Run Your Bar Right: 11 Tips for Success

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Bruce Hakutizwi appears courtesy of BusinessesForSale with a focus on buying and selling bars, restaurants and nightclubs. Hakutizwi suggests that owners operate their businesses at a level that would be attractive to potential buyers, even if they have no intention of ever selling.

Running a bar is an appealing business opportunity for many people. Particularly if you consider yourself a “people person,” buying a bar may seem like a slam dunk. But there’s more to this entrepreneurial pursuit than attending bartending school and chatting it up while slinging cocktails.

It’s important to understand that there is much more involved than what appears from the outside when you’re mulling this option from the customer side of the bar. Like any business, there’s a back end that needs to be run, employees that need to be managed, and a gamut of customer service and other issues to consider.

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That’s not to say that bar ownership can’t be the dream job you’ve envisioned, but before you dive in, there are some tips to consider that will help you succeed as a bar owner.

1. Find the sweet spot in pricing.

Once you’ve chosen your establishment—whether it’s a taproom, tavern, hip cocktail lounge or the neighborhood dive bar—the first thing you’ll need to do is set your prices correctly. It may be tempting to inflate prices for a quick win in profits, but this is a short-term fix that won’t be sustainable. Instead, set prices that are fair based on what you offer, and what else is in the area that’s comparable. Determine a sweet spot that is neither too low nor too high.

2. Train yourself on everything.

Even if you’re planning to leave the day-to-day operations of your bar in the hands of a capable manager, as a bar owner you should know how to do everything you would ask or require your staff to do. That means everything from making cocktails to doing dishes and running the cash register.

Read this: Why Your Bar Should Always be Sellable, Even if it's Not for Sale

In the service industry, your employees will respect you more if they know you’re willing to get your own hands dirty when necessary. Running a bar isn’t something that can be done from behind the walls of an office. Of course, you’ll need to know how to keep your books and financial records as well, or make sure you hire an accountant that can help you do so.

3. Understand the associated liability and take it seriously.

Serving alcohol comes with a lot of responsibility. Therefore, it’s imperative to ensure that everyone working in any capacity in your bar is trained to handle alcohol-related safety issues. This will be crucial to protecting your restaurant from fines, from losing your liquor license, increased insurance costs—or worse, going to prison or losing your business altogether.

Make sure your staff is thoroughly trained on these issues through a reputable program such as The National Restaurant Association’s ServSafe Alcohol training course.

4. Know what you need to stock.

As a new bar owner, this will take a while to figure out. What patrons want will differ on any given day. However, you will likely identify some favorites for which people come to your establishment and begin to figure out your optimal inventory. Keep track of your best sellers as well as your busiest days, times and seasons so that you can predict needed stock accordingly.

5. Keep your equipment in good shape.

Make sure you purchase and maintain the proper equipment to store and display the drinks your bar offers. You’ll also need to make sure you have all the tools of the trade that will enable you to provide speedy service to customers—and minimize the stress on your staff—on those busy nights.

6. Monitor your liquor quantities.

Particularly when it’s busy, it can be tempting to skip measuring the amount of alcohol and mixers that go into drinks in an attempt to prevent mess and reduce clean-up tasks. But this is a shortcut that will always end up costing you money in the long run.

Read this: Planning to Buy a Bar Franchise? Read this First

Jiggers are an essential tool for even seasoned bartenders to easily measure alcohol amounts. Measuring alcohol and mixers keeps portions consistent and prevents heavy pours and lost inventory due to spillage. Glassware can also impact your bottom line; not only do heavier glasses require less liquid to fill, they also hold up better and last longer.

7. Add extras to attract patrons.

Food is a “standard extra” and every bar should have at least a limited food menu to provide imbibing patrons with something to nosh on. But there are other additions that will make your bar stand out.

Consider offering daily or weekly happy hour specials, or events like a weekly trivia night or pool tournament. Schedule the events for specific times when you need to increase traffic at your bar. For example, the after-work hours or daytime hours on a Saturday or Sunday.

8. Get social.

Social media is an effective, free method to advertise your bar, and to spread the word about weekly drink and food specials or other events. This is also a great way for patrons of your bar to connect, share photos, etc. Just make sure you or someone on your staff manages any social media channels, and that anything posted is approved before going live. The last thing you want is unsavory pictures of your establishment circulating on social media.

9. Invest in a POS system.

This is another area where many bar owners skip to save a few bucks, but an electronic point of sale (POS) system is essential to organize orders and track transactions. These systems also ensure that things run smoothly on the front end. By streamlining communication between servers, bartenders, and kitchen staff you’ll be better equipped to keep customer orders and tabs straight when things get busy. There are a variety of POS systems available and the prices vary based on the level of service and management you need, so do your research.

10. Hire the right staff.

People patronize a bar as much for the people serving them as for the food and drinks served. That’s why it’s essential to have friendly, competent staff so you can be successful in the bar business.

Read this: Turning Rocks into Rock Stars: Developing a Badass Team

Hire personable, outgoing, professional-looking staff who can easily put customers at ease and who are knowledgeable about your bar and what it offers. While anyone can be taught to make a drink, not everyone can be taught social skills.

11. Have fun!

At the end of the day, don’t forget why you got into the business in the first place. Owning a bar is supposed to be fun, so enjoy it. Just make sure you keep the business operations, such as accounting, payroll, etc., separate from the nightlife.

If, after reading these tips, you’re still seriously considering buying a bar, then you’re probably on the right track for a successful business opportunity that will provide a good balance with your personality and lifestyle.

About the Author

Bruce Hakutizwi is the U.S. and International Business Manager for Dynamis LTD., the parent company of us.businessesforsale.com, one of the largest online global marketplaces for buying and selling a business. Bruce is passionate about helping small businesses succeed and regularly writes about entrepreneurship, mergers and acquisitions, succession planning and business growth. Connect @BizforSaleUS.