The bar and pub scene in Australia has significantly changed in recent years. While you might find a traditional pub in certain areas, most have adapted to the contemporary changes in preferences, tastes and the way we drink.
Not only are Australians drinking less, there’s an expectation from consumers to be able choose from a variety of menu options - some of which should be free of gluten or dairy, of course - to listen to current music, and be able to choose the type of experience they wish to have (coffee after 9:00pm, anyone?). For regional establishments this has made running a traditional business near impossible, but for others, it’s provided an interesting business opportunity.
The same applies to bars, and there’s a growing trend of Australian business owners bringing in top chefs and local drinks and menu items to lure in customers, many of whom are perfectly happy to drink at home or at a nearby, quiet restaurant. You’re fighting for their time and business, and it can sometimes feel like an uphill battle.
If you’ve worked in the hospitality industry you know how challenging this type of work can be, and if you’ve run a business of any kind, you’re likewise aware of the financial burden, time constraints, and significant personal commitment it demands. But with the right idea and the skills to execute a strategy, opening a bar or pub could be your more fulfilling venture yet.
It’s an exciting world to be entering, as a business owner, entrepreneur and trendsetter. It’ll give you the opportunity to create a fun, entertaining and high-quality space for people to unwind, get energised or simply have a great time.
We’ve previously written a guide to starting a cafe, but now it’s time to delve into the world of pubs and bars. Read on for our comprehensive list of must-do things before opening a bar or pub.
Australians are drinking more at home than ever before
Before you invest money, time and energy into this new business venture, ensure you’re committed to following through, and determine your reasons for wanting to do in the first place. What are your intentions and expectations?
Start by writing a mission statement, vision and general plan, and answer some key questions:
- Why do I want to open a bar or pub?
- What is my unique angle?
- Why do I think I’m the person to develop this idea?
- What do I want my customers to experience at my venue?
- Am I passionate about this type of business, or just business in general?
- What kind of values do I want my employees to have?
- What kind of culture do I want my business to have?
- What type of business would I be proud to run?
Once you’ve answered these questions, you’ll have a clear sense of the kind of business you have in mind. But before you go any further, be sure that it’s the right venture for you:
Reasons to open a bar or pub:
- You’ve spent time researching this type of business and feel confident it’s right for you
- You’re passionate about providing excellent customer service
- You have a unique idea or angle
- You have a clear plan
- You’re willing to commit time and money to your business
- You’ve worked in hospitality, have run a business or have some specific expertise that would give you a competitive edge
Reasons not to open a bar or pub:
- You’re not ready for a long-term commitment
- You’re not sure if hospitality is the industry for you
- You’re not financially secure
- You’re not willing to work long hours, weekends or nights
- You can’t see yourself doing it long-term
- You’re not willing to take reasonable risks to make it happen
Find a Point of Difference
What is going to make your bar or pub the next big thing? Why would people choose it over their regular ones? Finding a point of difference is an essential part of opening any business, and often has a big impact on its success. In such a competitive industry, it’s not enough to simply exist; you must give people a compelling reason to come.
Furthermore, you’re not just competing with other similar businesses, you’re competing with other forms of entertainment, activities, and even the option of staying at home. It’s free and convenient for people to stay at home, so if people have made the effort to come to your bar or pub and are willing to spend money, make sure you’re giving them a unique, interesting and high-quality experience.
Some things to consider, there, include:
- The theme of your bar or pub
- The type of experience e.g. casual, cocktail, intimate
- The hours that suit your preferred clientele
- The type of food, if any, you’ll serve
- Specialised drinks e.g. cocktails, craft beers and speciality wines
- A conceptual or immersive experience
- Diverse and fresh entertainment
- Music and the general soundscape
- Bar or pub rules, including behaviour that you will or won’t tolerate
Find a Location
Your location will first be dependent on your budget, which you should determine very early on in the process. Keep in mind you’ll most likely have to pay a significant bond, plus pay a portion of rent in advance. There are many additional factors to consider, such as:
- Council limitations on business hours and sound
- The demographic of potential customers in the area
- Opportunities for signage and advertising materials
- Flexibility for your fit out
- Foot traffic and area popularity
- Proximity to residential spaces
- Proximity to public transport
- Other similar businesses and competition
- The terms of the lease, up front payments and time frame
- Parking availability
- Potential changes to the area, like major roads or building developments
As you start hunting for the right location, make sure you get AD approval for your business and know exactly what you need to get it running. It’ll save time in the long run and you won’t lose money making drastic changes.
Pro Tip: Consider seasonal interest, and account for it when determining your staffing requirements, menu items and general services. Winter can be a tricky time of year, but with the right strategy, it doesn’t need to impact your general growth and revenue.
Finance and Funding
Starting a business costs money, and there are many ways you can obtain funding. These might include:
- Self-funding, or funding via friends and family
- Private investment, including angel investment, private equity and venture capital
- Grants and government assistance
- Crowdfunding services, like Kickstarter
You’ll need to write a thorough business plan, which should include your budget, forecasts and expectations for growth.
As previously mentioned, your business plan should include a detailed budget, but there are many other sections to include. As a rough guide, consider writing:
- A description of your business including general and day-to-day operations
- Your business name and legal information
- Future plans and projections
- Marketing plans, including a SWOT analysis (more on marketing later)
- Funding, including investor details and profiles
- Goals and objections
- Your business structure and type
- Competitor and market analysis
- Sales strategies and plans
- Staff structure
There are many great templates online which provide a great starting point, which you can find with a quick Google search.
Staffing and Hiring
Finding the right staff can be hard in any industry, but it can be particularly challenging if you’re running a bar or pub. As you start this process, you need to consider the kind of hours your establishment requires, and consider whether full-time, part-time, casual, contract work or some combination of the four suits your business. Things to look for when hiring staff include:
- Motivation and the ability to take initiative
- A positive attitude
- Flexibility and availability
- Hospitality experience, to level that suits your business
- Customer service experience, or a passion to work with people
- Professionalism and an understanding of your business type, and the kind of behaviour that’s expected
In addition to this, you’ll need to establish the position requirements for your establishment, like bar staff, waiters and waitresses, chefs, cleaners, front of house staff, security and management.
Your employees will also need specific qualifications and training to work with alcohol and gaming machines, so ensure they have what’s required before starting, or consider investing in this on their behalf if they fulfill other essential criteria.
Working in the service industry means having to manage many elements on a business, including staff. To make this process easier, consider implementing:
- Direct and team communication e.g. through programs like Slack
- Project management: this could be for managing upcoming events, entertainment etc. e.g. Trello
- Customer relationship management: this could include managing and storing leads and communicating with customers
- Email communication: like Gmail, Outlook etc.
There’s no right or wrong way to do this, but using online systems is an easy, secure and reliable way to communicate with everyone who touches your business, and gives you a record of progress made.
Pro Tip: run reports on your progress in all elements of your business, like social media following, email database, revenue etc. This will give you a sense of how well you’re doing, and alert you to any areas that need special attention.
Running a business that serves food and alcohol, may house gaming machines and hosts entertainment comes with a slew of regulations to follow. The exact licences you need will depend on where your business is located, as different states in Australia have different requirements. What you need to apply for also depends on the type of business you’re running, how and where you’re serving alcohol and council and state regulations.
To start, you’ll need to be aware of your exact business details, and have registered it with the Australian government.
Choose your business structure:
Sole trader: a business controlled by you and you alone
Partnership: a business of two or more people, making up a team of business partners (including you!)
Company: a legal entity that’s separate from you, limiting your personal liability
Trust: meaning a trustee is responsible for business operations
Register your business:
The easiest way to register your business is to:
Register for an ASIC account, log in and click on Licences and Registrations
Select Business Name and enter your preferred business name
Register for a period of one or three years
Enter important information like your business address
Review your information and confirm your payment
You can read more about this process and register a business of your own, here.
Register your website:
Registering a website is easy, though finding a name you like and being lucky enough to be the first to register it is often quite tricky. There are many websites to choose from, so find one you like and register a website name that represents your business, isn’t too complicated and stands out.
The next step? Getting a designer to create a killer website for you!
Apply for a licence:
As previously mentioned, each state has its own requirements for running a bar or pub. You may need to apply for a:
Small bar licence: if your establishment holds no more than 100 patrons and has no gaming machines.
General bar licence: if your establishment sells alcohol on the premise, at offsite functions and offers dining and entertainment services. It does not include gaming facilities or takeaway alcohol sales.
Hotel licence: if your establishment sells alcohol to be consumed on the premises or as a takeaway service, has gaming machines, provides onsite entertainment as a secondary function, and if you plan on selling alcohol off the premises. This is suitable for pubs, hotels and large bars.
Club licence: which allows your club to sell alcohol to patrons on and off the premises.
Packaged liquor licence: which allows you to sell alcohol that is not consumed on the premises, e.g. if your bar or pub as a bottle shop.
There are other types of licences that you may need, so research the requirements within your state or territory.
Pro Tip: consult a solicitor to ensure you’re following all rules, laws and requirements for opening a pub or bar.
Insurance is a must have, but understanding which type to invest in can be tricky. Regardless, without the right insurance, you’ll be liable for injuries, damages and could lose the business you’ve worked so hard to build. Imagine a situation where someone is injured or hurt on your property while you’re not even there, but as a result, you become bankrupt and must close operations. It’s a scary thought! Some options to consider include:
Public liability is a great option if you run a business that encourages members of the public to visit, covering patrons as well as employees, partners and suppliers. It is not mandatory in every case but highly recommended. It may cover:
- Legal costs
If your bar or pub distributes or sells products, you may wish to take out product liability. It is for businesses that supply products to the public, and covers injuries and damages, among other things, if a claim is made by a customer.
Mandatory in Australia, this covers staff injuries at work.
This covers the loss of products and general theft on the premises.
This covers damage and repairs on your premises.
Loss of income:
This is needed if for some reason your establishment is forced to close as the result of a major event, such as a fire or flood, and covers things like wages and expenses.
As with all legal requirements, speak to a professional about which insurance is required for you to be properly protected. It may seem like a cost you can’t afford, but without it, you’ll be at risk of personal and professional ruin.
Your Bar of Pub’s Fit Out
Anyone who has undertaken any type of renovation knows how painful, costly and time consuming it can be. A fit out is often, unfortunately, no different.
Before you can start this, you need to decide on the type of seating arrangement you want, and how you want to be serving food, drinks, entertaining people, as well as how you imagine (or want) the space to be used by customers. This is important, as your fit out will be different if you plan on serving a range of sit-down meals, as opposed to if you’ll be encouraging dancing, hiring musicians to perform or hosting private functions. As you make these decisions, you’ll need to consider several factors:
- Your room structure and furniture. You may wish to buy bar stools, tables and chairs, counters or other types of furniture.
- How many bathrooms are required, and what the current space permits
- The interior design of your space, including artwork, decor, plants and your colour scheme
- Stage and sound requirements e.g. speakers and microphones
- Kitchen and food service requirements such as a fridge, oven, dishwasher, sink, food display, food prep equipment, lighting, storage
- Your desired lighting design
- Payment options, including a register and safe
- Technology, such as laptops and tablets
You’ll need to work closely with builders, plumbers, electricians and depending on your plans, architects and designers, too. Develop a detailed plan for what you want to include, and then work with experts to determine what’s possible, that can reasonably work within your budget.
Marketing your bar or restaurant is the final step in our guide, but from another perspective, is the very beginning of your business becoming a reality. You’ll start marketing once everything else is in order, but it will simultaneously mean the beginning of your ongoing activity and business launch. Your marketing should start before you open, but will be consistent activity as your business grows. Here are our top tips for marketing a pub or bar:
Research your area: understanding your area will help you best service those most likely to visit. Determine things like average age, income level, interests, tastes and preferences, and tailor your services to meet demand.
Find your ideal market: once you know the demographic profile of your area, you can start to hone in on your target market. Who is your ideal customer? Who is most likely to seek out your services? Once you know this information, you can customise your marketing efforts, like targeted ads, boosted social media posts and paid search, to reach those people specifically.
Answer key questions: determine your brand, articulate your mission, and find your objective.
Have an online presence, through your:
- Website: it may seem like an unnecessary cost, but investing in a well designed website is incredibly important. High-quality images, well written copy, key information and a strong user experience will drive business, and give potential customers every reason to try your venue.
- Social media: eventually, if you want big results you’ll need to put a spend behind your social media activity, but to start, simply set up business pages and invite your friends and family to like and share your pages. Try Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, upload basic details, and include representative images, menus and contact details.
Have a launch event: this doesn’t have to be costly, just a chance for people to see what your business is all about. Offer an incentive to get people through the door, like discounted drinks or giveaways, connect with customers and collect email addresses in the process for your database.
Create a special offer: particularly at the beginning, though these should continue as you grow, special offers are a great way to generate press and interest. These might include themed nights, discounts, two-for-one offers, trivia nights, refer a friend campaigns among others. Be creative!
Connect with other local businesses: this may mean getting to know your neighbours, developing mutually beneficial offers or incentivising cross-promotions. It’s also a great way to get people who work in the area to visit your bar or pub for lunches, after-work drinks and special events. They’ll in turn recommend your venue and become free marketers.
Tell a story: what’s your business all about? What’s your mission? Who is the founder and what should people know about them? People connect through stories, so tell yours, and inspire people to want to know more and get behind your vision.
Encourage reviews: prompt your customers to leave reviews on Google, Facebook and other sites, rather than waiting passively for negative ones to ruin your reputation. If you’re lucky, there won’t be any negative reviews to worry about, but just in case, work to empower people to sing your praises and spread the word. Reviews are one of the primary ways prospective customers make decisions, so don’t discount this.
Before you get started, check out the full range of Jason L bar and pub furniture, which offers something for every business type.
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