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Sarah Ward

How to Open A Bar: 5 Essential Lists & Resources to Use

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Anyone looking into how to open a bar probably has an image in their mind of a well-established, local favorite spot. But how do you get to that well-loved location? Well, through opening up your bar! The process of how to open a bar isn't as easy as pouring a few drinks and putting out pretzels, but with this guide, it's easier than you might think. From bar equipment layout tips, to the cost to open a bar (see bar manager salary), to how to take liquor inventory, to liquor license information, to crafting a bar version of a restaurant profit and loss statement, to how to make a cocktail with rum, we've got you covered.

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Opening a Bar Business Plan

When it comes to how to open a bar, you'll need to start with a business plan. While there are many common aspects to writing a business plan, an opening a bar business plan will have many bar-specific qualities. The overall goal of a business plan is to help you prepare and show you where you'll need to work the hardest. These bar-specific spots will be especially important as you answer the question: what do you need to open a bar? 

You might also consider doing a SWOT analysis to learn about your competition and potential gaps in the market you could fill. Check out a bar or restaurant swot analysis example to give you some ideas about what to research.

Your business plan on how to open a bar will need to include:

  • Your company and concept description, as a base for the plan.
  • An analysis of the market and your competitors to see what you're up against.
  • Your service and product line, to show what you'll offer and where you'll find profit.
  • A management structure and overall system to fill the gaps and find your team.
  • Your financial analysis and projections to see how your finances will shake out.
  • Your executive summary, to sum it all up and know where your plan stands.

As you're writing up your plan, something important to figure out is what type of legal establishment you want. Whether it's an LLC, a partnership, or something else, you'll need to know. 

The specifics of your plan on how to open a bar are:

  • Figuring out liquor licensing costs.
  • Sourcing beverages and related supplies.
  • Evaluating the market to promote your bar.

Legal Requirements for Opening a Bar

The main thing you need to know for bar-specific legal purposes is how to get a liquor license. Of course, depending on where you're opening your bar, this could be nearly impossible. However, there are options out there, and learning all about them before buying your first row of whiskey will help.

The License Specifics

The main thing you need to prepare for about the license is the cost. It can vary from state to state, and you might not be able to buy one immediately, depending on your location. In many places, you'll have to either wait for a bar to close or buy a business with an active license. 

Beyond the cost of the license, it's important to know which type you'll need. What you need may vary, but the general types are:

  • Beer and wine license (no spirits).
  • Tavern liquor license (food sales, but more liquor revenue).
  • Restaurant or liquor license (most common, covers everything).
  • Brewpub liquor license (for places that manufacture their own to sell).
  • Server license (required for each server in some states).

Beyond Bar Specifics

You'll also face the costs of covering potential issues and working out your worker and customer safety responsibilities around liquor. You'll need a plan for all scenarios, including sexual harassment, violence, and injuries. You'll also need safety plans for any potential situations. 

Licenses to play music in the background, health and safety compliance plans, and a property permit will also come in handy.

Depending on location and what your bar will be, this won't all apply to you, but they're all important to understand. It will be very beneficial to get a lawyer with bar experience to make sure you're checking all the boxes. 

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Opening a Bar Checklist

So, your checklist on how to open a bar stands as follows:

  • Write up your business plan.
  • Choose your name and logo, and look into trademarks.
  • Get your licensing squared away.
  • Choose your spot (licensing issues may influence this choice).
  • For the fun stuff, design your bar.
  • To make some money with your bar business, figure out your point of sale system.

Best Books for Starting a Bar

With all that in mind, having a written resource you can keep on hand is a good place to start. Some of the best bar books are:

  • Raise The Bar by Jon Taffer
  • Straight Up by Ramona Pettygrave Shah
  • Restaurant Success by the Numbers, Second Edition by Roger Fields
  • Running A Bar For Dummies by Heather Dismore
  • How To Open A Bar by Simon Pasco
  • The Essential Bar Book: An A-To-Z Guide to Spirits, Cocktails, and Wine, with 115 Recipes for the World's Great Drinks by Jennifer Fiedler
  • The Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique by Jeffrey Morgenthaler

These books range all across your bar opening needs. Having these resources on hand will give you a solid foundation for your opening a bar checklist.

Overall, the best bar books are the ones that give you the most support throughout your whole bar-owning experience. 

Frequently Asked Questions About How to Open a Bar

Opening a bar is a long, ongoing process. There will always be more to learn, from opening up to keeping your bar running strong. You’ll also find changes you should make years down the road, as you learn more about bar businesses and what works best for you. These frequently asked questions will get you started.

How Do I Start a Bar With No Money?

If you’re starting out without any money, your best options are investors and crowdfunding. These options will look different for everyone. Maybe your investors are friends and family. Maybe you’re crowdfunding with a group of like-minded individuals. There’s a lot of work that goes into investing and crowdfunding, no matter how you go about it. 

How Profitable is a Wine Bar?

A wine bar typically turns a profit of between 7% and 10%. Overall, this is pretty good. Of course, wine bar owners can increase these profits through clever marketing, calculating pour costs, and constantly seeking out new ways to bring in customers. 

Why Do Bars Fail?

Bars can fail for reasons ranging from a poor customer base to a lack of inventory on a regular basis to poor customer service. Sometimes bars fail because it just wasn’t the right time to open a bar. There’s no scientific reason behind bar failure. If you want to avoid it, the only thing you can do is, well, every best bar practice, and hope for the best.

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How to Open a Bar: Opening the Doors

So, you've got your licensing in order, you've stocked the bar, your staff is eager to start pouring, what's next? Once it's time for opening a bar, you'll have all this knowledge, resources to review, and legal checklists to fulfill. Therefore, you'll be able to fall back on that information whenever you're unsure. You can even collect it all in a bar operations manual.

Even as you're checking your lists and reviewing your resources, don't forget to enjoy this because you've opened your very own bar! This article has taught you how to open a bar, but only you can enjoy making your bar all your own (maybe you're opening an eco friendly restaurant or bar). As you get started, be sure to come on back to BinWise, and make use of our barcode scanner app for inventory.

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