People in the business of managing a bar hear it all the time: “You’re so lucky! I’d absolutely LOVE to run a bar!”
And it’s not too hard to understand why. Spending time in a pub full of laughs, beers, shots, cocktails and jolly patrons has been a favourite past-time for time immemorial.
But that doesn’t mean it’s easy from the working side of the bar.
To make it merely profitable, let alone a runaway success, you need to have oodles of passion. Bucket loads of hard work and long hours to spare. And plenty of dedication so that you know all of the ins and outs of the licenses, regulations, skills and bar supplies – and more – that you’ll need.
Why? Because the grim reality of start-ups – and particularly those in the highly competitive world of hospitality – is that a staggering 95% of them fail very early on.
That might sound daunting, but we really believe you can do it … if you can start to answer the following 10 questions:
- What sort of bar will yours be?
We all have our favourite pubs, so pay close attention to what you love about them – and what you dislike about the ones you don’t.
If you’ve zeroed in on a location, it’s time to do some bar crawls so that you can observe staff, take notes about the best and coolest bar equipment and supplies, and gauge what the locals are looking for and which of them you are specifically targeting as your audience.
- What’s your perfect layout?
With a concept in your mind and the cash in the bank, it’s time to start planning the dream bar layout. Put yourself in the shoes of the punter, and walk through the perfect pub experience. What standing room do you want? What’s the perfect balance between barstools and places to order at the bar?
- Do you have the money?
Like it or not, establishing a bar is very capital intensive – and underestimating that fact is almost always the reason they fail early on.
The hefty start-up costs alone should make you consider carefully if it’s an investment you can really afford, and a risk you’re desperate to take. Because you don’t want to start spending your precious cash only to discover you don’t have enough to stay afloat mere months into the adventure.
- And do you know how to save it?
Now that you know you have the money to spend, understand very clearly that you also need to know how to hang onto it.
Like any business, you need to run a tight ship and deftly juggle your finances. But there are very specific ways to keep costs under control in a bar that can easily fly under the radar and be missed.
Some of it is simply about your bartender tools. When you’re selling alcohol, it’s all about profit-per-drink – and that means things like glasses that don’t easily break and staff who care about pouring accurately. Because when running an epic bar, every little detail counts.
- Will your decor match your concept?
Convincing a patron to set foot in your place is just the start. Then you’ve got to make that all-important first impression. And then you’ve got to make it last.
Remember, they’re there to be entertained and to relax, and all the bar accessories and supplies are an integral part of that magic. We’re talking beer mugs and cocktail equipment. Fridges and spirit dispensers – and so much more. Match it all perfectly with your theme, colours, paraphernalia and customer, and you give them every excuse to stay for the night – and come back next weekend.
- Are you good at networking?
It’s tempting to think you’re going to go it alone in the highly competitive world of hospitality – but you’d be wrong.
Running a bar is one of those businesses for which local strategic alliances are not only handy, but absolutely crucial. And it’s not just fellow hospitality businesses you need to form friendships with, but strategic allies as diverse as laundromats and clothes shops are more important than you know. Why? Because they know business, the area, and your future customers.
- Are you a people person?
You might envisage a bar as a place for friends to connect. But like every other hospitality business, it’s still all about the service and the experience.
Your customers will rave about great experiences, and punish you badly for mistakes, rudeness or inattention. This puts an onus on hiring, training and retaining brilliant, engaging and passionate staff that are not only happy to go to work every day, but even more committed to making your punters just as happy.
- Do you know all about inventory?
If you’re not ready to think ‘inventory, inventory, inventory’ 7 days of the week, you’re in for a nasty shock.
It may not be a sexy concept, but inventory management is absolutely critical when it comes to managing a bar. That’s because what you have in stock, what you need to order, how to set prices and how to maximise profits are the absolute bread and butter of bars that reliably make big money.
- What’s on your drinks menu?
As a customer, when you scan the bar or pick up the drinks menu, you usually think one of these two things: “What an awesome selection!”; or “Should we go somewhere else?”
Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of space in between, and that means stocking your bar just right. What that requires is that you know intricately what people want and expect, what you should steer clear of, and what you can promote as a signature drink so that your establishment is cool and your brand is memorable.
- Do you know how to keep it fresh?
Running a bar is vastly different to running a paperclip factory. Why’s that? Because paperclips are boring and they don’t change.
And if pubs are anything, they’re definitely not paperclips. This is where your passion is really going to come in handy. You need to be constantly refreshing things so that your regulars keep loving you and you’re concurrently always attracting new people. You need to keep an eye on trends and really listen to feedback and criticism. And you need to strike a balance between maximising short-term profits and knowing when a fresh batch of furniture and barware are going to pay off.
For all of this, you need a bottomless pit of ideas and intuition that means you know when to change it up, bring in new cocktails and beers, run promotions, offer great entertainment, and make your bar the coolest place in town. Bottoms up!