Every successful bar started with an idea:
The trendy uptown wine and jazz bar
The Cheers-style neighborhood pub “where everyone knows your name”
The thrashing biker bar
Whatever the concept, for a bar or pub to be profitable and successful in the long run, it needs to be built and grow around its customers, not its owner. So how do you build your bar around your customers' interests?
At the start – whether you're creating a new bar from scratch, or considering buying an established bar or pub – careful research and planning are key. Three main areas your research needs to cover are the type of bar you want to open, the location where your bar will be established, and the clientele you want to attract.
Choose the type of bar your customers want
Based on your own tastes, experience, and budget, you probably have some idea how your bar concept is going to flesh out. While every bar has its own unique personality and many cross the genre lines, there are a few basic types of bar your customers will be drawn to:
The friendly neighborhood is the most common type in America, and it's popular for a reason. Providing a comfortable home-away-from-home, the neighborhood bar tends to attract and retain a steady stream of repeat customers who rarely go anywhere else.
The atmosphere is low-key and friendly, with a jukebox or similar background music and inexpensive entertainment like darts or a pool table to offer some additional distraction.
The neighborhood bar – as the name suggests – tends to attract patrons who live and/or work nearby and stop by after work on a regular basis. Location is a big part of this equation, and local competition from another similar bar can hurt both businesses significantly unless something obvious stands out as different about one or the other.
The sports bar is a bit louder and rowdier, with TVs visible from every table and game time dictating the busy hours. The sports bar generally serves a basic menu of food along with the alcohol, opening another dimension in the planning and management of the bar.
The atmosphere is fun and exciting, with the focus on keeping sports fans glued to the screen and keeping their hunger and thirst under control.
A new sports bar – especially independently owned and operated – needs to compete against several large national chains (such as Hooter's, Buffalo Wild Wings, and Applebee's) that are constantly expanding and have significant marketing budgets to contend with. Of course, a unique sports bar concept and/or the perfect location can trump national TV ads any day.
The beer bar, or similar brewpub, appeals to the evolving popularity of microbrew experimentation as opposed to the three or four standard mass-produced beer varieties commonly available thirty years ago. If you start a brewpub, you make the product right there in-house and have full control of the quality and price.
Of course, that comes with a higher start-up cost for brewing equipment. A beer bar selling a variety of microbrews will cost less to start up, but will also need to struggle a little more to establish a unique selling proposition.
The brewpub or beer bar offers a lot of flexibility in atmosphere and décor, since there really isn't any preconceived idea in your customer's mind about what it should be. Some beer bars are as low-key and intimate as a basement wine bar, while others are as loud and flashy as a nightclub.
The specialty bar takes in a wide spectrum of different bar styles that specialize in a particular type of drink (such as wine, martinis, or shots) or a particular entertainment (such as blues bars or comedy clubs).
The success of a specialty bar depends far more on the marketing of the concept and the popularity of the bar's specialty than it does on a specific location. Often, the bar's target clientele don't know they want to go to that type of bar until they try it for the first time, so getting them in the door is the first challenge.
Choose the location that fits your type
Whichever type of bar or pub you are considering opening, the location is an important consideration. Be leery of setting up in a closed bar. The bar closed for a reason, and it may very well be because that location didn't work out.
Here are some questions to consider when researching locations for your new bar or pub:
- Are you counting on passersby to stop in on a whim? (Look for an urban location with plenty of foot traffic.)
- Are you intending to become a “go-to spot” people will travel to from miles around? (Parking is an obvious necessity, as is signage for a wide radius around the location.)
- Does your concept require a specific look and feel? (A bar called The Loft can't really succeed in a small basement nook.)
- Does your concept appeal to a particular demographic? (An upscale martini bar with a tuxedoed pianist in the corner is unlikely to do well down the street from a college, while a fun and rowdy beer or sports bar would.)
- Do you have the budget to construct something new or completely remodel an existing building? (If not, concentrate on buying and converting an existing successful bar, or inexpensively redecorating and rebranding another similar space.)
There are many more questions to consider as well, but the foundation is simply this: what location will provide you with the best consistent access to the clientele your unique bar concept is targeting? If this question is answered well, many other details will work themselves out in time.
Build for your prospects, but change with your customers
While research and planning are absolutely vital for a successful bar or pub launch, flexibility is also important as your bar continues to operate.
In some cases, you may find that all your planning and research falls short for reasons completely out of your control. Maybe a popular celebrity tweets about her disdain for martinis, and suddenly your trendy martini bar becomes less trendy.
Or maybe the local sports team is having a horrible year and your regular sports bar patrons are staying home, or crying in their beer.
As with any successful business, a bar needs to evolve to continue to meet the needs of its clientele. So, if changes are in order – whether in what drinks or food are offered, what hours your bar is open, your prices, or even your entire bar personality – don't be afraid to make the changes that will keep your bar relevant and popular in the eyes of the only people who really matter.