Starting a Bar Business: How to Open a Bar

A business lawyer’s step by step instructions for starting a bar business and things you must do before opening the bar such as obtaining insurance.

By Brad Nakase, Attorney

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Opening a bar can be a gratifying and fulfilling business venture. Starting a bar is not for everyone because of the high startup costs, long work hours, and competition with many other bars. By opening a bar that embodies your vision and passion, you have the power to craft a unique atmosphere that leaves a lasting impression on your patrons. Understanding how to open a bar is just the beginning of your exciting business endeavors.

Imagine the joy of being the catalyst for friendships, celebrations, and unforgettable nights. Your bar can become a hub for the community, a place where locals and visitors alike can gather and connect over a shared love for good drinks, great conversations, and vibrant entertainment.

Running a bar offers an opportunity to express your creativity through designing the space, curating a diverse selection of beverages, and developing innovative signature cocktails that become the talk of the town. The ambiance you create can transport people to another world, providing an escape from their everyday lives.

Beyond the creative aspect, opening a bar allows you to become an entrepreneur, to shape your own destiny. You will be in charge of building a team, fostering a positive work environment, and developing your employees’ skills. Watching your staff grow and thrive, and witnessing the success of your collective efforts, can be immensely gratifying.

Moreover, the bar industry can be financially rewarding. When managed effectively, a bar can generate steady revenue streams from multiple sources, such as drink sales, food offerings, event hosting, and private parties. With the right marketing strategies and a strong brand, your bar can attract a loyal customer base that keeps coming back for more.

Running a bar also provides a platform to support local breweries, wineries, and distilleries. By showcasing their products and collaborating with them, you contribute to the growth of local businesses and create a sense of community. Perhaps your bar will be the place to go to sample whiskies, for instance.

Remember, opening a bar requires dedication, hard work, and a keen understanding of your target audience. With careful planning, a strong business model, and a relentless drive to provide an exceptional experience, your bar can thrive and become a beacon of hospitality and enjoyment.

So, embrace the excitement, the endless possibilities, and the chance to open a bar where people can let loose and make lasting memories. Your bar can be a catalyst for joy, connection, and celebration. With passion, perseverance, and a commitment to excellence, the journey of opening a bar is sure to be a remarkable adventure.

In this article, our San Diego business attorney discusses how to open a bar business as follows:

How to write a business plan for a bar

The first, crucial step in turning your vision into a reality is writing a business plan. The following is a step-by-step guide to help you create a comprehensive and compelling business plan:

  1. Executive Summary:

Start with a concise overview of your bar concept, listing its unique selling points, target market, and your vision for success. Highlight key points that will grab the reader’s attention and make them want to learn more.

  1. Company Description:

Provide detailed information about your bar, including its legal structure, location, and any licenses or permits required. Describe your brand, atmosphere, and the experience you aim to create for customers. Maybe you are a wine bar for business professionals just getting off work, or maybe you are the top party spot for college students.

  1. Market Analysis:

Be sure to conduct thorough research on your target market, competition, and industry trends. Identify your ideal customers, their preferences, and buying behaviors. Analyze the local market demand and potential growth opportunities.

  1. Organization and Management:

Outline your organizational structure, including key roles and responsibilities. Introduce the management team, their qualifications, and relevant industry experience. Discuss any strategic partnerships or external consultants.

  1. Product and Service Offering:

Detail the beverages and food items you plan to offer, highlighting any unique or signature offerings. Maybe, for example, you have a signature cocktail list. Describe your pricing strategy and menu development process. Explain how you plan to source high-quality ingredients and establish relationships with suppliers.

  1. Marketing and Sales Strategy:

Outline your marketing and advertising plans to attract customers. Define your target audience and segment your market accordingly. Detail your branding strategy, social media presence, promotions, and collaborations with local businesses. Include an overview of your sales projections and strategies for customer retention.

  1. Operational Plan:

Describe the day-to-day operations of your bar, including hours of operation, staffing requirements, and staff training programs. Explain your inventory management process, equipment needs, and technology systems for point-of-sale and reservations.

  1. Financial Projections:

Prepare detailed financial forecasts, including income statements, cash flow projections, and balance sheets. Estimate your start-up costs, ongoing expenses, and projected revenue. Include a break-even analysis and discuss your funding requirements, whether through personal investment, loans, or investors.

  1. Risk Assessment:

Identify potential risks and challenges that could impact your bar’s success. Develop contingency plans for mitigating those risks, such as market fluctuations, regulatory changes, or staffing issues. Demonstrate your ability to adapt and overcome obstacles.

  1. Appendices:

Include any supporting documents that add credibility to your business plan, such as market research data, competitor analysis, permits, licenses, lease agreements, and resumes of key team members.

Remember, a business plan is not set in stone and should be a dynamic document that evolves as your bar progresses. Regularly review and update it to reflect changes in the market, customer feedback, and the growth of your business.

Writing a business plan for your bar demonstrates your commitment and professionalism, helps you secure funding, and provides a roadmap for success. By carefully crafting each section, you will gain a deeper understanding of your business and increase your chances of building a thriving bar.

How to choose the right business structure for a bar

Choosing the right business structure for your bar is crucial, as it affects legal and financial aspects of your business. Here are some common business structures to consider, along with their pros and cons:

  1. Sole Proprietorship:

Pros:

  • Simplest and least expensive business structure to set up.
  • You have complete control over decision-making and operations.
  • Easy tax filing as business income is reported on your personal tax return.

Cons:

  • Personal liability: You are personally responsible for any debts or legal issues incurred by the business.
  • Limited ability to raise capital or attract investors.
  • Lack of separate legal entity status, which may impact credibility and potential growth.
  1. Partnership:

Pros:

  • Shared responsibility and decision-making with one or more partners.
  • Shared financial burden and ability to pool resources
  • Partners can bring complementary skills and expertise to the business.

Cons:

  • Each partner is personally liable for the business’s debts and obligations.
  • Disagreements or conflicts between partners can negatively impact the business.
  • Partnerships may dissolve if a partner leaves or dies, unless there is a partnership agreement in place.
  1. Limited Liability Company (LLC):

Pros:

  • Limited liability: Owners’ personal assets are generally protected from business debts and liabilities.
  • Flexibility in management structure and profit distribution.
  • Pass-through taxation: The LLC’s income is passed through to owners’ personal tax returns.

Cons:

  • More complex and costly to set up compared to sole proprietorship or partnership.
  • Potential for self-employment taxes on owner’s share of profits.
  • State-specific regulations and requirements for forming and maintaining an LLC.
  1. Corporation:

Pros:

  • Limited liability: Shareholders’ personal assets are generally protected from business debts and liabilities.
  • Easier access to capital through the sale of shares or attracting investors.
  • Potential tax benefits, such as deducting certain business expenses.

Cons:

  • More complex and expensive to set up and maintain than other structures.
  • Formal requirements, such as annual meetings and record-keeping.
  • Double taxation: Corporations are subject to corporate income tax, and shareholders also pay taxes on dividends received.
  1. S Corporation:

Pros:

  • Limited liability: Shareholders’ personal assets are generally protected from business debts and liabilities.
  • Pass-through taxation: Profits and losses are passed through to shareholders’ personal tax returns, avoiding double taxation.
  • Potential tax benefits, such as deducting certain business expenses.

Cons:

  • Stricter eligibility criteria and restrictions compared to other structures.
  • Limited number of shareholders (up to 100) and specific types of shareholders.
  • More administrative requirements and formalities than other structures.

When choosing a business structure for your bar, consider factors such as personal liability, tax implications, ease of formation, flexibility, and the potential for future growth and investment.

The importance of liability protection for a bar business

Liability protection is of utmost importance for a bar business due to the inherent risks associated with serving alcohol and operating a public establishment. Bars serve alcoholic beverages, and alcohol consumption can lead to impaired judgment, accidents, and incidents such as fights, property damage, or personal injuries. Liability protection helps shield the business owners’ personal assets from potential lawsuits arising from these incidents.

Because bars are bustling environments, slip and fall accidents can occur due to spills, wet floors, or inadequate lighting. Liability protection helps cover the costs associated with injuries and claims resulting from such accidents, protecting the business from significant financial liability.

Bars may also face product liability claims related to the quality of their beverages or the sanitary conditions in which they are served. If a customer becomes ill due to contaminated or improperly stored alcohol, liability protection can help defend against or cover the costs of these claims.

Importantly, liability protection extends to potential legal issues arising from employment practices, such as allegations of discrimination, harassment, or wrongful termination. These claims can be financially damaging, and having the appropriate liability coverage can help protect the business and its owners from significant financial loss.

Bars often enter into contracts with suppliers, vendors, or service providers. Liability protection can provide coverage in case of disputes, breaches of contract, or other legal issues that may arise from these business relationships.

By establishing liability protection through appropriate business structures like forming an LLC or incorporating, bar owners can help safeguard their personal assets. This separation between personal and business liabilities ensures that any claims or lawsuits are primarily directed at the business entity itself, limiting the potential impact on the owners’ personal finances.

How to trademark a name and logo for a bar

So, you have decided on the perfect name. Great! But before proceeding with the name registration process, it is important to conduct a comprehensive trademark search to ensure your desired name and logo are not already in use by another business in a similar industry. This search helps minimize the risk of potential conflicts or infringement issues.

Not all names and logos are eligible for trademark protection. To be eligible, your name and logo should be distinctive and not generic or descriptive of the products or services offered. They should also not be confusingly similar to existing trademarks.

To begin the trademark registration process, file an application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Complete the trademark application form with accurate and detailed information about your bar, including the name and logo you wish to trademark. Include appropriate examples of how you use the name and logo in commerce. For a bar, this could include photographs of signs, menus, advertisements, or promotional materials displaying the name and logo.

The USPTO requires a filing fee for trademark applications. The fee varies depending on the filing method and the number of classes of goods or services you’re applying for. Check the USPTO website for the most up-to-date fee schedule.

After submitting your application, monitor its progress through the USPTO’s Trademark Status and Document Retrieval (TSDR) system. This system allows you to track any updates, respond to office actions, and address any potential issues that may arise during the examination process.

If the USPTO examiner raises any concerns or issues during the application review, you will receive an office action. Carefully review the office action, address any objections or requirements, and provide a timely and appropriate response to overcome any obstacles.

If your application is approved, and there are no further objections or oppositions, your trademark will be registered. Trademarks must be maintained by filing periodic maintenance documents with the USPTO to keep them active and enforceable.

While it is possible to navigate the trademark registration process independently, it can be complex. Consider consulting with a trademark attorney who specializes in intellectual property to ensure that your application is filed correctly and to increase the chances of a successful registration.

How to get the proper licenses for a bar

Obtaining the proper licenses for a bar business in the United States involves complying with federal, state, and local regulations. While the specific licenses required can vary depending on your location, the following are some common licenses and permits to consider:

  1. Business License:

Get a general business license from your local city or county government. This license allows you to legally operate a business in the specific jurisdiction.

  1. Liquor License:

Apply for a liquor license from the appropriate state agency. The process and requirements for obtaining a liquor license vary by state and may also differ based on the type of alcohol you plan to serve (beer, wine, spirits). Contact your state’s alcoholic beverage control board or department for detailed information.

  1. Food Service License:

If you plan to serve food in your bar, you may need a food service license or permit. This ensures compliance with health and safety regulations related to food preparation, handling, and service. Contact your local health department for specific requirements.

  1. Entertainment License:

If you plan to host live music, DJs, karaoke, or other forms of entertainment, check if you need an entertainment license. Some jurisdictions require additional permits to ensure compliance with noise regulations and other local ordinances.

  1. Outdoor Seating Permit:

If you plan to have outdoor seating or a patio area, you may need a separate permit to comply with zoning regulations, safety requirements, and local ordinances.

  1. Signage Permit:

Check if you need a permit for any signage, such as outdoor signs or illuminated displays. Local regulations often dictate the size, placement, and design of signage.

  1. Employment and Taxation:

Ensure compliance with employment-related regulations, including obtaining an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and registering with state and local tax authorities.

It is crucial to research and understand the specific licensing requirements in your city, county, and state. Contact the appropriate local and state agencies, such as the city clerk’s office, alcoholic beverage control board, health department, and zoning department, for detailed information on the licenses and permits needed for your bar business.

How to select the perfect location for a bar

Choosing the right location for your bar business is crucial for its success. Consider the following important factors.

Personal Style and Branding

Consider the atmosphere and ambiance you want to create for your bar. Choose a location that aligns with your vision and target market. For example, a trendy and upscale bar may be better suited in a bustling urban area, while a neighborhood pub may thrive in a residential area.

Demographics

Analyze the demographics of the area, including age, income levels, and lifestyle preferences. Ensure there is a sufficient population that matches your target market and that they have the disposable income to support your business.

Accessibility and Parking

Evaluate the accessibility of the location for customers. Is it conveniently located near public transportation, major roads, or popular destinations? Additionally, assess the availability and cost of parking. Sufficient parking options or proximity to public parking garages can enhance customer convenience.

Zoning Restrictions

Understand the zoning regulations and restrictions in the area. Check if the location is zoned for commercial use and specifically permits a bar or restaurant. Familiarize yourself with any restrictions on operating hours, noise levels, outdoor seating, or entertainment.

Rent and Utilities Costs

Consider the rental and utility costs associated with the location. Evaluate the affordability and sustainability of the rent based on your business plan and projected revenue. Factor in other expenses such as utilities, insurance, and maintenance costs to ensure they fit within your budget.

Competition and Complementary Businesses

Research the competition in the area. Assess the number and types of existing bars or restaurants and determine if there is room for your establishment. Additionally, consider if there are complementary businesses nearby, such as theaters, sports arenas, or shopping centers, which can attract foot traffic and potential customers.

Growth Potential and Future Development

Evaluate the potential for growth and development in the area. Are there upcoming infrastructure projects, commercial or residential developments, or gentrification trends that could positively impact your bar business? Look for signs of a thriving and evolving community.

Safety and Security

Ensure the location is in a safe and secure neighborhood. Research crime rates, assess lighting and visibility, and consider any security measures you may need to implement.

When choosing a location for your bar business, it is important to balance your personal style and vision with the practical considerations of demographics, accessibility, parking, zoning restrictions, and costs. Conduct thorough market research, visit potential locations in person, and consult with real estate professionals or business advisors to make an informed decision. Remember, a well-chosen location can significantly contribute to the success and profitability of your bar.

How to design a successful bar

Designing your new bar involves careful consideration of various elements to create an appealing and functional space. Here are some key elements to consider when designing your bar:

  1. Layout and Flow:

Plan the layout of your bar to ensure efficient workflow and a smooth customer experience. Consider the placement of the bar counter, seating areas, service stations, restrooms, and entrances/exits. Create designated areas for bartenders, servers, and customers to move comfortably.

  1. Bar Counter and Back Bar:

Design an attractive and functional bar counter. Choose materials that are durable, easy to clean, and visually appealing. Consider the size and shape of the counter, the height of the bar stools, and the placement of amenities like taps, sinks, and refrigeration. Design a visually appealing and well-organized back bar to showcase your selection of beverages, glassware, and bar tools.

  1. Lighting:

Lighting sets the mood and ambiance of your bar. Use a combination of ambient, task, and accent lighting to create a comfortable and inviting atmosphere. Consider the use of dimmable lights to adjust the mood throughout the day or evening. Highlight important areas such as the bar counter, seating areas, and focal points with appropriate lighting.

  1. Seating and Furniture:

Choose seating options that fit your bar’s style and target audience. Consider a mix of bar stools, high-top tables, booths, and lounge seating to accommodate different preferences. Ensure the furniture is comfortable, durable, and well-maintained.

  1. Decor and Theme:

Create a cohesive and engaging theme or decor for your bar that aligns with your target market and branding. Consider the use of colors, textures, artwork, signage, and branding elements to create a unique and memorable atmosphere.

  1. Sound and Music:

Pay attention to the acoustics of your bar. Incorporate soundproofing materials or design elements to control noise levels and create a pleasant environment. Install a sound system to play background music at an appropriate volume, and consider if you want to offer live music or entertainment.

  1. Restrooms:

Design clean, well-maintained, and easily accessible restroom facilities. Ensure they are properly equipped with adequate fixtures, mirrors, hand dryers or towels, and sufficient ventilation.

  1. Storage and Service Areas:

Allocate sufficient space for storage, including liquor storage, glassware, supplies, and inventory. Designate service areas for staff to efficiently prepare and serve drinks.

  1. Accessibility:

Ensure your bar is accessible to all customers, including those with disabilities. Consider wheelchair accessibility, proper ramps, handrails, and accessible restroom facilities.

  1. Outdoor Space:

If applicable, design an outdoor seating or patio area that complements the indoor space. Create an inviting and comfortable environment with appropriate seating, lighting, and landscaping.

Remember to comply with local building codes, health and safety regulations, and fire safety requirements during the design process. Consult with architects, interior designers, and contractors who specialize in bar design to help bring your vision to life.

How to buy and track bar inventory

Purchasing and tracking bar inventory is essential for effectively managing your bar business.  Choose an inventory management system that suits your needs. This can be a manual system using spreadsheets or an automated software solution specifically designed for bar inventory management.

Set par levels for each product in your inventory. Par levels represent the minimum quantity of each item you should have on hand at all times. Establish stocking guidelines to determine how much inventory to order when quantities fall below par levels.

Research and select reputable suppliers for your bar inventory. Consider factors such as pricing, product quality, reliability, and delivery schedules. Build relationships with your suppliers to ensure consistent and timely deliveries.

When it’s time to restock inventory, create purchase orders based on your stocking guidelines. Include the product name, quantity, unit price, and supplier information on each purchase order. When inventory deliveries arrive, inspect the products to ensure they meet your quality standards and match the quantities and specifications listed on the purchase order. Resolve any discrepancies with the supplier promptly.

Be sure to pdate your inventory records to reflect the new stock. You will need to adjust the quantities on hand for each item based on the received deliveries.

Regularly monitor the usage and sales of each item. Record the quantity of each item used in the bar’s operations and compare it to the sales to calculate your usage rate. This will help identify any discrepancies, losses, or potential theft.

Perform regular physical inventory counts to reconcile the recorded inventory levels with the actual quantities on hand. This helps identify any variances or discrepancies and ensures the accuracy of your inventory records.

Follow the “first in, first out” (FIFO) method for inventory rotation. Use the oldest stock first to prevent spoilage or expiration. This method helps maintain the freshness and quality of your inventory.

Use your inventory management system or spreadsheets to generate reports that provide insights into your inventory levels, usage, and trends. Analyze these reports to identify slow-moving items, high-selling products, or areas for cost reduction.

To prevent theft or misuse of inventory, implement strict control measures. This includes securing storage areas, limiting access to inventory, and implementing monitoring systems such as surveillance cameras or staff accountability procedures.

Make sure to review your inventory management processes and make adjustments as needed. Assess the performance of your suppliers, identify areas for improvement, and update par levels based on demand fluctuations.

Investing in a POS system

A Point of Sale (POS) system for a bar business is a software and hardware solution that streamlines the transactional and operational processes within your bar. Let’s look at some of the major features and functionalities of a POS system specifically tailored for bars:

  1. Handheld Devices:

A bar POS system often includes handheld devices, such as tablets or smartphones, that allow servers or bartenders to take orders and process payments directly at the table. This enhances efficiency and improves customer service by reducing the time spent walking back and forth to a stationary terminal.

  1. Time-Based Pricing:

A bar POS system enables time-based pricing, allowing you to set different prices for specific time periods or happy hours. You can program the system to automatically adjust prices during designated times, facilitating easy management of promotions and maximizing revenue during peak hours.

  1. Pre-Authorization:

To secure a tab or open a tab for customers, a bar POS system can pre-authorize credit cards. This functionality ensures that a credit card is valid and has sufficient funds before starting a tab. It helps prevent fraudulent transactions or customers leaving without paying.

  1. Moving and Splitting the Check:

A bar POS system simplifies the process of moving and splitting the check among multiple customers. It allows servers to transfer items from one table to another seamlessly. Splitting the check can be easily done by dividing items, allocating specific amounts to each customer, or splitting evenly among the group.

  1. Intuitive Drink Management:

A bar POS system typically includes a comprehensive drink management feature that allows you to create a digital drink menu with detailed descriptions and pricing. It simplifies the process of entering drink orders and tracks inventory in real-time, helping you manage stock levels and avoid out-of-stock situations. It may also have a recipe management function to ensure consistent drink preparation.

  1. Inventory Management:

A bar POS system can integrate with your inventory management processes. It tracks the quantities of each beverage or ingredient used in drinks, automatically updating inventory levels as orders are processed. This enables accurate tracking of stock, identifies popular items, and assists in managing purchasing and reordering.

  1. Reporting and Analytics:

A bar POS system generates detailed reports and analytics to provide insights into your bar’s performance. These reports can include sales trends, top-selling items, staff performance, inventory usage, and more. Analyzing this data helps you make informed decisions, optimize operations, and identify areas for improvement.

  1. Integration with Accounting and Other Systems:

Many bar POS systems offer integration capabilities with accounting software, payroll systems, or other business management systems. This allows for streamlined financial reporting, simplified bookkeeping, and more efficient overall business operations.

How to hire the best bar staff

When hiring bar staff for your establishment, look for candidates with relevant experience in the bar industry. Prior experience in bartending, customer service, or working in similar establishments can provide a strong foundation. Assess their skills in mixology, drink preparation, customer engagement, and handling cash transactions.

Further, the right personality and attitude are crucial for creating a positive and welcoming atmosphere in your bar. Seek individuals who are friendly, outgoing, and possess excellent communication skills. Look for candidates who can handle high-pressure situations with calmness and professionalism.

A strong focus on customer service is vital for bar staff. Prioritize candidates who demonstrate a genuine interest in providing exceptional customer experiences. They should be attentive, personable, and able to handle customer inquiries, complaints, and requests with tact and efficiency.

Of course, you should ensure candidates have a solid understanding of different types of alcoholic beverages, including spirits, beer, wine, and cocktails. They should be familiar with popular drink recipes, be able to make recommendations, and possess the ability to create unique and innovative drinks.

Working in a busy bar often requires multitasking and handling multiple orders simultaneously. Look for candidates who can manage their time effectively, remain organized, and prioritize tasks in a fast-paced environment.

Reliable and dependable staff members are crucial for the smooth operation of your bar. Seek individuals who are punctual, responsible, and committed to their work. Assess their work history for indications of dependability. Because bars rely on a collaborative team effort to deliver excellent service, look for candidates who work well in a team environment, can communicate effectively with colleagues, and demonstrate a willingness to support and assist others when needed.

Ensure that potential hires meet all legal requirements to work in a bar, such as being of legal drinking age and possessing the necessary certifications or permits mandated by local liquor laws.

When hiring bar staff, it is beneficial to conduct thorough interviews, skills assessments, and trial shifts to observe candidates in action. Providing comprehensive training and offering opportunities for career growth can also contribute to retaining talented and dedicated bar staff.

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