Who knows the bar business?

Falxy-US

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So, I've been dreaming for a long time of having a cocktail bar. We have several nice restaurants in our area that have some basic cocktails and a couple of creative cocktails, but nothing that's mind blowing. I want something on the level of Death & Co or The Dead Rabbit level of quality. I have never worked in a bar. I'm thinking of a place around 1000-1200 sqft, no food, open 4-5 nights per week max. I want it to be upscale, the kind of speak easy feel, small, and intimate. Not a huge bar by any means. And places like Death & Co, they have music playing but it's at a reasonable level so you can still talk and no yelling, etc. I'd keep the lights pretty dim, so it always has this dark, small, intimate feeling.

I like all the classic cocktails, but I also like the ones with hard to find ingredients, or ingredients you have to make yourself (like infused gins, or special syrups). These types of cocktails would set me apart from other places in town because no one is doing this kind of stuff where I live. It's hard enough to get people here to use fresh squeezed lime or lemon juice. I would also carry a handful of basic beers for people that just don't want a cocktail, and could consider a couple of local draft beers as well. And like 4-5 different wines. The focus is cocktails, and the beer/wine are for the people that get dragged alone that are just impossible to please (like my GF who insists any whiskey based cocktail is bad before she even tastes it.)

Commercial real estate here is usually about $18/sqft/yr which is about $1.50/sqft/month, which means a 1000 sqft place is only $1500 plus CAM which seems to be around $3/sqft/yr. Traditional bar equipment is around $6,000 per "station." Utilities would be wifi and electricity and water. Commercial streaming of music is about $35/month.

Architecture plans would be required and they fuck you hard on commercial plans. I got quoted $17,000 for my 2,000 sqft clinic space I'm building, so I imagine a smaller, very simple bar would be a lot cheaper. I would work with a designer for the interior who would probably be $5,000. And the buildout would be simple. Two bathrooms, polished concrete or this special tile floor (which would cost about $9,000 for 1000 sqft). The bar would be the bigget expense, with probably $10,000 worth of quartzite for the top, and another $10,000-$15,000 for the bar itself. Another $20,000 for the booths and tables and chairs.

Employees I would start with one bartender at first during the whole soft opening phase. I wouldn't advertise for a long time. Bartender pay I need help with, are they paid hourly, tips, hourly + tips? I'd like the bartenders to be dressed very nice, to keep the speakeasy / classic aesthetic.

Things I know nothing about: 1. Working with an alcohol distributor to get all the booze I need, 2. Setting up an efficient bar station 3. Alcohol laws / permits / etc. 4. How to stop from having your bartender make you go broke by stealing all your alcohol and giving it to customers for free in exchange for large tips.

Costs: I'm still working on how much a drink should cost. One drink I made last night I calculated around $2.50-$3.00 in costs (multiple syrups, juices, bourbon). So I think probably $11-$12 per drink. This means I'd need to sell about 15 drinks per open night at 4 nights open per week to break even on rent/utilities.

Anyway, I'd love to hear from people who own a bar or have extensive bar experience on how to do this and what else I should be thinking about. To be clear, this is a side business for me, it is not and would not be my main job. I can afford to subsidize the bar's rent/utilities/bartender pay on my own with it making $0/month, so I'm not too worried about it being slow at first, etc.

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^^ This last pic is my favorite. Nice dark atmosphere, just a few lights, and a lot of the light that is produced by the lights gets absorbed by the dark floor and ceiling. The beautiful curved booths. Gold mirrors, white countertop, mirrors.
 
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Furry

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Too much lighting to secretly have sex easily. Definitely an A rated dungeon.
 

Demon Hunter

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As a bar manager myself, not independent business, it's a lot of work in and of itself so you thinking of it as a side business will be tough. For s scripted show, Bar Rescue is an eye opener for what happens when you dont keep an eye on it.

Not sure where you live but any major distributor is the way to go (Southern Grazer or Youngs here on the west coast). They will have extensive portfolios of liquor, wine and beer, not sure if they charge a fee but every bar in CA, legally, has to go through one of these distributors, I've heard it's literally a stipulation that goes back to the mob and prohibition, but I digress.

You need to have a decent bank of Capitol free for everything that goes with it, remodeling, licenses, rent, labor, maintenance, salary, etc. You could be looking at 30k a month just in overhead. Also you MUST have a computerized Point Of Sale system and know how to utilize its reports to conduct inventories weekly and monthly depending how much you care about theft. A POS, invoice system which should come with an inventory database costs some $$$ initially and could come with monthly expenses. The thing you should realize is free pouring drinks is a standard as well as to our guests it "looks" better, like a bar. Bringing out the the jiggers which measures out exact amounts will slow down the well during business but also your regulars or the ones you hope to become your regulars will roll their eyes if they see that. The "hook up" helps to keep them coming back, but not free drinks so to speak.

Now here is where you can make or break your business. Staff. If the above pics are an indication of what you are looking at you will need at least 2 managers, or one manager and one key holder you absolutely trust and isnt a piece of shit. They need to care both about the financials as well as the guests because they are the ones that pay the bills.

When I read you want one bartender for soft opening, I cringe a little because no one wants to go to a bar and have to wait 20 to 30 mins for a drink, and if you are just half full with cocktail and floor tables, that's exactly what you will get depending how intricate you want to get with your signature drinks. For a 20 person bar you could get away with one bartender and two servers for the floor and drink running and a barback/busser. Your managers will need to be hands on as well, making drinks, running drinks, cleaning glasses, whatever. Remember you need people that dont suck cause your business will go down in flames when that happens. Also you plan on being open 7 days a week or just weekends? You want to watch burnout schedules which will increase turnover and then you get to learn the lesson of quality of employee goes down hill with word of mouth and if your other employees are "tired of the bullshit."

You need to service heavy when you open because if it's not successful, your hole just got bigger and deeper to dig yourself out of. Staff for business not your pocketbook at first.

I didnt see if you wanted to serve food as well, that opens a whole lot of other issues and costs. But I'm on the west coast and sometimes it seems they want to make it harder then hell to open businesses out here with fees and licenses and overhead costs. Out here you should have a million at least to open a bar/restuarant.
 

Demon Hunter

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Damn man sorry your first paragraph had some of the info.

IMO Mon and Tues kind of are a waste so Wed to Sun is a nice week of business. Pay depends on your state and county. Here its $13 hourly + tips. Also if you plan on having busser/bar back work out a tip share %age from each the bar and servers to be given regardless of thier tips, keeps them happy. Bartenders should also make tip share from servers ringing in drinks. Your price point is important as well. Clientele will dictate the quality of bar guest and if you are serving $13 cocktails people with money to burn will come in.

I'm rambling now but those are my insights. 16 years hospitality management experience.
 

Izo

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Curious, what’s your thoughts on kung flu and the bar business?
 
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fris

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My dream is a bar like that or a small fine ish dinning restaurant. Only I don't want to work weekends, nights, or holidays. Maybe my real dream is independent wealth and a place like that near by
 
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Sanrith Descartes

I love my shiny new medal, LLR
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I spent years running bars. Dont do it. Bartenders and wait staff will steal. Dealing with minors. You pay rent for 24 hours a day but Sundays/Mondays suck, day hours in general suck. Serving food? That is another animal. Unless the idea is to have "stylish adult entertainment" as a customer draw, its a brutal business to compete in. I did strip clubs and while it lets you charge exorbitant rates for drinks, the "talent" makes your life miserable.

I haven't even touched on dealing with drugs in the bar, the liability if a customer leaves all torqued up and kills someone or themselves or dealing with the health department.

Take the investment seed money and buy Apple stock with it. You will thank me in 10 years.
 
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Demon Hunter

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I think the Kung Flu is over hyped bullshit and we had to smack a health inspector with logic. We required face masks and face shields to reopen the floor and bar. The health inspector came in and saw we had a social distanced bar (retarded) and he wanted to shut down the bar. Had to hand hold him that it's no different set up as our servers on the floor, who were closer to guests than bartenders. Took him a second to realize the no bar mandate was stupid and left.

Didnt matter though. Inside dining was shut down like 2 weeks later.
 
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Falxy-US

Ahn'Qiraj Raider
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As a bar manager myself, not independent business, it's a lot of work in and of itself so you thinking of it as a side business will be tough. For s scripted show, Bar Rescue is an eye opener for what happens when you dont keep an eye on it.

Not sure where you live but any major distributor is the way to go (Southern Grazer or Youngs here on the west coast). They will have extensive portfolios of liquor, wine and beer, not sure if they charge a fee but every bar in CA, legally, has to go through one of these distributors, I've heard it's literally a stipulation that goes back to the mob and prohibition, but I digress.

You need to have a decent bank of Capitol free for everything that goes with it, remodeling, licenses, rent, labor, maintenance, salary, etc. You could be looking at 30k a month just in overhead. Also you MUST have a computerized Point Of Sale system and know how to utilize its reports to conduct inventories weekly and monthly depending how much you care about theft. A POS, invoice system which should come with an inventory database costs some $$$ initially and could come with monthly expenses. The thing you should realize is free pouring drinks is a standard as well as to our guests it "looks" better, like a bar. Bringing out the the jiggers which measures out exact amounts will slow down the well during business but also your regulars or the ones you hope to become your regulars will roll their eyes if they see that. The "hook up" helps to keep them coming back, but not free drinks so to speak.

Now here is where you can make or break your business. Staff. If the above pics are an indication of what you are looking at you will need at least 2 managers, or one manager and one key holder you absolutely trust and isnt a piece of shit. They need to care both about the financials as well as the guests because they are the ones that pay the bills.

When I read you want one bartender for soft opening, I cringe a little because no one wants to go to a bar and have to wait 20 to 30 mins for a drink, and if you are just half full with cocktail and floor tables, that's exactly what you will get depending how intricate you want to get with your signature drinks. For a 20 person bar you could get away with one bartender and two servers for the floor and drink running and a barback/busser. Your managers will need to be hands on as well, making drinks, running drinks, cleaning glasses, whatever. Remember you need people that dont suck cause your business will go down in flames when that happens. Also you plan on being open 7 days a week or just weekends? You want to watch burnout schedules which will increase turnover and then you get to learn the lesson of quality of employee goes down hill with word of mouth and if your other employees are "tired of the bullshit."

You need to service heavy when you open because if it's not successful, your hole just got bigger and deeper to dig yourself out of. Staff for business not your pocketbook at first.

I didnt see if you wanted to serve food as well, that opens a whole lot of other issues and costs. But I'm on the west coast and sometimes it seems they want to make it harder then hell to open businesses out here with fees and licenses and overhead costs. Out here you should have a million at least to open a bar/restuarant.

Hey man,

I wanted to thank you for your reply. You raised a lot of really good points that I don't know the answer to yet.

I was looking at a space around 1200 square feet, including the bathrooms. I want it to be small and intimate, like a dive bar. Not one of these huge lounges. Have you seen bars that small? Can they do ok with lower staffing? Maybe two bartenders and a barback? Or a bartender, barback, and server?

I do not plan on doing any food at all. I agree that's a whole other issue that I don't want to investigate, and the cost of a kitchen, square footage, etc.

Whats the best way to prevent theft? Like a customer pays for a drink and the bartender pockets the money instead of ringing up the drink and putting it in the register?
 

Demon Hunter

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Unfortunately it's going to boil down to the best way in everything, hiring the right person. I've learned that you cant trust anyone but give a person the chance to show thier integrity.

Straight up watch who you hire. That's the best way to prevent theft, but as you can guess, that's the point. Also making sure you are doing inventories every week or month and using the reports that evaluate theoretical usage (rang in on the POS) to physical counts (what was poured, and invoiced orders). Do not expect miracles and everything will balance because like I mentioned, free pour will have fluctuations. If you have a .5 or 1 bottle difference over the course of a busy week, dont freak out, but mention it to the bartenders and encourage better counts when pouring drinks. It shows them you are paying attention, and if you hired the right person, it could be just s mistake, they will not want to waste liqour. We pour test bartenders and with the standard type of pour spout and correct cadence when counting, its 1/4 ounce per count, so 4 count = 1 ounce. Most bartenders know this, but pour testing during the interview also sets precedent as well as showing them you give a shit about waste and will be paying attention. Human nature can be difficult to hire lol. Also stay the fuck away from night club bartenders, most are used to making 300 to 800 a night in tips, no joke, its sick, but unless you can match that they would be potentially the worst.

But the twisted grey area in all that is, average bottle of liqour, warehouse distributed, is say $18. Dont freak out about some portion of bottles coming up short because that $200 of "waste" could have gained you 8 regulars, whatever, and made you $1500 in profit just on those 8. It's a weird mentality but waste is to be expected.

Might want to also install cameras as well.

Edit:

Also allow the bartenders a spill tab to hook guests up. In any people business you need to give latitude to your people to do the right thing for them. If they want to do a round of 3 shots for a bday party on the spill tab because they are good people and not douchbags, let em put it on the spill tab and strike up a convo. That guest or guests might be back with thier wives or girlfriends and spend more money. Stuff like that is lost on some business owners, take care of your people and guests and they will take care of you, but dont be a pushover.
 
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