-resistant but also ventilated
Slips, trips, and falls are some of the most common workplace injuries. Investing in the right shoes can be a good start toward staying on your feet. To learn other ways to prevent same-level falls, check out our Walking and Working Surfaces OSHA course.