So you want to open your own fun-filled local bar? Cool! Not only is that a shrewd financial move, what with entertainment and eat-ertainment businesses thriving in various markets across the country, but it’s also the first step towards creating a brand and establishing the potential to take your one location into franchise territory. Either way, the possibilities are endless. But first thing’s first…

Here is a step-by-step checklist for opening your own bar business:

1. Come up with a solid business plan

We’re not talking about the fine print, exactly – those details tend to resolve themselves over time. But heading into any business venture requires a dedicated business plan. Set goals, determine budgets and spending, calculate costs, and put it all in writing. Start with a mission statement that serves as a guideline for all subsequent projects that lead up to your business opening. This is arguably the easiest step of the journey and the most important.

2. Determine your business framework

Knowing the structure of a business is key for keeping it afloat. And it's an absolute MUST for getting any project off the ground. If you're planning on functioning as a corporation or in partnership with another party, how you set your business up will differ greatly from if you choose to operate as a sole proprietor. This decision can impact insurance and business liability coverage, tax and loan payments, plus so much more. Speak to a professional who can provide you with the best advice for setting yourself up for success.

3. Apply for licenses and trademarks sooner than later

It’s easy to get ahead of yourself when excitedly putting together a passion project. However, opening a bar or restaurant that serves alcohol and features music and/or interactive entertainment requires heavy-duty protections on the part of business owners. And securing the necessary permits and paperwork that protect your business can often take a LONG time.

First and foremost, hire an intellectual property lawyer and trademark your business name! Choosing a name early means that you won’t be delayed from buying store signage, or personalized accessories and décor – and, with a trademarked name confirmed early, you can use social media to build anticipation for your business as it's being developed.

As for licenses to serve food and alcohol, different states have different processes so check out the rules in your area. Don’t let your dream business be shut down before it has a chance to thrive.

4. Location, location, location

Real estate is a complicated game. But when it’s right, it’s right. When picking a location for your business, there are several factors to consider. Not only are there the physical elements (zoning restrictions and bylaws), but the superficial ones, too. Do you plan on opening a bar that caters to college students? Or a more posh audience? Two completely different demographics – each will affect how you order inventory and your overall hiring.

Street view of Sing Sing bar located in a student part of town.
Sing Sing bar targets largely younger workers and college age students.

Do you wish to play live music? Do you intend to have an outdoor seating section? If so, you might not be able to operate past certain hours if your bar is near a residential area. And cutting back on business hours means cutting back on staff, which may ultimately prove problematic. The location of your business affects so many other elements, so always keep it in mind.

5. Design your bar

The goal of any hospitality business is to bring people in and give them a great experience so that they come back. One of the most effective ways to ensure that this happens is by establishing a clear design – both inside and out.

Example of bar design at VOX BOX in Hull with view behind the bar and neon fixtures.
VOX BOX karaoke bar in Hull, UK

Creating an atmosphere of fun is a given, but ensuring consistency flows throughout your space lets new customers know that the bar is operated by someone with a point of view. And they’re likely to appreciate that more than just the standard pub fare and bells and whistles hanging on the walls. Also keep sound-proofing in mind from the start!

Be thoughtful with your building design: try to stand out from other establishments in your neighborhood – and that doesn’t mean you have to break the bank. There are plenty of online platforms where you can gather design inspiration: some of the best are Pinterest, Instagram, and TikTok. And while you're at it, create social media accounts for your up-and-coming business.

Click here for some awesome karaoke bar design ideas.

6. Hire a numbers person

If you don't have a head for numbers (hey, it happens), you would benefit from a business accountant – someone who can monitor sales figures and compare them against wages, billing, loans, and so on. Do not skimp when it comes to maintaining solid bookkeeping. Not only can it help avoid any unnecessary legal issues come tax time, but it's also just a great idea for monitoring business performance, especially during the first few years of operation.

If you think you can operate without a dedicated bookkeeper, at least purchase the latest accounting software to make it easy on yourself. Quickbooks® is always a great option for seamless, fool-proof business monitoring.

7. Go shopping

Various liquor options available at a bar aligned at the back of a bar.
Make sure to have a variety of liquor options. 

Obviously, you’re going to need a few things to operate a business. And while the time will come for more of the fun stuff, it’s important to start with the must-haves. An essential inventory list of items for your new bar or restaurant business should look something like the following:

  • Bar accessories and equipment, including glasses, alcohol mixers, cocktail garnishes, straws, napkins, and prep tools
  • Liquor: top-shelf options and plenty of the basics
  • Beer, including taps and kegs
  • Wine (although a “nice-to-have”, having a few standard red and white options is always a good idea)
  • Dishes and serving materials, silverware, napkins, and tablecloths (if you’re fancy)
  • Furniture, including tables, chairs, and bar stools
  • Cooking equipment, like grills, ovens, stoves, broilers, knives, and fryers
  • Kitchen equipment, like dishwashers, walk-in fridges and freezers, heat lamps, hot plates, coffee machines, ice machines, and fountain drink dispensers
  • Workspaces, including prep tables
  • Cooking utensils, cutting boards, storage containers, gloves, ladles, and tongs
  • Various cleaning supplies, like brooms, mops, sponges, and disinfectant products

8. Pick the perfect Point-of-Sale system

Much like the accounting software you choose, your POS system must be as equally user-friendly. The POS system, or Point-of-Sale system, is the brains of your entire operation and it’s critical to your bar’s success during the first few months of operation: it's how your staff enters orders, it helps determine the ordering quantities, it's how your staff gets tipped-out, it even protects your business from internal and external theft while helping to ensure efficiency in the bar and the kitchen areas.

What’s more, proper inventory tracking helps you to set reasonable prices while determining which liquors or beers are most commonly ordered in your bar. Having this information on hand allows you to stay ahead of customer orders while increasing your profits.

When shopping for a POS system, consider those that offer features like:

  • Bill-splitting – for those large groups that insist each member of their party gets their own check.
  • Pre-authorization – that allows waitstaff and bartenders to verify the funds available on credit and debit cards.
  • Time-based pricing – a great tool for setting discount pricing features (like happy hour for the 3 pm – 6 pm crowd) automatically.

9. Build your dream team

The people who work at your bar will ultimately set the tone during those first few months of operation. With the right bartenders, bar backs, hosts/hostesses, and waitstaff on hand, customers will respond in kind by becoming return customers – and more than likely, they’ll bring their friends.

But be smart: It’s not enough to have cool, personable people running the joint. They also need to be highly skilled and competent. Again, the first few months of operation can make or break a hospitality business, so you need support staff that is going to take things seriously. Keep your bar crew consistently trained on how to serve alcohol and lean on them for input during the hiring process.

10. Add music, a sound system, and space for karaoke

Honestly, what's a bar without music? You've gone through all the trouble of securing your permits, choosing a location, and hiring an awesome staff, now you've got to give your customers a little something extra in the form of sound – whether that's simply background music or live performance space.

Group of bar goers dancing and singing on karaoke night.
Karaoke night at Mann's Street, Helsinki 

However, if the type of bar you wish to open is a hub for sociable entertainment and live music, it’s important to remember that you’ll need to acquire music licensing and performance rights beforehand. Luckily, there’s a helpful and handy guide explaining everything regarding these legal issues related to karaoke and live performances in the USA that you can find right here. Check here for the UK. And here for Australia,

Music software

If you’re looking to incorporate background music into your bar, one of the best and most reliable programs is Soundtrack Your Brand, the latest tool from Spotify Business. And for the best in professional karaoke software, look no further than Singa. They offer the best products (for both stage or karaoke rooms), the largest song library, and pricing that fits any budget.

View of Singa karaoke software being used to play the songs at a karaoke night.
Singa karaoke software in action. 

There you have it! A comprehensive, step-by-step guide for putting together the most awesomely entertaining bar in town. Follow each of these points correctly and the only other question you’ll be asking yourself is “when is the grand opening?”