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How to open a cocktail bar

Updated November 21, 2016

Opening a cocktail bar is the dream of many--and why wouldn't it be? The start-up costs are relatively low, the industry is virtually recession-proof, and the concept allows you to be your own boss but encourages the development of a fun and friendly atmosphere. Yet most people never progress past the "I have an idea..." stage. If you'd like to open a cocktail bar of your own, the guide below can help you move to the next level and make your dream a reality.

Seek gainful employment at a bar similar to the one you'd like to open. Learn to mix and serve a wide variety of drinks and pay specific attention to things like portion control, which will directly impact your profit margins. You are much more likely to obtain the financing you will need if you have developed the skills required to ensure that the business is successful.

Work your way up to a management position. Do not attempt to open your own cocktail bar until you have successfully mastered all the fundamental managerial tasks, such as ordering, record keeping, payroll and taxes.

Scout possible locations for your bar. The ideal spot will have lots of foot traffic highly representative of your target market.

Write your business plan. This will be an essential tool when presenting your idea to possible lenders. Be sure to include all relevant details, such as the theme of the bar, the building budget, the estimated operating costs and the number of staff required.

Obtain financing and secure your location. If necessary, begin construction or remodelling. Also, be sure you have purchased insurance that will provide sufficient coverage in your state.

Obtain your liquor license and food-handling permits. Even if you're not planning to serve food, drinks are consumable and mixers must be handled safely. Ensure all staff members are adequately trained and licensed if required by law.

Consider obtaining a tobacco-sales permit. Smoking may no longer be allowed in public buildings, but heated, outside patio areas are popular hangouts for smokers and cigarette sales can boost your revenue.

Two weeks before opening, begin advertising locally. Consider running a drink special featuring a signature cocktail, offering a fun promotion, such as buy-one-get-one-free, or hiring a popular local band.

Tip

You shouldn't expect to show a profit for at least two months. Be sure to account for this in your budget.

Warning

When you work for yourself, you should expect to spend more time on the job than a person who works in a traditional position, not less.

Things You'll Need

  • Business plan
  • Location
  • Financing
  • Liquor license
  • Food-handling permit
  • Tobacco license (optional)
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About the Author

Lisa Parris is a writer and former features editor of "The Caldwell County News." Her work has also appeared in the "Journal of Comparative Parasitology," "The Monterey County Herald" and "The Richmond Daily News." In 2012, Parris was honored with awards from the Missouri Press Association for best feature story, best feature series and best humor series.