To drink, or not to drink? That is the question. You may find yourself wondering why a bar would choose to not serve alcohol. What exactly is the point? But there is so much more to consider before completely dismissing the concept of a B.Y.O.B. bar. Bring Your Own establishments that are growing in popularity. As this article will demonstrate, B.Y.O.B. bars have so much more to offer than what the name suggests. And if you are a traditional bar, pub, or club owner, you might want to think about all the ways that adopting this unique and profitable business model might work for you.
But first, let’s dig deeper. What exactly is a B.Y.O.B. bar and why you might want to make your own bar B.Y.O.B.
What is a B.Y.O.B. bar?
It's a pretty straightforward idea – and no doubt you've been invited to a house party or backyard BBQ with the acronym "B.Y.O.B." printed on the invitation. Typically, B.Y.O.B. (that’s “Bring Your Own Bottle” or “Bring Your Own Booze”) bars and restaurants serve non-alcoholic beverages with their food, while allowing patrons to show up with their own alcohol, like beer, wine, or liquor, and pour and serve their own drinks.
New and exciting? Not exactly. The concept of bringing your own bottle of wine to a fine dining establishment has existed for decades (patrons will usually pay a corkage fee for the restaurant to open and serve the wine that they bring). The major difference between this and a B.Y.O.B. establishment is that the emphasis is less on consuming alcohol in general and more on alcohol-free engagement while the patron is inside. In other words, what other exciting elements can you incorporate into your venue that will encourage customers to stay for longer without them having to drink?
Of course, different establishments offer different levels of service, so, really, no two B.Y.O.B. bars are created equally. And there are legalities associated with owning and operating such businesses that differ from state to state, and country to country.
How do B.Y.O.B. bars make money?
From a business perspective, bringing your own bottle to a bar sounds like a poor financial move to get behind. However, those who open or transition to a B.Y.O.B. bar remain successful because of the other elements they incorporate into their space. The money that a bar owner might lose on alcohol sales is typically made up by having entrance fees, hookah, and private karaoke rooms or other competitive socializing activities – these sorts of entertaining touches keep patrons engaged for longer, encouraging them to stick around well past last-call. Also, sober or booze-free customers will still opt for food and non-alcoholic options if they are spending anywhere from 4 to 6 hours having a great time at the karaoke room or booth.
Many B.Y.O.B. business owners have found that if you give people options, word begins to spread about their bars, which often results in a great volume of new clientele. It’s all about how you operate your establishment. Try out one model and see how the public responds. Tweak until you find a successful model that works for you.
Why B.Y.O.B. bars are a growing trend
Not only are there practical reasons for the growing trend of B.Y.O.B. bars, but large numbers of younger people are choosing to forego alcohol for health and lifestyle reasons. Getting drunk on a Friday night is not as attractive a draw to Millennials and Gen-Z patrons as it perhaps once was, and any business that can offer an entertaining alternative in a similar social environment has been shown to win these audiences over.
But more than this, B.Y.O.B. bars are also gaining popularity because of the elements of entertainment and activity that make them ideal spaces for social gatherings and special occasions. Things like live music, live trivia, board games, darts, and billiards – and especially karaoke. These simple additions create a universal atmosphere that is conducive to togetherness. Even if patrons choose to pass up the alcohol, they are still able to remain engaged by the exciting, participatory options available.
Should your club or bar consider becoming a B.Y.O.B. bar?
As with just about any business decision, there are positives and negatives to turning your bar or club into a B.Y.O.B. venue. If you can get past the cons, or you are willing to work through them to capitalize on this growing trend, then you can look forward to many of the benefits. Thinking about transforming your space? Here are some reasons for and against starting a B.Y.O.B. bar of your own:
PRO: B.Y.O.B. BARS STAY OPEN LONGER
Without a last-call bell to keep in mind, alcohol-free or other B.Y.O.B-type establishments can stay open later and open earlier. Make sure you check your local by-laws regarding noise after certain hours – but these venues give patrons extra time to have fun.
PRO: B.Y.O.B. BARS ARE MORE COST-EFFECTIVE
Having engaging activities like games, activities, karaoke, and live music in a B.Y.O.B. bar can drastically increase sales while lowering a business’s overhead figures that come with ordering mass volumes of wholesale alcohol.
PRO: B.Y.O.B. BARS REQUIRE LESS STOCKING
With less alcohol on hand, businesses do not have to order as many bottles which creates fewer stocking requirements and relieves staff from having to accept and unpackage alcohol deliveries, saving time and paying for extra hours.
PRO: B.Y.O.B. BARS CREATE GREATER EMPHASIS ON SELF-OPERATING
When customers are placed in charge of dispensing their own refreshments, it frees up other members of staff to focus on other priorities, like cleaning, food serving, security, and other transactions.
CON: B.Y.O.B. BARS COME WITH POTENTIAL FOR SAFETY ISSUES
One of the biggest potential red flags when opening a B.Y.O.B. bar is the potential for safety and legal issues. If patrons are consuming their own drinks, it's difficult for members of staff to monitor how much they are drinking and when it might be time to cut them off. If patrons get too frisky, they might disturb other customers, too. You can station members of staff to monitor guest consumption, but on a busy night, it might be tricky to accomplish. Always have a plan in place for this.
CON: B.Y.O.B. BARS REQUIRE SPACE
When incorporating additional entertainment elements to your B.Y.O.B. bar – especially things like a pool table, a dedicated dance floor, or a private area for karaoke – you might have to do some minor to major renovations to accommodate. Of course, everything depends on how much space you've already got, and how much you wish to include.
CON: B.Y.O.B. BARS CAN LEAD TO CLEANLINESS ISSUES
Again, if customers are consuming and preparing their own booze at their table, the possibility of creating a greater-than-usual mess not only becomes unsightly, but potentially dangerous and inconvenient. Watch for spills and obstacles so that nearby patrons are not put out.
CON: FEWER BRANDS TEND TO SPONSOR B.Y.O.B. BARS
It's a sad fact, but many traditional bars, pubs, and clubs that rely on alcohol brands to sponsor their space can find themselves cut off if they emphasize NOT buying booze from the establishment that serves it. And for some smaller establishments, this business move could be the difference between remaining open, or potentially having to cut back on staff. Make sure you know your status with current brand sponsors before undertaking the shift to B.Y.O.B.
How to open a B.Y.O.B. bar?
First and foremost, if you are thinking of turning your traditional bar into a B.Y.O.B. establishment that encourages customers to bring their own alcohol – make sure you are doing everything legally! Local bylaws may not permit B.Y.O.B. bars in your area, and if they do, there are certain to be numerous permits to fill out and specific licenses to obtain. While definitely a worthwhile venture, you do not want to skimp on the process when it comes to opening or re-branding your business as a B.Y.O.B. bar.
Once you’ve got your permits in place, decide the type of B.Y.O.B. bar you want to run. Will guests be permitted to bring their own wine only? What about liquor? Will you keep beer on hand so as not to lose some major brand sponsorships? Put together a policy, take out the appropriate liability insurance based on your policy, and stick to it.
Finally, be sure to train your staff according to the company's new expectations. Even if they aren't responsible for serving alcohol, they should definitely be trained to recognize pitfalls and know when to interject when serving customers consuming their own alcohol.