Starting A Bar

Starting a Bar and Grill is generally the same as the nightclub business, with basically one exception, size! So, on this page I am going to dedicate it to the unique environment of a smaller business.

Although you try and be as personal, friendly, and hospitable as you can in the nightclub industry, you can only take that so far because of the sheer volume of people and the size. When starting a bar, because of it’s smaller size, becomes a more intimate setting for your customers. More personal.

Just like the TV show Cheers, where everybody knows your name.

You as an owner, and along with your staff, must generate relationships, regardless of how subtle. Many people prefer smaller bars because of that personal touch. That “hello Jim”. “How are you today”. Get it.

For many customers of the local bar and grill, that bar becomes a “living room”, if you will. People will tend to hang out, meet friends, have something to eat, and talk about sports and politics. The bar and grill become “a family”. Starting a bar and building it into something you become very proud of is a wonderful thing.

Realizing what I said so far, is important. It’s a personal relationship with your customers. If you are not that type of person as an owner, maybe you should think about hiring a manager.

As far as the subject of “starting a bar”, “owning a bar”, or “building a bar”, (call it what you will) the process and procedures are the same as starting a night club. You still have to have a targeted customer base, you still have to design it, check for zoning requirements, and on and on.

Atmosphere is so important in bar. The bar business usually reflects a “cozy feeling” or a “warm atmosphere”.
You don’t have to be an interior decorator either. Sometimes atmosphere will be created by just operating. What I mean by that is in the process of starting a bar, as time goes by you will start to accumulate equipment, advertisements from your distributors, and such that will start to take up space on you back bar, walls, and even stuff hanging from the ceiling.

When starting a bar, remember these types of establishments are usually cozy. If you have just an open room, try to add a couple of walls, or even half walls to create a cubby or two. You know what I mean. A couple of spots that are a little more private, or a little darker, or a little out of the way. A booth or two is also nice.

Lighting is always a controversial subject. Personally, I like a darker bar. It lends atmosphere I think. I come from an era where all bars were on the dark side. You still see places like that. I wouldn’t suggest you starting a bar with florescent lights in the ceiling. You don’t want to look like a department store, do you?

On the other hand, some people like a well lit bar. I agree if I was performing surgery, but since I’m not, turn the lights down. A lower lit bar is complimentary to skin tones also. That means everyone looks good! I like that!

Put lights behind the bar in back of the glasses. It looks nice, creates atmosphere, and the amber or red color lend itself to reflect good skin tones.

Clocks, register lights, and advertisements, provided by distributors also give of a nice light. The bulb is generally white. But the plastic it shines through is always colored. Make use of these items.

Just use your imagination. Experiment a little.

Another rather important item you also need to address is, are you going to be a restaurant, or a bar with good food.

Personally, I am a firm believer that a bar and grill is no place for a child. Period. And, I believe if you want a family restaurant, you should have one. If you have a bar business primarily, keep the kids out!

But, if you are starting a bar, for adults, and an adult brings in a child, you should tell the person that you don’t allow children in your bar. Not just the young ones. Any age! Now that’s just my opinion. The whole bar shouldn’t have to baby sit! And a bar and grill is no place for children.

When starting a bar the next item is food. I know, food and all that goes with it, can be a pain in the ass. But, especially in this day and age, you’ve got to have it! So, as long as you are going to provide it, make it good. OK.

The effort to make a good meal is the same for a bad one. Have a little pride, and make it good.

Also, you’ll find that many bar and grill have a good reputation for their food. If you don’t, you should. So wake up and smell the coffee.

Now I’m not saying you have to go crazy with a thirty two page menu! Having a dozen assorted items is fine. But make sure you serve hot, TASTY food to your customers. In the bar and grill business, news travels fast. The word of mouth will bring you many new customers.

Also, you’ll find when starting a bar, a signature item always helps. Are you know for your Friday fish dinner, or sandwhich? Or how about that shaved prime rib sandwhich on an Italian roll? See what I mean.

This next subject should be a no brainer, but you would be surprised. It’s keeping your place clean! This is imperative!! Not only for health reasons, but for you customers sake, and maybe some self pride.

Starting a bar doesn’t mean you have a license to operate a pig pen either. No one likes a dirty place to eat and drink in. And let’s not forget that unmistakable smell! C’mon, you know what I’m talking about. Have you ever gone into a place and come out smelling like that place? I have. I didn’t go back either. What in the hell are these people thinking, I don’t know. Maybe they have sinus problems and can’t smell anything. Regardless, there is no excuse. It’s a bar and grill, not a pig pen!

Bar and grill employees are especially important. After all, they are representing you. You need to hire people that have pride in what they do, and like working for you. If you don’t have this, CHANGE IT! What are you waiting for?

If your bartender can only pour the basics, tell them to learn more, or find another job. How they perform their job is the basis of how much money you make! Remember that!

If they can’t pour a drink and also serve a meal to a customer at the bar. Bye Bye!

Same goes with the wait staff. If they don’t greet your customers with a smile and a kind word, they have got to go!

Are you getting this?? If it’s time to clean house, then do it. I don’t want to hear you say “I can’t get anyone good to work” or “no one will work here because they can’t make enough tips”. What the hell is that? Is the glass half empty or half full?

You don’t know until you try. No job is for everyone. You would be surprised who may apply. Offer a decent wage! This new person may increase your business.

One last thought on this subject. When you hire someone, and they are really good at what they do, make sure they have a personality to go with it. If not, take the person that’s just good at their job, but has personality plus.

You should be proud you own a neighborhood bar. The bar business has been the corner stone of our country. Don’t run it into the ground. Make it the best you can make it.

Although we could talk about many more issues regarding the bar business, I wanted to mention one last thing. And that’s the Holidays.

You know we have our fair share of Holidays to celebrate in this country. Virtually, every month. Because as a bar owner, your place isn’t that large, generally. On these occasions, you should really do it up! Yes!

Because of your size, it would never cost you that much to really go crazy here. And your customers appreciate it. You’ll even find, they will start to look forward to it.

Did you ever go into a bar over a Holiday and find they have one item hanging up with the Holidays name on it? Or taped to the mirror? Or just in their window? C’mon! If you don’t have any more enthusiasm then that, maybe it’s time for you to hire a manager, or retire.

I have written a complete guide on how to start a bar or a nightclub. Check it out to boost up your knowledge before you start!

Filed Under: Starting a BarStarting Your Bar/Nightclub Business

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  1. rane says:

    very good advice, thank you! i am checking out the whole site.

  2. femi says:

    I enjoyed what i read, it is a booster. I shall checkout the site.

    Thank you.

  3. Renea Boo says:

    i think that what i read was also very good advice. i think i want to know more about this site.

  4. Renea Boo says:

    thank you for the advice i have gotten from this site.

  5. nushi says:

    enjoyed the read and appreciated the education too..loved the humour. Really needed guidance on keeping stocks on bar and an owner with not an iota of experience in this field..personally.

  6. steve a henstock says:

    very interesting…im on the raod forward..thanx

  7. Gennady says:


    I am interesting in investing into a new bar venture in NYC. Currently I am looking for an operating partner who would like to be the one running the business. If you are interested please email me at

    Thank you

  8. Shane says:

    This article seems to state the obvious and neglects to address the macro-elements absolutely essential for creating a successful Bar/Grill business. Starting a Bar biz and buying an existing Bar biz are two entirely different animals and need to be discussed separately. Buying an existing business has a longer start-up cycle than opening a new Bar & Grill. A new Bar may cost more to open but is quicker to cycle into “normal operations” The transition of changing ownership in a Bar/Grill situation can be lengthy, expensive, and devastating if not prepared. A finely detailed strategy regarding menu, specials, staff procedure and customer relations along with a genius marketing strategy must be created, tested, tweaked and executed with a great amount of discipline. Changes to the plan can not be made in a reactionary fashion. For example, if you run a special for ladies night and no one shows up, do not change the plan for next week, just do more marketing around it and maybe add a few more perks. Never take away perks! Only add to them. Perks, specials and happy hour deals should only be removed from the plan if determined that they are detrimental to building the customer base.Even if you are offering a special that is losing money, it is more important to build the customer base than to make money. At least in the beginning. Building the customer base is the only primary goal of the new Bar/Grill. Once you have a loyal, over abundant customer base, you can begin to tweak the business model to accommodate the need to generate profits. Planning in this manner takes the skill and knowledge of someone who has experience in building successful bar and grill businesses. Guess work and know it all approaches fail through bankruptcy and it happens faster than you can imagine. Find someone who is an absolute guru in the building of customer-base methodologies and hire them to help you create a plan or maybe keep them on as a consultant until the business is stable and able to support itself. Remember that quick changes to customer facing elements is a recipe for disaster and don’t try making profits until you have a substantial, loyal customer base. Take the budget for PR and marketing and multiply it by 15, this might be enough to get through the customer building phase.

  9. says:

    Thank you Shane for your insight. I do agree to your point. Building the customer base is indeed the primary goal for a new bar. this subject really deserve a dedicated article, that I will write shortly.
    Please note that this article cannot and are not aimed to cover all things related to opening a new bar, just the basics. I agree that reading just one article will not give you the necessary knowledge to open such a business. This blog contains hundreds of articles that are also essential to read in order to gain enough knowledge before starting a bar. As I stated through all the blog – Its not easy to open a bar, and will not be easy to succeed in this business. That is why gaining enough information is essential if you intend to get involved in this project.

  10. Lance says:

    I plan on going to the Bar and nightclub conference in Las Vegas for someone who plans on starting there on Bar/Grill do you think its a good move to go.

  11. says:

    A bit hard to answer such a question. It’s a matter of personal tastes and depends on what stage of the planning are you. Check the agenda of the conference to see if there is specific topics that can help your cause and you can learn from. Check who is displaying, are you still wondering what to buy and want to see their products?

  12. Frank Lasko says:

    THANKS for the info, working on plan, all the help i can get is killer. Remember me………LASKOSOUND

  13. After 30 years, in an ever changing bar business, I cant say I read anything new to me. For those just going into business or in need of making changes, let me just say KEEP CHANGING WITH THE TIMES!! Promotions & marketing, Upkeep, maintenance, good help & security and change is crucial. Perhaps that is why our Tavern / Bar & Grill is almost 110 years old! GOOD LUCK TO ALL THOSE NEW BAR OWNERS!!

  14. Jeff says:

    I have been looking at beverage inventory management solutions and came across some companies that see software as well as some companies that will audit the liquor consumption on a regular basis. On such service is Bevintel. I am looking for any feedback on whether using an outside auditor is a cost effective approach or if I should just plan on performing inventory audits myself.

    Thank you.

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