How to Start a Wine Bar

When you are starting to think about how to at start a wine bar, it is important that you spend a fair amount of time in the planning stages. Learning how to start a wine bar can be more difficult than learning how to start other kinds of bars because wine bars are a much more specific animal than other kinds of drinking establishments.

Unlike when you are considering How to Start a Pub, a wine bar is simply not as amenable in terms of location. You can’t just drop down a wine bar in any neighborhood and make it work by tweaking the décor. You need to have a certain type of wine loving clientele to really make a wine bar work, and this kind of clientele is not everywhere. Not everyone is the perfect target for your wine bar business plan.

So what do you need to do to make sure that your wine bar is successful?

Be a Wine Expert

Owning a wine bar is also different from other kinds of businesses because it requires much more of the owner than just simply knowing the difference between a Merlot and a Pinot Noir and knowing what kind of wine glasses to pour them into. It requires the owner to have a deep love and knowledge of wine culture.

The kind of person who is perfectly suited to owning a wine bar is the person who knows what new wines are hot, which wines are unusual and how to present wines so that the patrons feel as if they are part of an experience. Everything from the look of the wine bar to the way wines are poured play into this, and if any of it is lackluster, a wine bar will fail to connect.

For this reason you must make sure that you are ready to commit fully to the world of wine, before you even begin creating your wine bar business plan.

Location

Part of what you will have to examine carefully is whether the location where you are planning your wine bar is capable of sustaining such an enterprise. If the location already has wine bars or other similar kinds of sophisticated bars (such as martini lounges for example) examine their performance and see if the area will support another similar bar. Visit these establishment on a couple of different nights and take note of the clientele and anything else that may seem relevant.

Unlike pubs and some other kinds of establishments, wine bars are rarely just walk-in kinds of places.

One of the most common places to start a wine bar is near wineries. Some of the most successful wine bars are those associated with a winery such as in Wine Country. This creates a built-in clientele. Wine-bars also tend to do well near arts districts where they can cater to the same kind of sophisticated clientele.

Décor

Gordon Wine Bar in London

Photo Courtesy of Chris Jones (via Flickr)

Traditionally, the wine bar has a simple, sleek décor and is often well-lit. Small wood tables with white table tops, preferably with somewhat of a view. Occasionally you also find wine bars in spaces with faux French décor, making you feel as if you are in the cellars of a vintner or the Catacombs. This can make for a very romantic setting and create a pleasant date spot.

Staffing

One of the difficulties when you are trying to figure out how to start a wine bar, is hiring the right kind of staff. Everyone from bartenders to wait persons are a little bit different for a wine bar. First of all, you tend to have servers rather than bartenders, since in most wine bars there is not much in the way of mixed drinks. Don’t be fooled however, the servers must be every bit as knowledgeable as a bartender.

Owning a wine bar is a little bit like running a college department—you have to find people who are not only pleasant but that can really help your clientele to learn and appreciate wines. They have to present themselves well, be intelligent enough to interact with your clients while also knowing their wines, and they must also be salespeople selling new wines. You will never have every kind of wine so you must make sure that your servers can make suggestions from your clientele’s preferences (for example, “a wine like Merlot but fruitier”).

This can be a tall order for an average server, which means you will have to spend extra time and money finding, training, and retaining your serving staff if you want to be successful. (Be sure to include this consideration in your wine bar business plan.)

Entertainment

Of course, it need not be just about the wines. You can have entertainment. In wine bars it is usually more along the lines of jazz than rock, but if you are looking to break the mold you can try something different. (Unfortunately, I have not seen many successful attempts to make wine bars less sophisticated—the attempt usually drives customers away—but sometimes rules are made to be broken.)

Filed Under: Starting a BarStarting Your Bar/Nightclub Business

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