Bar, bar Black Sheep
November 7, 2007 3:26 AM   Subscribe

Help me itemise the necessities for opening a small bar.

Let's not concern ourselves with the licensing aspects - I'm interested in logistics - what are the things I need to open a simple, small (<5>Anybody can be a non-drunk. It takes a special talent to be a drunk. It takes endurance. Endurance is more important than truth. Henry Chinaski
posted by strawberryviagra to Food & Drink (8 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Did you miss something off the question? I'm answering this from a British perspective, and I realise I may not be answering the question you asked, but I have some recent first-hand experience of this, and I want to get over how much work is involved.

1) Don't drink. Not even one. That way lies ruin.

2) You'll need two skill-sets - barman and small businessman. Try to get at least some of those skills /before/ you start investing significant money, else your first two years are going to cost you 5 times what you thought.

3) You're going to be drowned in red tape.

4) Think of money sunk into the business in terms of pints of beer. If your profit on a pint is roughly £1, you can say "if I spend £10k redecorating, I'll have to sell an additional 10,000 pints of beer to break even on that investment". A lot of bright ideas don't sound so bright once you've done that calculation

5) Tithe pubs are a mug's game (do you even have them over there?)

6) It will suck every waking hour of your life, and then some

7) Staff steal. If you're taking over an existing business, fire everyone and start afresh. Hand out new till trays at the beginning of each shift. Only one person (preferably you) should have access to the stock room; that person is responsible for the stock. Install CCTV that can see what's happening behind the bar (most common loss: pour 5 drinks for a friend, but only put 2 through the till. You will need to tally the tills against the CCTV at some point).

8) "You'll never realise how many friends you have until you rent a house on the beach". Don't be taken for a mug.

If I sound bitter, that's because I am; it really can be this dispiriting. Think carefully.
posted by Leon at 3:59 AM on November 7, 2007

I've worked in a lot of bars. What Leon says about staff stealing is absolutely true and tends to get worse when the staff are disgruntled and feel like they are being treated unfairly or poorly. It should be a given, but if you treat your staff kindly and with respect, they will be less likely to steal from you. You should also count on spending a lot of time at your bar, supervising and working. I did work at one bar where the staff wouldn't dream of stealing. It was owned by one guy, who worked over 40 hours a week behind the bar himself.

At this bar, the bartenders stashed the empty liquor bottles under the bar, until the end of the night, when they tallied all the empties. This tally was compared to the tickets for the night and also used as a restocking list.
posted by pluckysparrow at 6:37 AM on November 7, 2007

I've got quite a lot of experience in this (owned three bars on three continents, worked in more). Here's my two cents.
1. Pay someone else to do what you are not good at so that you can concentrate on what you are good at. I always hire an accountant and a lawyer to take care of those things so I can concentrate on throwing a good party.
2. Get the happiest, friendliest staff possible. Nobody wants to go out and have to deal with miserable staff. This is maybe the most important thing. I just can't understand why some of the people working in the industry are doing what they do.
3. Red light. Everyone looks better in red light.
4. Music. Don't throw on a CD and when that's done throw on another. Mix it up. Use an Ipod at the minimum, and tailor the music on the fly to the mood of the crowd.
5. Don't spend a ton of money on renovations. Too fancy, people can't relax as much, and if they're not relaxed, they won't spend as much time there. Less time=less drinks sold. Also, you have to think of the return on investment. Will spending $50,000 as opposed to $25,000 really gain you $25,000 more dollars in drinks sold?
6. Opening hours. I hate going to a place and finding it's closed. Be open all the hours that you can. That way, when people are thinking of where to go, they always know your place will be open. That means 7 days a week as well as as many hours in the day as you can. Plus holidays.
7. Get ready to work a lot!. You are the face, everybody wants to know the owner. You create the atmosphere and the vibe just won't be the same if you aren't there.
8. Treat your employees well and they will treat you well. If you have a great night, pay them a little cash in hand. Costs you very little and lets them know they are appreciated.
9. If you even suspect someone is stealing, fire them. Although I've found that employees treated well don't steal, especially if you are there all the time.
10. Remember, you are on stage. Every hour that you are there is a performance. You can't have a "down" day. Plaster on the smile.
11. Drinking - it works for some people, not for others. I never touch a drop, but then I don't in my normal life either. My partner gets drunk and has a good time acting the fool behind the bar. We encourage our employees to have a couple. Loosens everyone up, makes for a better time.
12. Make a special effort to remember everyone's names. It makes a huge difference.
13. Free shots cost you almost nothing and people love them. People do the shot and then buy another drink. Free drinks cost you very little. but the customer then doesn't have to buy a drink and can nurse it forever. I almost never give a free drink, but I give out shots all the time.
14. Don't let anyone run a tab, for any reason, ever. EVER!
15. Get black-out curtains in your bedroom. You're going to become nocturnal, and you'll need you sleep in the daytime.

OK, that was more than two cents. Feel free to email me if this has been helpful and you have other questions! Done right, it's a great life - good money, lots of fun. I've had an office career and this beats it hands down! Good luck!
posted by conifer at 7:17 AM on November 7, 2007 [3 favorites]

I've seen lots of well-intentioned people lose in the restaurant business too. Folks who like to cook/eat/entertain come into some money and think "how hard could this be?". They're usually out of business within 2 years. Mostly for the same reasons Leon listed above.
Working in or operating a business for a few years before you buy it is a good idea if possible. If you can't do that and still want to be in the industry, prepare yourself to live at the business and have absolutely no leisure time for several years. Really, really for real.

But to itemize your necessities:
1) Money, lots of it.
2) Time, even more of that.
3) A reduced romanticism about Bukowski. You may find this part easy after the first time you have to swab out the men's room early one Saturday am.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 7:23 AM on November 7, 2007

I've worked in a lot of bars. What Leon says about staff stealing is absolutely true and tends to get worse when the staff are disgruntled and feel like they are being treated unfairly or poorly.

One of those small business skills is management - if you can't lead a team, the whole place will go dysfunctional very quickly. Not a pretty sight.
posted by Leon at 8:06 AM on November 7, 2007

the basic necessities: Dartboards, TV's, good tunes, clean bathrooms, touch screen games for the bar and maybe bathroom?
posted by doorsfan at 8:19 AM on November 7, 2007

In my humble opinion, a good bar never contains a television. If there's one thing totally guaranteed to kill an atmosphere, it's that. The people in the bar should be the focus, not the TV. Nobody ever became a repeat customer because a bar has good shows on the idiot-box.
posted by conifer at 10:51 AM on November 7, 2007

I'm gonna take you very literally on logistics, so this is what I'd guess you'd need to get up and running.

If you're in the US, get a membership with a Sam's Club or similar type bulk retailer - all your janitorial supplies, glassware, cigs, etc. can be gotten that way.

Line up a supplier of fresh produce (limes, olives, lemons) who can deliver daily.

You'll need coolers, taps, a safe, a register and an adding machine. Throw in a small toolbox for good measure.

You'll want a credit card terminal and some leather/vinyl bank bags. Coin and bill wraps. Find a 24/7 locksmith and put their sticker on your door. A flashlight. 2nd phone line for the card terminal.

pluckysparrow has a good point on liquor inventory. If you use a ruler to keep track of the liquor in bottles, it'll get watered down quickly.

Employee underrings can be managed (sometimes) by allowing a certain number of comps per shift or week - but stress that they're primarily for regulars who bring people (i.e., business) with them.

You'll need to make a regular habit of wandering in to the competition - scope out changes in prices, specials, etc. Get to know other owners - depending on your location you may have to make common cause with them w/r/t municipal rules and codes.

If you manage to attract a regular crowd, get to know them. If any of them have skills you need (electrician, plumber, etc.) consider bartering with them if you have a job that needs doing - it can save you money, and regulars love to feel like they're on the team.

Also, tell your bartenders and other staff not to do any fucking drugs on the premises or during a shift, and not to show up wasted. They can do all that shit after they get off work.
posted by trondant at 11:07 AM on November 7, 2007

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