(Your Name Here)'s Place: 5 Bad Reasons for Wanting to Open Your Own Bar
If I had a share in Applebee's for every time a person told me that they wanted to open a bar...
If I had a share in Applebee's for every time a person told me that they wanted to open a bar when they find out that I am a bar owner and a restaurant consultant, I wouldn't have to set foot in another restaurant except to actually dine. My immediate reaction is always the same, "Why?" I don't mean to discourage people from getting into the business, I love this business. There are a million good reasons someone should open a bar. In my experience in opening countless new bars and restaurants, or being called upon to help those bars that are having difficulty or those that want to expand, I can tell you that the reasons people get into the business are usually the wrong ones. So here is a list of answers that I typically get when I ask "Why do you want to open a bar?" and why these reasons are poor foundations for becoming the next Sam Malone.
Why do you want to own your own bar?
1) I throw great parties. This comes up a lot and usually from people who are already in the business as an employee, or has a long-standing reputation at their high-school reunions for the keg parties they threw every weekend at their parent's house. There is a distinct difference between throwing a party once a year, month, week and owning a business doing it. Being a good party planner is a start, however, you won't be able to dedicate yourself to just the party aspect of it once you are doing it for a living. The restaurant/bar business is like any other business. There is payroll to do, meetings to attend, lawyers, accountants, schedules to be made, ordering to do, maintenance (OMG! Maintenance!!). All of these things take up a great deal of time, even if you have a General Manager, (which most bar owners starting out DO NOT), you are stuck in the office most of the day, and then floating around the bar/restaurant during service making sure everything is going well with your staff, and communing with your customers.
2) I want to be my own boss. This is one of my favorites. Owning a bar is far from being your own boss. Sure, you can come and go when you please, unless you want a successful bar. You can pay yourself what you want, as long as the business can afford it. But people usually say that they want to be their own boss because they don't want to answer to anyone else. This is a major myth that gets any type of business owners in trouble. You don't answer to someone, as a business owner you answer to everyone! Yes, the bank, the staff, the customers, the township, the liquor control board, the chamber of commerce, the delivery drivers, the vendors, the cleaning crew, everyone! Everyone is relying on you to make sure everyone else is doing their job. From the bottom, and past the top. The business DEPENDS on you, unless you don't want to be part of operations at all, (and I'll tell you that is the ONLY WAY you should open a bar, as a silent investor. Especially if you have a lot of money to lose.) I am going to paraphrase a quote I read once about being your own boss. "If you own your own business, and your business depends on you, you didn't buy a business, you bought yourself a job...and it's the worst job in the world because your boss is a lunatic."
3) I have a great concept that has never been done before. Concept restaurants are fun, but they are not really built to survive. I can name 20 different concept bar that failed...just in my area alone, in the past 5 years. The trick is to get past year #5, most didn't get past month #5. It is very difficult to find a concept that fits into the right geographical location, with the right floor plan, with the right demographic. If you start with a concept idea, and try to find the right place for it, you will almost certainly be compromising on one or the other in order to open your bar.
4) I'll get rich. Sorry, this is rarely going to be the case. Ultimately, every bar owner realizes, usually about the time they take a second mortgage on their home, or sell their fishing boat because they don't have time to be on it. Funny thing is about your bar, just like a boat, one of the best days you will ever have is when you sell it.
5) All of my friends will come and it will be great! Have you ever gone to one of those Tupperware-type parties in someone's home? They invite you and they say "you don't have to buy anything?" Well, you can't have your friends taking up a bar-stool for paying customers while you are trying to run a business, and many friends will assume they will be "taken care of" at the bar. They also tend to be the most demanding on your staff because they "know the owner", and even if none of that is true, you can't build a business solely by your friend base. They can't come to your bar every day and every night, or for every event or band that you have. Plus, you have work to do! You cannot be hanging out drinking with your friends all of the time if you want a successful business.
Are you still here? Okay, so I haven't scared you off, good. Here's what you should do next....
Start with writing a business plan. This is how you can figure out if you really want to do this or not. You know why? Because at some point in the process, you are going to lie to yourself. You are going to justify one decision, or compromise on part of your idea. (It's usually around the financial picture). And all of that is okay. This is where your passion meets your pragmatism...your dreams and the reality kiss each other on the cheek and decide to play nicely or not. It is the single most important thing that you can do for yourself if you are serious about opening your own bar/restaurant. Don't know where to start? Read this article from the SBA (Small Business Administration) to get you started, and we will be posting subsequent articles for those who have decided on continuing down the path to owning their own bar. Cheers!