Starting a business can seem daunting but as a creative entrepreneur and a social butterfly at heart, you may have always dreamt about what it would be like to own a bar. Whether it be a swanky lounge or a laid-back sports bar, the liveliness and social aspect of the industry have always captured your interest, and now you want to take the plunge.

Start selling with Square.

Create your free account in minutes.

A Checklist for Opening a Bar

Here is a checklist of the actions to take before you open your bar’s doors.

  • Research which licenses and permits you need. Aside from registering your business, all bars need an alcohol license, which is usually awarded by the local council. You also need to think about food-handling licenses, music licenses, health and safety and building permits if you are making renovations to your current space. Consider all of these when you think about startup costs for your bar.

  • Research funding options for your bar. Think about the initial startup cost as well as the ongoing costs of running your business. Chances are you need capital to get the business up and running, and some bar owners rely on investors when first opening an establishment. Getting a business loan is another option many business owners look into. A business loan isn’t just handy for opening costs, it can also be used later for growing your business by investing in inventory, marketing or renovations.

  • Find the right location. The success of your bar depends on its location. When you’re looking at locations, think about how much foot traffic you are aiming for, what your clientele looks like, and the average time a customer will ideally spend at your bar. These help you determine the size of the space needed as well as the best neighbourhood. Make sure to avoid areas that are consistently under construction.

  • Create a business plan. A business plan outlines the vision you have for your bar and a strategy to grow the business. It’s a management tool that can help you reach your short-term and long-term goals. Your business plan should include your market and competitive analysis, a description of your products and services, financial costs, and an operations plan.

  • Trademark your name and logo. Aside from registering your business, all bars need an alcohol license, which is usually awarded by the local council. You also need to think about food-handling licenses, music licenses, health and safety and building permits if you are making renovations to your current space.

The Economics of Opening a Bar

Every aspiring bar owner dreams about a popular establishment that makes great money for their pocket. But before you jump ahead, you have to plan for the startup costs of your bar.

While the startup cost of your bar depends on the type of establishment you open, there are a few essentials every bar needs:

  • A location
  • Seating
  • Glassware
  • Equipment (ice bins, blenders, beer mats, mixers, dishwasher)
  • Technology
  • Bartenders and other staff

Expenses don’t just disappear once your bar opens. You need to think about operating costs as well. Examples of operating costs include:

All of these costs require careful oversight and management so your budget doesn’t balloon. So why not think about clever ways to minimise your costs from the get-go?

Marketing and social media

Social media is an effective way to market your business before you have the budget for wider marketing campaigns.

To get started, set up accounts on platforms like Facebook and Instagram to promote your events, food and drinks promotions or sport screenings.

Your posts may get better engagement if you have a well-rounded profile that isn’t always going for the hard sell. Think about your wider community, join in conversations and give your presence a human touch.

If social media isn’t your thing, consider looking for social media-savvy bartenders.

Inventory, analytics and waste

Don’t overthink your drink menu. Create a simple menu by offering a few drink options. Complex drink lists often fluster customers and create more inventory to carry.

Use analytics software to run sales reports regularly in order to make cost-effective decisions. You can assess which drinks are selling and which drinks aren’t, then make appropriate menu changes. You can also assess your busiest and slowest hours to create a more efficient employee schedule.

Minimising waste at your bar can save quite a bit of money. Spilled drinks, drinks made incorrectly, and spoiled ingredients are considered waste and can really add up. If you see a rising trend in these, it might be time to reassess employee training.

Taking Payments

Guests at your bar expect short wait times and quick service. Lousy payment systems with painstakingly slow processing times won’t cut it, so it’s important to invest in a robust POS system for your bar.

Your point-of-sale system should be integrated with a payments processor and use hardware that can take any form of payment, whether it’s cash, chip and PIN cards or mobile payments (like Apple Pay).

Additional POS features designed for bar operations can improve your daily processes.

Specific things to look for in a point-of-sale system for your bar include:

  • The ability to create open tickets that allow you to offer customers open bar tabs. A bar POS system also has the capability to add items to a ticket, as long as it remains open.
  • A built-in tipping system that is easy for customers to use and encourages tipping on every order.
  • Inventory management that allows you to set up your bar menu on your POS and track inventory to determine stock levels. Many bar owners set alerts on inventory so they are flagged when stock is low.

All-in-one options

Some POS systems keeps your sales, inventory, employee management and online orders in one place. This will make your life far easier when it comes to ordering stock, managing rotas and calculating takings – and can save you time and money down the line.

Devices with dual touch screen displays (one for bartenders, one for customers) will provide convenience, clarity and transparency at the till. An integrated contactless and chip and pin card reader will ensure a more Covid-secure environment for staff and customers.

Bar-specific point-of-sale systems

A full point-of-sale system built specifically with the hospitality industry in mind is also an excellent option. A POS system can provide everything you need to keep things moving on a busy night. Think floor plan optimisation, inventory management and real-time menu updates. A convenient payment system will also keep payments coming through quickly and smoothly.

Understanding Inventory

Once you’ve set up your bar, it’s time to talk to suppliers about ordering inventory.

Suppliers can often be found in trade magazines, but you can also contact local breweries and wholesalers too. Many big-name UK brewers also offer a direct-to-business service. Do some thorough research and find a supplier that suits your business. You can also look for local suppliers – using smaller breweries could give your bar a unique selling point.

Start off by determining what type of alcohol you need. Whether you’ve decided to serve beer, wine, liquor, or a combination of the three, most bars offer several levels of quality in their selection, from house to premium. Think about how your bar fits into the market – is it angled towards craft beer, natural wine and cocktails, or something more traditional?

If you are making a drink that is vodka based, you can offer three different brands of vodka to your customer. You can also apply this to wine - have three different kinds of pinot noir on the menu, so customers have options at different price points.

Next, evaluate your drink menu and create an ingredient list of additional items you need, aside from the alcohol. This gives you a better idea of your inventory’s breadth and where your ingredients overlap.

Now it’s time to think about how much to order. Getting this right can have a big impact on your startup cost. You need to forecast the number of drinks ordered each night for the week and calculate the alcohol and other ingredients that will be used. This may be difficult when you first open, but after the first week you can use your POS analytics to forecast inventory on an ongoing basis.

While it may be tedious, you should keep a close eye on the inventory lifecycle and learn how to improve your inventory at the bar to cut costs and prevent waste.

Identifying your audience

When you’re planning your drink offering, don’t lose sight of your audience. Is it a more savvy clientele who might prefer niche or artisan products, or are you looking for a straightforward offer of tried-and-tested brands?

Think about who you want your audience to be and plan your drinks menu accordingly.

  • Use social media to research your audience and get a handle on trends.

  • Do some market research. Head out to a few bars that you’d like to emulate. Look at what’s working and what isn’t, and who is ordering what.

  • Talk to suppliers about what brands are popular with certain demographics.

  • Read industry news and find out what drinks are trending.

Making Money at Your Bar

With everything laid out, you may begin to wonder how much a bar owner makes. During the establishing stage, money that you make is likely to go right back into running the bar. And that’s okay.

As you begin to build your brand and watch your bar grow in popularity, you start to reap the benefits and see your bar profit. But you can also actively tweak your day-to-day operations to boost your profits:

  • Examine drink costs. It is essential for you to calculate drink prices that are reasonable for customers but keep your bar profitable. To do this, break down the price point of each ingredient in a single drink and total this cost. That means finding the cost per ounce or the cost per garnish of each drink. While it might sound tedious, it gives you a better idea of how much you are actually making. You can then raise or lower your prices appropriately.

  • Value customer service. Customer service is a major determinant for success, especially at your bar. If your bartenders have an aloof attitude, you could be losing money. Make sure you are clear about the type of service you expect when you are training your employees.

  • Improve [upselling]( Upselling can be challenging in a fast-paced environment like a bar, but it is necessary to improve profits. Use a soft upsell approach by mentioning different brands when customers order or showcasing top-shelf liquor at eye level behind the bar. You can also motivate employees to upsell with incentives like additional vacation or gift cards.