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Opening a Bar: How to Set Yourself Up for Success

by | CAREER TIPS

Have you ever dreamt of opening a bar?

Whether experienced nightlife professionals or just people who love going out for a drink, it’s a dream that many people share. Owning your own bar seems like a fantasy. You get to hang out, talk to people all day, and help them have fun. 

While that is certainly true, opening a bar and keeping it open requires a lot of planning and preparation. It’s a brutal business and shouldn’t be taken lightly–many new bars don’t last past the first year. The work you do before you open your doors will set the tone for the future of your bar and put you on the track to long-term success.  

What do you need to do before opening a bar?

Opening a bar isn’t something that just happens overnight. It takes months, even years, of planning, researching, and gathering funds before you are ready to pour your first drink.

There are many things prospective bar owners must do in order to prepare themselves for success. Getting the numbers right, finding the right spot, developing a winning concept–there are countless elements to consider. 

To help streamline the process, we’ve put together a list of some of the main steps to take when you’re opening a bar.

Nail down your concept 

At their core, all bars are a place to meet with your friends for a drink and some food. In the restaurant world, it’s easy to communicate your concept to the world. A Mexican restaurant serves Mexican food and customers know exactly what they’ll get when they go. But when opening a bar, defining your concept and brand can be a bit more tricky.

With so many different types of bar out there, it’s important to have a clear concept and brand that sets you apart. Most people will give any bar a chance for one drink. Your concept is the thing that will get guests to stay for another drink and return in the future. If your bar’s concept is all over the place or non-existent, it will be hard for you to stick in their heads.

The good news is that there are a ton of successful bar concepts that you can look at for inspiration when creating your own. Some examples include:

Create a business plan

Without proper planning and execution, even the best ideas can be doomed to failure. Before you can start serving your signature cocktails, you need to have everything down concrete, on paper.

Creating a proper business plan will force you to consider the concept, budget, staffing requirements and other crucial variables that will come into play. This document will be the proof that you’ve done your homework and are ready to turn your plan into action. If you want investors to give you money to open a bar, this is what we’ll convince them to open their wallets.

If you are unsure of where to start with your business plan there are plenty of free templates available online. It might also be good to contact someone that you know has written a business plan before and ask for feedback. Having a mentor in the industry is incredibly helpful for first time bar owners.

Gather your funds

After nailing the concept and writing a winning business plan, you need money to make it a reality. Without the funding to take the next steps, your bar is just an idea in your head and words and numbers on a page. This is a crucial stage that can make or break your bar business.

If you’ve saved up enough on your own, then you can fund the bar yourself. However, most first time bar owners will need some sort of financial assistance to get up and running.

One way of funding your bar would be to turn your family and friends into investors. This is a great way to dodge getting involved with financial entities that don’t have your best interest in mind. 

Getting backing from friends and family can make things a lot easier, but must be handled professionally. Share your business plan and establish a clear timeline for paying them back to avoid tension in the future. Afterall, the last thing you want to do is fall out with someone you love over money.

If you’d rather not get your friends and family involved, you can turn to another avenue to get your funding. If you have a strong business plan, you can present it to a bank and ask for a loan. Taking out business loans is an incredibly common way for first time bar owners to fund their ideas. However, you should be very clear about the terms of the loan–banks are less forgiving than loved ones. 

Find the perfect spot 

There’s an old saying about finding success in the business world: “Location! Location! Location!” You should keep that in your head when you’re thinking about opening a bar.

It’s a saying that has stuck around through the ages because it has always remained true. Finding the right location and space for your bar is absolutely crucial if you want to set yourself up to succeed.

Based on your bar concept, try looking for a location that doesn’t have a bunch of similar bars nearby. You want to be in a place where people often go out for a drink but offer something unique that other bars don’t. Instead of trying to compete in well-known hotspots, look in neighborhoods that are up-and-coming to see if your concept might thrive better there.

If you want to open a wine bar, look for a part of the city where people match the demographic but lack bars to serve them. Try to avoid opening areas that are already oversaturated with concepts like yours. It doesn’t matter how cool and hip your cocktail bar is, if there are 4 or 5 other places just like it within walking distance, it’ll be hard to stand out. 

Design your bar

Once you’ve found the perfect location for yourbar, it’s time to design the space to fit your concept.

You should take an overhead view of your location and sketch out some ideas you have for the design. Where will the bar be located, how will servers move between tables, where will the bathroom be–you should consider every detail. It’s important to imagine how both patrons and staff will occupy and move around the bar and design accordingly.

The choices you make when designing your bar will be the main to communicate your concept and build ambience. If you want strangers to interact with each other, build more shared surfaces or areas to stand. For an intimate date night atmosphere, install cozy booths and tables for couples to sit at while sipping cocktails and staring in each other’s eyes. 

If you aren’t comfortable handling this aspect, get help from a friend who has an eye for interior design. Or, if it’s in your budget, you could get professional help with this part of the process. 

There are many interior designers who focus solely on designing bars and restaurants. They can help you make the important design decisions you need to create the ambience you desire while getting the most out of your budget.

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