How to open a bar

Editorial Team

5 min read
Bartender mixing drinks

The process of opening a new bar follows many of the same steps as opening any other type of small business. However, some steps to opening a bar are specific to establishments that serve alcohol. Hardware stores, for instance, don’t need to adhere to the same zoning and licensing laws to which many bars are subject.

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This article briefly covers some of the more common small business tips all entrepreneurs should follow regardless of the industry. It also delves more deeply into those steps that every aspiring bar owner should be aware of before they can pour that first drink.

General business tips

We’ve written a more comprehensive article about how to start a business, which includes tips for writing a business plan, securing funding, and choosing a legal structure for your new venture. We’ve also published a separate resource on how to register your business in your home state.

Again, these steps are common to most businesses in most industries.

So, what do you need to open a bar, specifically?

For starters, you must secure a liquor license to legally sell beer, wine, and spirits, with most states having some type of Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) agency responsible for regulating the sale of alcohol. To find the appropriate ABC agency in your state, visit the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association’s online database.

Create a brand concept for your bar

With so much competition and changing consumer preferences, bars can face challenges all the time. To help your establishment stand out from the crowd, you’ll need to choose a target audience and brand concept for your new bar:

  • Should you go with dark wood paneling in the vein of an old Irish pub? Or, are you better off using art deco-style interiors that appeal to hip urban professionals?
  • Is your menu competitively priced to bring the most traffic possible? Or, are you going after a more upscale market?

Being able to answer questions such as these can help make the next steps much easier.

Select a location

Location is important for all businesses. As a bar owner, there are several reasons why geography might matter even more.

  • Zoning laws could prevent you from opening a bar in certain areas of town. Some neighborhoods are more welcoming of businesses with late hours than others.
  • You want a spot that resonates with (and is accessible to) your target audience. For example, you wouldn’t want to open a late night bar in a section of town that clears once the workday ends.
  • Is your ideal location accessible by foot or public transportation? If not, is parking available?

Knowing how to set up a successful bar can often come down to choosing the right location.

Connect with suppliers and acquire inventory

The next step involves securing the inventory you need from dependable suppliers. Furniture, decorations, glassware, and other bar-related items are usually less frequent purchases. Liquor, snacks, garnishes, and other consumables must be carefully tracked and reordered whenever stock is low.

Although it’s possible to handle ordering and restocking manually, having inventory management software can help automate order fulfillment. This approach not only saves time, but it also helps to reduce errors, stock outs, and redundancies.

Choose a POS system that is appropriate for your bar

You need point of sale systems for your bar to securely accept payments – especially those made by credit or debit cards. At Clover, we offer a robust suite of POS systems for your bar or brewery, ranging from full-sized countertop models to handheld devices. All of these solutions come with contactless payment capabilities, as well as chip card and magstripe acceptance.

In addition to easy, fast, and more secure payments, our POS solutions integrate seamlessly with third-party software plugins from the Clover App Market. This integration allows you to do everything from managing inventory to scheduling employees to launching a loyalty program.

Hire bartenders and wait staff

In a perfect world, hiring reliable employees who reflect your brand and have the right attitude would be easy. If you’re just starting your business, you may need to offer attractive pay, benefits, and other perks to build the type of team you want.

If you get stuck, we’ve published a comprehensive article about hiring and training in hospitality.

Launch a marketing campaign

As part of opening your own bar, the next step involves getting people through the door. Most bar owners use a mix of social media, print and paid advertising, and launch parties to advertise their bar opening. Having vibrant or clever signage can also go a long way in attracting customers.

To keep folks coming back, however, you’ll need to use a blend of discounts, promotions, and happy hour events – not to mention impressive cocktails and a great experience.

Manage your cash flow

As mentioned above, bars face challenges all the time. Perhaps one of the biggest is running out of money due to poorly managed cash flow.

There are several strategies you can use to help improve your bar’s cash flow, including:

  • Reducing costs by going paperless, minimizing your payment fraud risk, using more cost-effective suppliers, and leveraging business management software integration.

Increasing sales by raising (or lowering) prices, upselling guests, or using customer engagement to bring clients through the door.

Accept payments and run your bar with Clover

Launching a business isn’t easy, but we specialize in helping small businesses get off the ground and thrive. Schedule a free consultation with our merchant services team. We’ll listen to your unique business needs and offer solutions that can help you accept payments and run your bar.

This information is provided for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal, financial, or tax advice. Readers should contact their attorneys, financial advisors, or tax professionals to obtain advice with respect to any particular matter.