So You Want to Start a Bar

When people think of starting a bar, they probably think of the bars they see on television where everyone knows your name and they treat you like family. While this type of bar isn’t uncommon today, it’s important to realize that places that served as inspiration for those shows didn’t just appear overnight. It takes a lot of hard work and commitment on behalf of the bar owner.

While all work and no play does make Jack a dull boy, all play and no work will land Jack in the poorhouse - and quickly, too, as a bar business can be a huge financial risk. If you decide that the potential payoff is worth the gamble, however, you’ll benefit from going in knowing what bar supplies you’ll need before you ever pour your first shot.

The first step when deciding how to start a bar business is to find the ideal location, location, location. While ensuring that your bar will have great pedestrian traffic and plenty of parking, you’ll also need to make sure you’ll be allowed to serve alcohol at the site you favor. Local laws may prevent a bar from opening too close to schools or churches, or in residential areas, so make sure to inquire about these prior to making a financial commitment.

Once you’ve picked your spot and after you’ve obtained any licenses or permits, you’ll want to paint, decorate, and furnish in order to create the perfect ambiance for your theme. Once these long-term decisions are made, it will be time to find the right bar equipment.

Refrigeration and Ice

Arguably, the most important equipment in a bar will be that which keeps your drinks fresh and cold. Failure to keep beer cold can be a death sentence for a bar, as can watery cocktails. The best way to prevent these business-enders is by purchasing quality refrigerators and ice makers. Back-of-house and under-bar refrigerators, as well as back-bar units, bottle coolers, and wine refrigerators will keep beer and other bottled or canned beverages at ideal serving temperatures.

There are ice makers available with a number of ice type options and, believe it or not, finding the right one for your drinks can decide whether your bar makes it. Larger cubes are great for presentation of high-end liquors and have a large surface area, which means sustained cooling. Half cubes are great for soft drinks, and nuggets and flake ice both work well in frozen cocktails.

Glass chillers can also help push your drinks over the top. Couple a glass chiller with a draft beer system to cultivate loyal customers. With the growth in the popularity of craft beers in recent years and Americans’ draw to a frothy brew, draft beer customers will make up a substantial percentage of your patronage. That means they may become your largest source of constant cash flow and will be critical to your bottom line.

Underbar Needs

While it’s good to have a great show with chatty, sympathetic, and entertaining bar staff, a good bit of the show goes on well out of sight. Under bar equipment is vital to keeping things running smoothly at customer level. From drainboards to sinks with blender dumps, it’s important to have handy access to water and drains. You’ll also want to make sure you have plenty of glass storage available, whether with cabinets, shelves, or hanging racks.

A soda gun and filler station will keep unsightly soda bottles and cans from customers’ view, leaving your bar space free for more important potent potables. Another vital piece of underbar equipment is an ice bin/cocktail unit. Some of the more convenient models will have a sink to help keep the bar area tidy.

An investment in a couple of speed rails for your most popular booze will keep those often-poured spirits within easy reach, appropriately speeding the time it takes to serve them. Underbar glass washers will cut down significantly on labor required to keep a steady supply of glassware at the ready. Bottle cap catchers and openers will make serving bottled beers a snap, as well.

Blenders and Mixers

Blenders and mixers are a critical component to any good bar. Margaritas, daiquiris, and other frozen libations are necessary to keep a large segment of the market satisfied. Offering frozen cocktails is more time-consuming and labor intensive than offering bottled and mixed drinks, and you may be tempted to invest in a frozen drink dispenser. There are some on the market that will provide the results your customers are looking for, but not all of them will. It will be important to do research to ensure that you get a unit that will maintain temperatures that are cold enough to produce a classic frozen cocktail, due to the fact that alcohol has a much lower freezing point that other beverages. The temperature at which the alcohol will freeze depends on the proof of the liquor; they higher the proof, the lower the freezing point. The product literature will specify whether the unit will be suitable for frozen drinks. All bars, however, will need to invest in at least one quality drink blender. You will want to make sure the blender is slated for crushing ice. There are many brands with models that have powerful motors, specialized blades for ice, and microprocessor controls.

Glassware and Displays

Merchandising liquor displays can provide an impressive focal point for your patrons at the bar, but you’ll need to make sure you have a variety of drinkware that is designed especially for the different spirits you’ll be serving. Rocks, high ball, pilsner, and shot glasses, as well as beer mugs and pitchers can be placed on shelves to enhance the effect. Likewise, stemmed glassware, such as glasses for wine, martinis, and margaritas can be hung by the stem in wire or wooden racks for display and easy access. For an extra touch of class, you can beef up your wine service with buckets, coolers, carafes, and stoppers.

Finishing Touches and Inventory Control

Liquor portion control pourers help keep inventory under control by limiting the amount of liquor that comes out at once. The amount of profits that can be lost due to improper pouring can be astronomical. The same can be said for wasted product, which can be reduced with store and pour units. There are some specifications as to how these can be used, so make sure to check local codes when using these containers for storage.

Adding finishing, and potentially make or break, touches to cocktails can be done efficiently and stylishly with bar top dispensers. Specialty spoons and muddlers help prepare leaves for mojitos and oranges for old fashioneds, and signature margaritas are completed with glass rimmers.

Payment Folders and Trays

Finally, you’ll need to equip your wait and bar staff with the items they need to keep your customers coming back and buying drinks. The convenience with which patrons can check out can add or detract from their overall experience. Making sure wait staff has cash carriers, trays, and coin holders to make the monetary exchange a smooth one will go a long way in making your establishment a popular one.