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”
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.
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!
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.
Finn comfort shoes. Expensive but worth every dime! Well made and last forever!
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.)
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!
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.
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!
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.
I wear the sketcher go runs. They are lightweight and you feel like you’re walking on air. From working 18 hour shifts and not being able to walk to floating on a cloud. They are non black and they definitely make a difference. I don’t know how much they are but i got them at Burkes for 24 dollars(cheaper than my treadsafe’s at walmart 30-40 dollars and far more comfortable.) I’ve also had good experience with Power walk souls.(My wife’s pediatrist recommended them to her and they are pretty awsome) Only problem is they cost like 40 bucks on top of the price of shoes that gets real.
Surprised no one mentioned the SQUISHY Dansko soles that caused me to almost twist my ankle several times. Not to mention the black dye that NEVER stopped coming off on feet or socks! I went back to a “real” clog with a WOODEN PLATFORM. (Look for Troentorp) I first wore these during my junior year in Barcelona and finally tracked them down again. I walked all over Europe in them. They hold up great and come in different styles and colors; I just get the basic black. Anyway, with these you are effectively always standing on wood; much better for feet than just about anything else. They aren’t real attractive, but feel great! A friend slipped into mine one time and said it seemed as if her sore heel improved immediately. Give ’em a try!
Great post. Thanks for the comments everyone. Lots of suggestions to try. 🙂
Serving 4 years. Bartending 3 years. I work in a volume bar at a restaurant. Bartenders take tables and do the well and bar top all at the same time. The bar is the last to be cut, so we often work without food runners and bussers. No mats. No barbacks.
That’s nothing special, but I wanted to establish that I burn through shoes like a server, and I’m not a shill.
My favorite pair of work shoes were these brown Sketchers-for-work ($70.) Durable, comfortable, and didn’t slip. Nicely stitched and they looked cool. It was like Steve Madden designed a Florshiem shoe. I think they quit making them. That pair lasted me two years before they were stolen. Has anyone seen these out there?
Currently on my second pair of Keen PTCs ($130). The first pair lasted 1.5 years. Tons of room in the toe. My footpad actually changed, and I experienced a little pain adjusting. I don’t know if that is good or bad, but I like the shoes. I never found a place to try them on. I just ordered online. It worked out well.
My friend (bartender) and his mother (mail carrier) both wear Thorogoods. I bought a pair. They grew uncomfortable after a while. Go figure. My friend and his moms swears they walk on pillows. http://www.weinbrennerusa.com/ Made in the USA. Also: Its hard to find a reseller. I had to go to a policeman’s supply/outfitter to find a pair to try on.
I burn through $40 payless & for-cruise shoes and end up spending more in the long run. If you are in the business for the long haul, get something that lasts.
Bates work boots, steel or composite toed, with a side zipper and Dr Scholl’s insoles.
I’ve run the gamut of footwear from sneakers and dress shoes to construction work boots. Since finalizing my choice I’ve yet to have any foot pain other than the occasional soreness after a long weekend of doubles even at venues that don’t put bar mats behind the bar.
The steel or composite toe comes from an early experience as a barback earning my bones before tending a bar. I dropped a full keg on my foot and while I didn’t break anything I received server bruising that sidelined me for over a week.
The side zipper allows me to quickly change my socks midway through my shift. I’ve found that this simple act is quite refreshing for my feet. Tip: keep the spare socks in a ziploc bag to that you can store the smelly worn ones in after the exchange, smelly feet isn’t an odor you or anyone wants in a bar setting.
I keep a spare set polished and shined for the times I am in a classy venue.
Nunn Bush Lites. My dad and uncle swore by them when they were bartenders, and I swear by them now.
Black rubber Birkenstocks. The ones with the heel. Non slip, very comfy. The inserts can be taken out and thrown in the washing machine and shoes can be hosed down. Wont crack like leather. A little pricy but so worth it.
I’ve been behind the bar for over 33 years. Worn Red Wings, Rockport and just about anything else, trying to make life a bit easier while making a living on my feet.
For about the past 10 years I’ve been wearing Merrell clogs. They’re slip resistant and they feel like an old friend from the first time you put them on.
I still have the first pair I bought & use them to cut grass & such.
I knew of Merrell boots & athletic footwear from the days (long ago) when I used to backpack. They were superior products then and they have not disappointed me now in work footwear.
I wear Stacy Adams Madison Boots on bar mats. I often find myself not taking them off even when I get home after work simply because I find them very comfortable. As a bar manager I feel like sitting in my office crappy desk chair is worse for my back than standing in my boots for 10 hours at a time. I have thought about other boots such as Timberland or Red Wing but these suit me well for now but only time will tell. It’s been 18 months now and I’ve experienced zero foot pain and only mild lower back pain maybe once a month.
I rock some high top Red Wings!
did skate shoes forever and then my knees started to kill me. the support of the high top boots was much needed!
KEEN. They last me 2 years or so. On the floor or behind the bar!
When I first started bartending 11 years ago, I’d wear cute wedge heels. Years later at a bar with no mats, I slipped into the speed rack & fractured 2 ribs with those cute heels. Most recently, I’ve purchased & swear by Aerosoles boots, albeit not so cute.
I’m a bartender and the owner of a retail shop, so I spend 12-16 hours on an average day on my feet; I’m also a former dancer. I think the biggest cause of painful feet (after the obvious culprit, awful shoes) is poor posture. Stand up straight; engage your abs; don’t lean; move around a lot.
My strategy is to change shoes midway through the day, starting the day with flat dress shoes or boots (never heels) and ending the day with comfortable dress boots or black canvas slip-on sneakers/boat shoes. I opt for shoes with practically no support to encourage me to keep standing up straight and engaging all the muscles in my abs, thighs, back, hips. (I have very low arches, though; this might not work for someone with high arches and/or non-dancer feet).
After reading “Born to Run” by Chris McDougall, which explored the mechanics of the feet and the huge scam that is the running shoe industry, I decided that my feet were probably designed to stand up all day (on proper surfaces, like wooden floors and rubber bar mats) and I started trying shoes with no support. I now end many 16 hour days of nonstop standing with no pain at all.
black vans (on bar mats)
I prefer light, simple, flat-soled sneakers with a decent sole, but without barmats I would definitely be wearing clogs
I wear Red Wing boots. They are amazingly comfortable, light, waterproof, and don’t slip, there is also no chance of glass going through the bottom. I made the switch after other shoes left me with really bad fungal infections from my feet being wet all the time. They are more comfortable than any of my sneakers and built for life. I highly recommend.
I second the Keens for comfort and for wide feet. I have Keen Finlays instead of the utility ones listed above. I wear them to work and at work, so no need to switch shoes before and after the shift.
ROSSI BOOTS ALL THE WAY!!!
If you don’t want to go the clog route there is a great Alternative to dansko, sanita, crocks and the like. Granted I don’t have the plantar fasciitis problem , but have been behind a bar for over nine years. Last year when my feet started to ache so bad I didn’t wAnt to get out of bed the next day I decided Something had to be done. Even though I know most people will never even see my feet, I couldn’t bring myself to wear clogs. Never will. Just a personal thing. I read a million reviews and found out about Australian BLUNDSTONE boots that many chefs wear. Unfortunately, I also found out that they aren’t made in Australia anymore and the quality went way down. Enter the solution- ROSSI BOOTS.
They slip on and of with ease, have heat/chemical/slip resistant soles for going through the kitchen, no laces so they stay dry, and very supportive. They were chosen as the official shoe for the Australian version of top chef. Seriously worth a look if you aren’t ready to totally give up on life. Sorry clog people, but you know what I mean.
Hands down winner… Mostly found to be worn by culinary, but awesome for behind the bar!
Non slip- no “heel” like the danskos added bonus you can change out the footbed liner when worn out.
Birkenstock birkis – black
Best shoe I’ve ever had for work and lasts forever!
I wear running shoes, which are notoriously ugly, but offer great support. Nobody’s ever said anything about ugly footwear but I’m not exactly wearing a tie either.
Any recommendations for vegan work shoes? Rubber/canvas runners do the trick but I know they won’t cut it if I move up to a classier spot.
Danskos or Sanitas are a must. I find I am a size larger in Sanitas. A website called Zulliy will send out periodic deals on clogs and I now have wide selection of girly clogs of many colors that match my sassy dresses at work, all for less than $60 each. I even have Danskos in sandals and snow boots. As a big girl just this side of 40, I believe I have these shoes to thank for my career and continued good health.
Dankos Pro is the way to go.
The only other shoe I dare wear behind the bar is my Redwing work boots — only when I’m outside in unusual terrain and challenging situations.
Here’s a tip: Wear circulation socks. Black over the calf. You will feel better and perform better!
From my twelve plus years of bartending and bar management in the Heartland, I found the trade meant being ready for anything, anytime. Even the classiest joint is prone to an occasional confrontation and I don’t recommend trying to deal with any such situation wearing shoes which are not securely laced to your feet. This might get you hurt or trapped in the midst of a dangerous altercation.
Also, after years of tending bar for 13+ hours daily, I learned to spend as much money as necessary when considering a comfortable and supportive choice for work footwear. Also, I don’t recommend wearing work footwear while off duty. I know this is convenient but give your feet a break.
Good write-up. Thanks!
All black Nike free run sneakers have saved my feet – they only last about 6 months but are instantly comfortable and seem to be non slip when speeding over greasy kitchen floors…….
I’ve always worn cowboy boots behind the bar. This may sound strange, but I’ve worn them all my life and they are just plain comfortable to me. You have to break them in, but once you do, they are the perfect fit. That being said, since moving to NYC I’ve always taken a new pair to my cobbler and have rubber soles put on them(otherwise the NYC sidewalks will quickly eat up the leather soles), and I always use Dr. Scholl’s in-soles.
I trained myself behind the bar on leather soles to be extremely cautious of how I’m standing, walking(sometimes running), bending over, etc. I have a bad back from a couple of motorcycle accidents from years ago, and I’ve found that strecthing frequently is the best solution to combat any potential strains and sprains.
A couple years ago, I rushed into work after a long motorcycle trip and was still wearing my riding boots of choice, the Wolverine 1000 mile boot. These are leather soled boots, but again, I had my cobbler put a thin rubber sole on them so I wouldn’t slip in any oil or water when I put my feet down at stops. They are great! I was very pleased with this accident, and highly recommend them to anyone. They look great, and are lightweight and feel amazing. I usually don’t even notice them on my feet. They are pricey, but will cost you less than a surprise trip to the hospital, and you can wear them out and about in style. Just sayin’.
For a couple of years I used regular black dress shoes, and as stated by Jeff, the pain was horrible; exactly as described, it felt like a hot needle thru my foot at every step. For the last year and a half I have used Dr. Scholl’s Careers. About a month ago I threw away a pair and ran to my local Walmart to buy another pair of the exact same model, “Dave WW”, for a reasonable $36dls price. These Dr. Scholl’s are non slip, so I have not yet experienced what many of my co-workers have, however, I have been called Bob The Builder a couple of times, but I always reply, “I prefer to look like Bob The Builder, rather than picking up stone from the floor qith my mouth, just like you did when you slipped” 😉
Working a lot of hours behind the bar, sometimes without a break, I found a great option that fits much better my feet (I used Mozo and Danskos before), the Airwalk SafeTstep shoes that I bought at Payless Shoes. It is super comfi… and I added the HappyFeet(HappyFeet.net) insoles, It feels like I am floating when I walk, and my lower back is much better after shifts now.
I highly recommend.
I’ve worked both behind bars and on busy kitchen hot lines. I’ve worn Blundstone boots for 14 years. Great support, nonslip, water resistant, and they look pretty good after a wipe down with windex and a towel. I’d recommend them to anyone.
Having worked in retail sales for 28 years on my feet, I’m always keenly interested in any footwear that will relieve my knees and lower back.
For years, I wore Rockports, then switched to Eccos (from Nordstrom) and then a couple of years ago, I discovered Skecher shape-ups; their kinetic wedge and rounded sole made my knees and back feel like new. I was dismayed to learn that Skecher discontinued them due to a lawsuit. Wearing them feels like walking in sand. I adore them. How I wish I could find as satisfactory replacement for them.
Another great option is the insole product called SuperFeet. They fit in whichever shoes you are wearing behind the bar and provide fantastic arch support which keeps the rest of your body aligned.
I, too, had plantar fascitis, and while waiting for an appointment with a doctor I started putting the same pair of SuperFeet insoles into my shoes each day. The heel pain was gone for a couple of days before I realized it!
I now always have some of these at the ready! And, they were not cost prohibitive, either! $30 to $50.
I loved the black ones (which are intended for golf, I believe).
I have simian feet and thus rely on shoes that are very wide. These Keen PTCs are excellent for my aged spine, break in easily, and are impervious to aerial assault.
I have been wearing Rockford wingtips with a sport sole and Superfeet inserts to good effect. Remember to condition the leather first and apply a good waterproofing agent to add a substantial amount of life to your shoes. A good investment in your feet is worth more than any other bar tool you’ll use.
Mozo shoes are the best, just ask Martha! I’ve was a Danskos fan till I discovered this similar shoe brand that combines functionality with fashion- they actually look great and save your back.
Personally I’ve worn Crocs, Dansko, custom ortho shoes and now I am wearing Timberland Pro series shoes. Of the shoes I’ve worn I would say that the Timberland and Dansko held up best. All were nonslip, comfortable with great back and knee support. Price vs. Quality I say timberland Pro edges out the Dansko and they are slightly better looking over the Dansko which are notoriously ugly.
I’m not a bartender but I know a few professionals who rely on clogs. Danskos are not distributing the same clogs that they were prior to 2008. The pre-2008 clogs are now distributed under the name of the manufacturer, Sanita. Here’s a copy and paste from the top search result that explains the change:
Since the early 1990s until August 2007, all Dansko Professional clogs and all Dansko Stapled Clogs had been manufactured by Sanita in Europe. The distribution agreement between Dansko and Sanita ended in August 2007. Shortly after that time, Sanita began distributing the same products directly in the US under their own name.
If you have a pair of Dansko stapled clogs purchased before 2008, look at the bottom of the sole and you will see patent 0060240 engraved into the sole. This indicates that your clogs were made by Sanita according to their patented construction. If you have a pair of really old Dansko clogs, you may even see Sanitastamped on the bottom as well as the patent number mentioned above. If the logo or number is missing, then you have a new Dansko product that was introduced in 2008. The new Dansko clogs are made by various manufacturers around the world based on a re-design of the Sanita clog. According to Dansko’s printed catalog information, they have introduced structural innovations to enhance the performance of these clogs; improved lateral stability, better shock absorption, more secure heel strike and improved aesthetics. Visually, the clogs look very similar, however the new Dansko is wider across the heel and has a curved up sole in the back of the heel. On the other hand, Sanita has been delivering the Original product made by the same materials, by the same artisans, in the same Sanita >owned factory.
So in summary, if you are looking at buying the identical Dansko stapled clog that was sold in the US pre-2008, you would want the Sanita brand.
Shopping for clogs can get confusing as both companies are using the same style names, such as: Professional, Sonja, Karl, Ingrid, etc.
If you have any questions or if we can help, please contact us.
I have a pair of red wing boots that I love. I also have orthotics so that helps a ton. To this day my most comfortable pair of shoes are my old red wing steel toes. I swear by them. I have heard a ton of good things about danskos, but sadly they don’t go up to a size 16.
I’m a busser most currently, so while i don’t have to look as professional as the bartender, I try to keep to it as i can (dress for the job you want, right?)
I’ve got a pair of converse workforce (something to that point) that are nonslip and steel toe. Only one in that restaurant it seems that doesn’t go sliding through the kitchen while the floors are being scrubbed, our bartenders included, and they look like regular tennis shoes. Just a thought.
Danskos, butI’m chiming in to second your recommendation on the leather. My not-leather ones were sadly fragile (or I am unusually tough).
I started with Doc Martens, until I discovered Shoes for Crews. I’ve gone through only a few pairs since 2000, and still haven’t slipped working. Warning: doesn’t apply on ice:)
I refuse to work behind a bar with no bar mats though; That’s when I feel my back, legs and knees buckle.
I wore regular dress shoes for a while, but I also work construction during the day and it was killing my feet.
About two years ago I switched to the Red Wing oxford 8636, which looks great, is anti-slip and has held up better than any shoe I have ever worn.
Sure a good pair of shoes is expensive, but for wearing day in and day out as a piece of work equipment, it’s indispensable.
Skateboarding shoes. Designed for comfort & grip.
I currently work in black sneakers with bar mats on the floor. No foot problems for me.
Bar mats on the floor should be a right for bartenders in the same way that office workers get special chairs and wrist supports.