Love the idea of owning a place where everybody knows you name? A cozy pub with regular customers who treat the place as a second home? Or are you more inclined to own a chic hot spot with bouncers and velvet ropes? Either way, owning a bar can be a tough — and very expensive — business. Here’s some advice from those who’ve gone before you.
It’s important to stick with what you know best. I wouldn’t have tried to branch out and also open a restaurant. Today I know that it is the bar that is the success.
— Sandy Sachs, Bourbon Pub, New Orleans
Friends don’t drink for free. Know that every one of your friends will be looking for a free drink here and there. Stick to charging everyone the same. Once you start giving out too many free drinks it becomes expected that it will always happen.
— Tony Cooney, Tempest, San Francisco
[The biggest misconception about owning a bar is] that anyone can do it, that it’s easy and that because you deal with cash that it’s a huge money-maker.
— Shaun Clancy, Foleys, New York
[The most important thing to know before opening a bar is] how to actually bar tend. You have to know the ins and outs of everything behind the stick (bar), and that doesn't just include drink and cocktail preparation. The do's and don'ts of cash-handling procedures are very important. It could save you, or cost you your business in no time.
— Joe Montes, The Red Cadillac, Union, N.J.
Owning a bar is not fun!!! It's hard work, long hours and no weekends off. Everyone thinks you're rich and won't miss a few beers, drinks and/or cash. Talk your best friend into opening a bar. It's cheaper and more fun.
— Barry Anthes, Country Luau Saloon, Kingsville, Texas
If possible, the only thing I would do differently would be to be better financed. The monthly bills come more quickly than you might imagine and it's helpful if you have a little reserve cash on hand to deal with unforeseen financial problems.
— Harry Faulkner, Backstage Bar, Bethel, Maine
The biggest misconception about owning a bar is [that it is] a lot of fun and the people you meet will be great. Not true, the people you meet will be drunks.
— Tilmon Brown, Mobile, Ala.
Owning a bar is different from being a bartender or anything else. You are crossing into the world of owning a business. It means understanding all aspects: accounting, HR, marketing, operations, etc. You have to execute all or pick and manage a team that can. If you don’t understand that or don’t like the sound of it, get out now before you lose everything.
— H. Joseph Ehrmann, Elixir, San Francisco
The most important thing to know before opening a business is to know what client base you are targeting. This way you can focus on your details in appealing to the right crowd at opening.
— Ric Payne and Will Howe, Wild Beaver Saloons, Indianapolis