Opening a new bar requires grit and determination - as well as a fantastic bar business plan to act as your roadmap. This document can determine the future success of your new venture, so it’s essential to make it as comprehensive as possible.
But for first-time bar owners, figuring out where to start can be challenging. Our step-by-step guide to writing a business plan will help you pinpoint the finer details to consider when building a thriving bar business.
How to Write a Bar Business Plan in 9 Steps
1. Bar Overview
The first step in writing a bar business plan is to establish an overview of the type of bar you want to open. You need a concept and location to shape your business model and create an executive summary for your new venture:
One of the defining aspects of your establishment is its concept and theme, which you’ll need to describe clearly in your business plan. Whether it’s a simple sports bar, speakeasy, or high-end nightclub, have a fully developed idea of what your venue will be and what purpose it will serve.
You also need to consider how to meet market needs. If you’re following trending concepts, you’ll know that roof-top bars and lounges are popular now. Or, perhaps you want your venue to be an activity-based bar that offers an art gallery, board games, or mini-golf?
Part of your business plan also includes setting your mission statement and goals. These should outline your vision and will influence who invests in your bar. Your mission statement should be a comprehensive statement that details what sets you apart from other bars and should include your company’s values.
It’s important to link your statement to your business concept. You should consider how your values and goals are influenced by what makes your bar unique - including your overall purpose.
Next, you need to propose a location for your bar. Venues close to stores, shopping, centers, and tourist attractions, typically get good visibility and attract a lot of foot traffic. Because of the number of people moving through these areas daily, they also usually offer a decent level of security for your customers.
Another consideration for location is to avoid suburban areas where neighbors might lodge noise complaints. Should this happen, it can mean regulations stipulate earlier closing times for your venue so as not to disturb the peace.
Finally, look for a space where there’s low competition, and your business can shine. There are plenty of strips crowded with bars and nightclubs. While these might attract a decent amount of foot traffic, you’ll need to work much harder to draw people into your place if one establishment has already made a name for itself.
For this reason, aim to secure a spot with little competition. It could mean having a unique concept bar that overshadows the competition. Or it could mean selecting a space where your type of bar doesn’t yet exist.
Ease of Accessibility
Potential customers need to be able to access your bar easily, or they will go elsewhere. They might drive, take public transport, or use a ridesharing company to travel to your venue. It’s up to you to ensure there are ways and means to get them conveniently to the front door.
Here, you should be looking for a venue where you can offer parking to your patrons. It should also be accessible to ride-hailing services and close to public transport.
2. Customer Overview
No bar establishment would be successful without its customers. As part of your bar business plan, include a profile of the type of customer you hope to attract. Consider who your target market is and how it aligns with your bar concept.
You should also outline your demographic's age, income, and interests. You’ll need this information later when developing marketing strategies for your business.
3. Management Overview
The next step in your bar business plan is building a team structure. Your crafty bar concept requires talented people to execute it properly.
Your bartenders are the face of your establishment. Essentially, they can make or break your customer’s impression of your venue. When going through the hiring process, you’ll need to consider each individual’s personality, qualifications, experience, and skills.
Ideally, you want at least one experienced bartender who knows the ropes and can help set up operations, deal with bar management, and train the team. They will also be able to help streamline any teething issues that come up as a result of starting a new business.
From the get-go, outline your bartending teams’ possible responsibilities and the duties they’ll need to undertake. This can help set expectations ahead of advertising jobs and interviewing potential candidates.
Bar-backs don’t need as much experience as bartenders or servers as they aren’t in the customer eye as much. But they must be willing and eager to learn. They are essential to keeping everything running smoothly and work closely with the bartender as an assistant.
For this reason, they need a solid foundational knowledge of the industry, ingredients, and barware in general.
Depending on your business concept and operational model, you may or may not need to employ servers. Some high-end venues have servers to reduce the crowd around the bar and deliver drinks to the table. Additionally, you’ll need to hire servers if you offer any food.
When building out your staffing plan, you’ll need to determine where your establishment lands with that requirement. Make a note here to look for bar industry candidates with alcohol training who know how to serve alcohol safely and legally.
4. Drinks Menu Plan
Your drinks menu is your bar’s product. To be successful, it’s essential to get this offering right.
While your beverage list will undoubtedly change over time, don’t neglect to include a sample menu in your business plan. This will give potential investors an idea of what’s in store and possibly help you secure funding.
Your drinks menu is the selling point of your bar business and the star of the show. If you can excite and entice patrons with promises of wonderful flavors, you’ll be onto a gold mine.
So, it’s important to include product descriptions in your menu, particularly for signature drinks. Each listing should detail the ingredients of individual drinks, any garnishes they may come with, and add-ons your customers can choose from.
A successful bar is only as strong as its product. So, aligning your drinks with your bar’s brand and concept is important. Get together with a mixologist to create one or several signature drinks that will be uniquely your own. Give these drinks names that play to the overall theme of your business.
Many establishments lean on particular products as their claim to fame. For example, you might want to be known as a French wine bistro, local brewery, or craft cocktail spot. Decide what you wish your unique story to be and reflect this in your plan for product sourcing.
Of course, sourcing locally is the most sustainable way to go. You can also build relationships with vendors in your community, which can help bring people into your venue.
It’s essential to do your research and stay abreast of industry trends. Note what these are in your business plan, as this will help keep customers walking through your doors.
For example, one of the most popular cocktail trends in the bar scene is smoke-infused or smoked cocktails. Some mixologists may also use smoke bubbles to infuse the cocktail with a smoky aroma. This trend has gained fame in the last few years and adds a new twist to the cocktail-drinking experience.
Small Food Menu (Small Bites)
Food and beverages go hand in hand. If you plan a small menu with, say, tapas or easy eats, you can increase your revenue. It will prevent your guests from leaving to find something to eat.
Suppose you don’t want the hassle of food storage and preparation. In that case, consider formulating a partnership with a local eatery or small food business that can deliver a menu of select freshly-made items to your establishment.
It’s key to plan out your business licenses carefully. If you don’t have the right ones in place, you won’t be able to operate.
When putting together your bar business plan, it’s important to research whether you need a tavern license. It’s a government-issued license for restaurants, bars, or businesses with more than 50% liquor sales.
Beer and Wine License
If you’re planning on starting a beerhouse or wine lounge, you may only need to apply for a beer and wine license. This will restrict your sales to wine and malt beverages, as you won’t be able to sell hard liquors like spirits. Whether you need to apply for this license depends on your bar's concept.
Health/Food Service License
With a small food menu, you’ll likely need to note on your restaurant and bar business plan to apply for a food service license. It’s a requirement to serve any type of food within your establishment. To obtain a food service license, you’ll need to ensure that your bar follows strict rules and regulations laid out by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Music is one of the key elements of creating ambiance in a venue. But did you know that streaming music from your digital subscription with Spotify or Deezer is not actually operating within the law? This is true even if you’re playing music through a TV or radio.
The right way to go about this is to pay a Performance Rights Organization (PRO) or music service that will send royalties to the relevant artists. For the most part, this doesn’t apply to bands or performers who play live at your venue.
6. Market Research
Performing market research as part of your bar business plan is key to understanding your opportunities and how to capitalize on them.
Part of your research should be to determine the market size you can potentially snag. Look at other bars already operating in the area, consider the industry as a whole, and determine what trends are driving it forward.
What needs will your bar solve for your target market? You can find out who they are and what they want by considering the local neighborhood and bar type.
It’s also an idea to look at census data to see how many potential customers within a certain demographic live within a reachable radius of your proposed location.
Market Share and Price Point
When doing your market analysis, consider similar bar businesses that have come before you. What do their successes and failures look like? Why did they crash and burn, or soar to new heights? Take these lessons and figure out how to apply them so your business can succeed.
Furthermore, what will your entry into the market mean for the local community? Are you creating new job opportunities? Or are you going to bring in an unruly crowd of patrons they hope to avoid? Knowing this information will help you be accepted and create connections rather than catastrophes.
Lastly, consider what your ‘competitors’ or other similar industry businesses are charging for their drinks and services. Run a competitive analysis in the area to determine your potential price point and how you can stand out.
7. Bar Marketing
Utilizing a marketing plan in the right way helps you take measured steps to get your establishment in front of potential customers. Here are the strategies to get started:
Create a Brand
The key to starting a successful business - and keeping it open - is to create a memorable brand identity. Your toolbox for promoting your brand should include your logo, colors, and ‘personality.’ Use these in a way that becomes synonymous with your bar, no matter where people interact with it.
Besides developing your brand identity, consider the channels you can market on to attract customers. At the very least, it should include your social channels, website, and media influencers.
8. Other Avenues to Increase Revenue
Besides being a bar and welcoming guests who come in with reservations or foot traffic, there are other avenues to increase your revenue.
Hosting events such as karaoke nights, wine tastings, or live music is an excellent way to attract larger crowds to your bar. You are guaranteed certain sales, can charge a cover fee, and get new people walking through the door.
If you go this route, we recommend using event management software to keep everything on track and work effortlessly with your team.
It’s no surprise that all businesses go through an ebb and flow of customer traffic. A great way to increase cash flow during slower periods is to introduce ideas like drink specials and happy hour discounts.
When you’re writing up a business plan, don’t forget to brainstorm ideas for a pre-opening promotion as a way to test the market. This can be as simple as a soft launch or as elaborate as a grand-opening celebration.
An important aspect of your business plan is to outline your potential start-up costs. These, along with the costs of day-to-day business operations, and financial projections, will attract or deter potential investors.
Your business plan should also highlight possible funding options like loans and investment opportunities you have available. Additionally, you’ll need to draw up a break-even analysis to determine how much revenue it will take to turn profits.
Realizing your dream of owning the hottest bar in town starts with a great business plan. It will need to cover everything from your mission statement to your concept and drinks menu. This will help you build a sturdy management team, hire great employees, and attract people to your venue.
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