Should I open a bar? (real)

A couple friends and I are about a week away from signing a lease to open a bar/cafe/restaurant. I haven’t owned a business before, but it seems like something we can pull off. Anyone have any advice or stories that would help me decide whether or not I should get into this?


Go for it! Does the locale have a limited number of liquor licenses? IIRC, Alaska allows the transfer of the liquor license from the old owner to the new owner. In some parts of this state, there is a “limited entry” for the number of liquor licenses in a specific area. My suggestion is to develop a “theme” for your bar area - that seems to be very popular. For instance, the bar in Alaska that I was once the barkeep for had the “theme” of making fun of Spam (the canned “food” product). Everything on the bar menu was available with Spam, we had large posters of Spam everywhere, and the house band was called, “Mr. Whitekeys and the Spamtones.” And no one can deny the huge popularity of places like “The Margaritaville Bar” and all those martini bars popping up everywhere. Vermont, eh? hmmm… a nautical theme? some local celebrity? a well-known local occurence? an urban legend? Lots of neat things to choose from.

My son’s sister and her husband opened a bar. They spent money fixing it up, but they never really got off the ground and closed it in less than a year. You need to know who your local competition is, what sort of entertainment you’ll provide, food or just booze, INSURANCE COSTS, and a million other things. If you can come up with a draw that will work, you’ll make a million bucks. I harken back to Chicago in the late '70s when the Rodeo Bar had that mechanical bull. People waited in line for hours to get into the bar, and hours after that to ride the bull. It was a goldmine.

Bars and restaurants are very alluring to small businesspeople. They also fail at an astounding rate.

Do you have enough money to lose money for the first two years? If not, back out now. Are you able to work inhumanly long hours when somebody gets sick or just disappears? If not, you’re not cut out for that kind of work. Are you too ethical to ever pay a bribe? Ditto. Are you ready to adopt a sliding scale of ethics about serving somebody who’s already drunk? What if it’s a regular customer?

I could go on, but you probably wouldn’t believe me.

And theft. Don’t forget theft. Did I say theft yet? Someone you trust must be there every moment. It’s a cash business and all that cash is pretty tempting. Leaving salaried people in charge, who have no stake in the business, is a recipe for disaster.

It is also a huge time investment. You will soon feel that the bar owns you and not the other way around. Then there is the fact that you do buisness with other people 9 to 5 and then with your patrons from 5 to 3 am. This will be hard.
But owning your one place is pretty satifying.

Bars and Restaurants are the two most failing enterprises in America. My parents lost money on both; one failed, one partner stole the till.

A friend of mine was going to open one in NYC. I think the liquer license alone was ten grand or something. Caberette licenses, bribes, being unprofitable for awhile, etc, made him rethink, and he decided to keep his money and do something else with it.

I guess it depends where you intend to build the thing.

liquor* license.

I’ve thought about it but knew I’d probably drink all the profits. Hopefully you’re a bit more restrained.

Do any of you have any actual restaurant experience? Because if you don’t, you are in for a big surprise. It’s a LOT of work.

I’ve seen the “bribes” problem mentioned more than once. Just curious… who’s bribing who? And for what? How common is it? Does it only occur in larger cities?

In my area, there are several layers of gov’t that regulate and mess with bars. Each of these has the opportunity to demand bribes to either grease the wheels of bureaucracy or turn a blind eye to infractions. The vast majority of these public servants, of course, are honest and wouldn’t dream of demanding bribes. There will be exceptions, though. If a board-of-health guy shows up and tells you that a box of steaks will get him to ignore the food scraps he found on the kitchen floor, it’s not wise to refuse. He has the power to drop by every week and nitpick you right out of business.

In my state, gambling in most bars is illegal, and every bar has gambling (video machines, pull-tab tipboards, sports betting.) Obviously, some enforcers are getting paid off. Occasionally, a bar owner will be fool enough to refuse to bribe. His bar will be singled out. Everyone leaving the lot will be pulled over. After a few nights of that, the bar has no customers.

My city has about 30K people. A nearby town of 2500 people had a notoriously crooked lawman. One bar owner steadfastly refused to bribe him. The bar was hassled into financial ruin. It was sold, and the new owner has a different attitude.

I knew someone who opened a deli (closest thing I got to a bar). He did ok, able to pay the bills and such but it was a job that demanded he be there all the time, when he went away for any reason porfits suffered. He would work from 3am to 9pm almost every day. a lot of this would be at home preparing foods for sale that day. His competition used unethical means to prevent him from obtaining certain items.

Actually the owner of the coffee shop accross the street started to sleep with the Drakes Cakes delivery man for the purpose of running out of the cakes that are more appeaing to children when he got his deli. This coffee shop would normally sell to children on their way to/from school, but the deli was on the side of the street that the children walked so he started to take business away. So he had to make additional trips to the warehouse, further cutting into his time.

People can become very protective if they feel their customer base is being taken away.

My great-uncle used to run a restaurant. My thought is that if you need to ask here, you haven’t done enough research of your own and the answer is NO.

I’ll echo the others: How much bar and restaurant experience do you have? Because it’s a very difficult business and you really have to be in the know about a LOT of things. Plus, I think you just need experience. There is a lot of stuff that goes on in the kitchen and back office that isn’t apparent. A successful restaurant or bar can be quite the gold mine, but the chances of success are not too good.

I’ll echo qts: If you have to ask, the answer is no.

If you’re gonna serve alcohol as a main attraction, prepare for two issues: (1) Handling of belligerent drunks or drunken fights. (2) Regulation of underage drinking. What philosophy will you and your staff have with regard to checking I.D.s ? (i.e. “You gotta be 21 to get in/drink, no exceptions” vs. “We’ll letcha booze up if you’re college-aged, just don’t act like an ass”).

In any business, you need to be careful when hiring staff and be prepared to deal with crap. I’m not involved in the bar/restaurant business, but I know someone who is:

One of my best girlfriends is a bartender at a bar/restaurant as well as at a place that operates strictly as a bar. I often hear about bitchfests & in-fighting amongst the staff; someone simply decided to not show up one night, someone’s just been hired & offered a prime spot that should’ve gone to someone with seniority, etc. She enjoys the work itself, but doesn’t want it to be her life’s career.

That brings me to another point. It’d seem (though I’m cite-less) that bar/restaurant staff jobs would have a higher turnaround rate than some others: Would it be a disaster if someone suddenly quit? For that matter, are you emotionally capable of laying people off?

Not trying to burst your bubble, hon - I admire your initiative. Like some Dopers said, however, if you have to ask, you may need to do more research & mulling before plunging in.

Two thoughts occur.

The first is: do you have a business plan? Have you taken a look at all conceivable costs that you’ll have to cover by when? Have you cooked up any kiind of revenue projections? Can you last until revenue finally catches up with expenses? And, what sort of bar will it be and why?

Secondly, if you don’t already have experience, the best thing you could do is go to work in bar for about a year and learn as much as possible from a perspective the public doesn’t see.

Good luck!

That’s your first mistake. Never go into a business with friends or relatives.

I’ve never owned a bar but I’ve worked in several. There is–how can I put this delicately-- no reward for not stealing from a restaurant or bar. The pay is exploitively low, you’re taxed on more tips than you actually make, and “an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay” is a singularly alien concept in food service. You, the owner, might not see it this way, but how many of your employees will?