Opening a bar | The ultimate checklist for success

Lachlan Ross | December 10, 2021

So, you’re ready to take the plunge and decided opening a bar is what you want to do? Amazing!

Whether you dream of starting a wine bar or a casual pub, it’s a massive commitment and it’s natural to feel overwhelmed (or terrified). How to even begin? What if you forget something important? This comprehensive checklist guides you every step of the way, from early concept testing to pouring your first drink.

Read through the detail to learn how to start a bar so you can tick the tasks off as you go. All the best!

Bar opening checklist

  1. Get your ducks in a row – business planning, research & finances
  2. Choose the perfect location
  3. Apply for licences, permits and insurance
  4. Establish your bar brand
  5. Develop your menu
  6. Create your bar marketing plan
  7. Select your vendors and start buying
  8. Get your team in place
  9. Open your bar!

1. Get your ducks in a row – business planning, research & finances

Opening a bar is an exciting (but stressful) time. Being well prepared is essential. You’ll be investing a lot of time and money, so it’s worth spending time planning to give your bar the best chance of success.

Make sure owning a bar is right for you

First things first…are you cut out for this? Take our quiz to see if you’ve got the right skills and personality traits. 

  1. Are you a people person? 
  2. Do you handle stress well? 
  3. Can you multi-task? 
  4. Are you creative?
  5. Are you a good delegator (and not a control freak)? 
  6. Do you have good financial management skills? 
  7. Do you have hospitality industry experience? 
  8. Are you a good planner?
  9. Can you solve problems on your feet?
  10. Are you a social butterfly at heart?

If you answered yes to most of these questions, it looks like you’re a good fit for running your own bar. And you can always hire people to fill in the skills gaps when recruiting your team.

Brainstorm bar concepts

Now’s the time to cultivate your vision. Don’t try to be everything to everyone. Choose a well-defined theme to build an identity that stands out and keeps your patrons coming back for one more pint. Ask yourself:

  1. What will make your bar unique? Will you hold wine appreciation classes or brew your own beer? Or have a different cocktail every night?
  2. How will you be better than the competition? Hospitality is a cut-throat industry, and you need to stand out.
  3. Are you offering something people in the area want? A cozy pub? An upmarket wine bar? A moody whiskey den?
  4. What kind of food will you offer? Full meals, simple bar fare or just salty snacks?
  5. What kind of atmosphere are you looking to create? Will you have live music? What’s your general soundscape?

Do market research

You need to do your due diligence to understand the market and decide if your bar concept is a good fit. Try these research strategies:

  1. Do a Google search to see who the competition is and check their Google and Trip Advisor reviews to see what customers think of them
  2. Use Google’s free keyword planner  to check the demand for various styles of bars in different areas
  3. Visit bars in the area (keeping your alcohol consumption in check!) to assess the competition. Talk to people and ask them what’s missing in the neighborhood

Write a business plan

Your bar business plan is your road map. It helps you envision each aspect of your business and make sure you’ve considered everything. It describes your proposed bar concept, details the market and showcases expected financials. It’s both the most challenging and important part of opening a bar.

Get funding

Now that you’ve chosen a concept and have a business plan that charts the road to success, it’s time to face facts – opening a bar is not cheap. You might be lucky enough to have the necessary funds, but if not, there are plenty of bar funding options available.

2. Choose the perfect location

Your bar’s location is key to its success. Location drives foot traffic and determines the demographics of your potential customers. Thoroughly research different areas to check there’s a match with your bar concept. 

Do your research

  1. Who are your customers? Sophisticated city workers? Make sure there are offices within walking distance. Students? Be close to a university
  2. Who are the competitors? Joining a bustling bar precinct can be good if you’re confident your concept will stand out. A secret bar down a hidden laneway can work too if you market it well
  3. What else is in the area and how can you capitalize on the surroundings?
  4. Is there public transport, good road access and plenty of parking?
  5. How busy is the area? Are other businesses well patronized?
  6. Are there population growth figures available from the local municipality?
  7. Are there noise restrictions or late-night curfews?

Lease or buy premises

Once you’ve decided on your location, you’ll need to decide whether to lease or buy. 

  1. Inspect lots of options to learn about pricing and availability
  2. A busy location in a wealthy suburb may cost more, but the returns can be significant. Consider the passing traffic, and install bright signage to grab their attention and boost sales
  3. Negotiate hard so you get the best deal
  4. Before you sign anything, seek financial and legal advice
  5. Just remember, if the lease or sale price looks too good to be true, it probably is

3. Apply for licenses, permits and insurance

There are lots of rules and regulations in the hospitality industry. Do your research to ensure you don’t miss anything as laws vary across municipalities, states and countries. Some applications take a long time, so get cracking well ahead of your planned opening day. Here’s a list to get you started: 

  • Licenses: business, food service, liquor license, music
  • Permits: food handlers, signage permits
  • Insurances: public liability, property, workers compensation

4. Establish your bar’s brand

Branding your bar goes far deeper than choosing a name and designing a logo. It’s about carefully curating an image for your bar that differentiates you from your competition and connects with your customers. Good branding gets you noticed, builds loyalty and increases sales.

Document your unique brand position

With your vision, mission and target audience in mind, clearly define what it is that you’ll do better than anyone else. Think about the personality you want for your bar and how you want people to feel about it.

Choose a bar name

Naming your new bar can be tricky. Do some brainstorming or get help from a branding agency if you have the budget. Ideally, choose something that has a connection with your bar concept, is easy to spell and say, and stands out from the competition. Make sure the website url is available and that you don’t use an existing trademark. Pick something that will stand the test of time.

Develop your visual identity

It’s time to get creative and design your logo, fonts and color scheme. Depending on your budget, choose a low-cost option through sites like Fiverr, or seek support from a brand design agency.

Design the interior and exterior

Work with engineers, architects and interior designers to design the interior and exterior of your bar. Will you go elegant, formal or casual? In bars, style is everything. Your guests also expect short wait times and fast service. Once you’ve completed the design, submit the drawings to your local authority for approval.

Install signs so people know you’ll be opening soon

As soon as you can, put up signage. Digital bar signage works best because the eye-catching graphics and animations grab the attention of passers-by. You can update your messaging remotely in minutes and display a countdown to opening night to build excitement for your launch.

5. Develop your menu

Your drink and food menus are your bar’s most critical asset. Now that you’ve nailed your brand, you can put your menus together. 

Create your menu

You’ll have a basic idea of the food and drinks you want to offer, now is the time to work through the detail. Your menu should reflect your bar theme. Craft beer and burgers? Fancy cocktails and share plates? Wines paired with charcuterie boards? Work with potential vendors to work out a cost formula so you can price profitably.

Design your menus

You’ll need to consider color, fonts and engaging descriptions. Technology like online ordering and digital signage makes paper menus a thing of the past. Bars that use digital signage report their daily sales increased by 30%. Anyone in the business can easily create digital menu boards using drag and drop signage templates. You can update instantly as availability changes. Display mouth-watering imagery to entice customers to your more profitable lines. 

opening a bar

6. Create your bar marketing plan

Your bar marketing plan details your target audience and how you’ll reach them. It helps you be more organized and successful with your marketing strategies. Set a budget and plan for:

  • Advertising: online, social media and newspaper advertising
  • Promotions: schedule happy hour specials, 2 for 1 deals and loyalty discounts
  • Events: schedule the grand opening event, kids eat free Fridays and live music

Make sure you take advantage of the power of digital marketing. 

  • Website: A website that shows your menu, opening hours and reviews at a minimum is essential. A whopping 93% of customers look at a menu online before dining out. There are DIY options for website building, or you can outsource
  • Social media: Customers expect to communicate with you via social media and it’s a fantastic way to reach more customers. Target the platforms your customers use, and if you’re not sure, set up Instagram and Facebook at a minimum. Images and videos work best for engagement. Ask your customers to follow your page to access exclusive updates and discounts.
  • Reviews: a massive 94% of people read online reviews before dining out. Set up your accounts on Google My Business, TripAdvisor and Yelp so that you can keep track and respond to reviews

7. Select your vendors and start buying

You’ll need lots of equipment for opening a bar. Cocktail shakers, ice machines, spirit measures, blenders, alcohol, food, furniture, cookware…the list goes on. Not to mention cleaners, security, and whatever else your bar needs. You’ll need to choose all your vendors carefully. Interview them as if you were hiring a staff member and generate some healthy competition for your custom. Choose your alcohol supplier carefully – your reputation will live or die on the quality of your drinks.

It’s worth exploring and investing in bar technology. Innovative solutions like reservation software, POS, digital signage, online ordering and food delivery platforms have transformed bar businesses for the better. They streamline operations, enhance the customer experience and boost profits.

8. Get your team in place

Successful bars need to find and keep the best staff. Attitude is more important than experience. Having skills in customer service, drink service and cash handling is a bonus, but you can teach these skills. Look for staff that connect to the bar’s culture, are reliable, punctual and great team players.

Advertise and hire staff

Advertise everywhere. Digital channels like job websites and social media platforms will give you a big pool of applicants but don’t forget to use offline techniques. Job ads on your exterior digital signage could find great candidates who would value the chance to work locally.

Train your team

You’ll need to train your team to ensure they are safe at work and comply with all relevant food and beverage handling protocols. Check with local authorities for mandatory training requirements.

You’ll also need to make sure they know the ropes for cleaning, payments and customer service. Plan a training session at the bar to bring their learning to life. You can demonstrate your expected behaviors and use your digital signage to deliver engaging training that enhances culture.

9. Open your bar!

After months (or years!) of planning, the time for opening a bar of your own is finally here. 

Have a soft launch

A trial run with friends and family is a terrific way to give your staff, menu and workflows a test run. You can iron out any kinks before opening to the public. 

Have the grand opening

With a successful soft launch behind you, your team knows the drill and your venue looks impeccable. It’s time for the grand opening. 

Promote your opening night heavily on your window signage and social media channels. You want your bar to be buzzing! Instagram and Facebook offer demographic targeting so you can reach your target audience. Offer discounts and specials and invite prominent local influencers for a complimentary drink in return for some love on their social media channels. 

Cheers to your success!

Opening a bar isn’t easy, but it’s extremely rewarding. You get to be your own boss, provide for your family and meet lots of new people in the community. Follow these steps to establish a thriving business and establish a career that allows you to share your passion for one of life’s ultimate pleasures – a nice cold beverage with great company. 

Lachlan Ross

Lachlan Ross

I’m a SAAS-focused marketer with 10+ years of experience who likes to think I’ve got a way with words - thanks for stopping by and checking out this blog.

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