A Quick Guide to Opening Your Own Bar


You’re part alcohol aficionado, part therapist and part businessman. It’s an obvious choice that you should open your own bar. In fact, it’s a reasonably common dream for many people to be able to stand behind their bar, polishing a beer glass and welcoming a weary stranger into the warmth of their establishment to enjoy a cold beverage on tap after a long day or week of work. Before you get ahead of yourself, however, you’ll want to ensure you have a solid plan for the business behind the bar.

Here we’ll take a look at a handful of the absolutely non-negotiable things you need to do before you open your doors to the thirsty public and invite them to forget their troubles in your tavern.

Create a Solid Business Plan

A business plan is the first thing your financers are going to ask for when you start to apply for business finance. You’ll need to show the bank or business finance company that you have a plan to create a profitable enterprise before they’re going to give you any money, and your business plan is the document that you’re going to use to convince them.

Fill your business plan with answers to questions about your business:

  • What will the business do?
  • Who are your customers?
  • How are you going to be profitable?
  • What makes your business different?
  • What are your start-up costs?
  • How long until your business is profitable?

If you are serious about business and making it a success, an MBA programme at an institution like Aston University Online will give you options for your future career path, which in turn will give you many great and useful skills to make a success of your new bar.

Decide on All the Details and Refine Them

One of the biggest oversights new business owners make is to forget the details. While you’re writing a business plan, you might not need to go into minute detail – you will need to have the details before you actually open. Consider every angle of your business and absolutely everything you’ll need. Make list after list of:

  • Things you need to do
  • What you need to build
  • Equipment you need to buy
  • Suppliers you need to meet and agree on supply terms with
  • What will be on your drink menu
  • What will be on your food menu
  • The décor and furniture that you’ll need

Plan every tiny detail and create realistic timelines to get it done, then decide on an opening date to give yourself a deadline. Planning everything out is going to be something you will never regret. Before you plan too much, though, you’ll want to do some market research.

Do Your Market Research

Market research is where you’re going to find many of the answers about what kind of bar you’re going to want to open. It helps you better understand those weary strangers that are going to be walking into your bar in search of a cold one, and it will help you decide how to appeal to them as a business.

There are many different ways of doing market research, and each has its advantages. You might run surveys, talk to people in the area, and visit existing bars in the neighbourhood to get a sense of their successes and ultimately your competition. The more data and information you’re able to get, the more you’ll be able to customise your offering to appeal to your potential customers. It’s the reason sports bars do well near colleges or Irish pubs do well in neighbourhoods with a high concentration of Irish residents or descendants – those business owners did their research.

Get Your Licences

You’ll be selling alcohol, so you’re going to need the applicable licences.

The most important licence you’ll need to get is your premises licence, which authorises your bar to actually serve alcohol. To apply, you’ll need to fill in the required form and submit it to your local authority. Before you submit this, you’ll need a detailed plan of the premises you’ll be using to serve alcohol as well as information about your bar, and the kind of activities you’ll be offering there as well as your operating hours.

Because you’ll need to satisfy the authorities in the area you plan to open in, you’ll likely also need a risk assessment of your premises. After filing your application, you’ll need to display the summary at your premises and advertise in a newspaper servicing the area for up to 10 days. After 28 days, provided you have satisfied all the requirements and no serious objections have been received, your premises licence will be granted, either as you applied or with modification.

It’s not just the licence to serve alcohol you’ll need though – you might need some other licences.

  • Business Permit – You’ll need to register your business, depending on the structure. You might register as a sole trader, limited company or partnership. This registration will give you the ability to actually trade as a business.
  • Food Service Licence – If you’re going to serve food, you need to be compliant with the health code. This usually involves registering with the council of jurisdiction and this needs to be done at least 28 days before you open. You should check your local restrictions and requirements.
  • Entertainment and Music Licence – If you play music in your bar, or if you have live entertainment, you’ll need the applicable licences for this. Depending on your opening hours, you might also need special licences for late-night trading. Your alcohol sale premises licence might also cover this, so check your local area rules.

Design Your Brand

You’ll need a name and a logo for your bar before you go any further. These things will define your bar’s DNA and tell people what they can expect before they even walk through the door. Consider your name and logo very carefully and perhaps even get a professional designer to design an identity for you. Consider things like colour choices that are going to make a difference when it comes to the physical design of your bar.

Some types of bars you might consider opening, and you’ll need to consider when naming and designing your bar:

  • College Bar – Cheap drinks sold in volume with activities like beer pong and an up to date playlist. Expect your bar to be loud and rowdy.
  • Sports Bar – You’ll need premium business subscriptions to sports networks and a lot of TVs in your bar to satisfy the wants of a sports fan in your bar. You’ll also want a host of classic sports snacks on the menu.
  • Classic British Pub – Snooker tables and comfortable seating is the order of the day in your classic pub, along with hearty home-cooked food and beer on tap.
  • Cigar Bar – A step up in sophistication and décor is what you’ll need to open a cigar bar. This is a lounge-style space with really comfortable seating and a whisky selection longer than any other alcohol type. Don’t forget to stock a good range of cigars too

Hire Your Staff

You’re definitely not going to be able to do everything yourself, so you’re going to need some help. Hiring quality staff is going to be one of the most important things you do when you first start trading, so make sure you dedicate enough time to this. Your staff, particularly your front of house staff like bartenders and servers, are going to be the face of your bar so their personalities should match the vibe of your establishment.

Don’t forget that if you’re open late, you might need to cover all the hours you’re open, which might mean you’ll be running shifts and need more staff.

You’re going to need the following staff:

  • A manager – if you’re going to be involved in the bar day-to-day, and you probably will be at the start of your business venture, this is probably the role you’ll be filling. Your manager will be running the bar day-to-day and handling staff shift rosters and ordering stock.
  • A chef or cook – if you plan to serve good food, you’ll need someone to prepare it. Chefs aren’t cheap, so you’ll need to be realistic about the kind of food you’re serving and the kind of chef you hire.
  • Porters or Bussers – The porters will be collecting empty glasses and plates and doing the dishes. They’ll likely also be changing kegs and restocking fridges if your bar is busy.
  • Servers – If you’re going to offer table service, you’ll need some servers.
  • Bartenders – One of the core staff at your bar is the bartender. The kind of bartender you’ll be looking for very much depends on the type of bar you’re opening. Do you need an expert in cocktails, or do you need a well-trained sommelier?

As you can tell, you have an awful amount to think of before you open your doors and turn on that new neon ‘open’ light in the window of your new bar. Considering each of the things you need to with enough time and in enough detail will give your bar an excellent chance of making a success. Owning a bar can be very satisfying, giving those in the community a place to meet and relax over a drink and meal.

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