how to open a bar

How To Open a Bar: A Step-by-Step Guide

Want to learn how to open a bar but feel overwhelmed at the prospect of starting your own business? Breaking things down into smaller steps can help.

In this article, we discuss how to prepare, set up, and operate your bar for potential success.

Table of contents

How to open a bar: Preparation

how to open a bar

1) Examine your priorities

The first step to starting a bar may have nothing to do with business at all and everything to do with your own priorities.

Before you set out to open a beverage service business, take the time to decide what you want your work life and your personal life to look like when the bar is up and running.

Can you create the work-life balance you crave through this type of entrepreneurial effort?

Running a bar is hard work that often demands long hours, so as you’re examining your priorities, ask yourself other introspective questions, such as:

  • What are my strengths when it comes to business?
  • What are my weaknesses?
  • What am I passionate about?
  • Am I willing to learn the foundational activities of running a bar?
  • If money were no object, how would I run the bar?
  • Can I handle working long and variable hours?
  • How much financial stability do I need?
  • Am I ready to be on-call at all hours of the day?

Finding honest answers to questions like these can help you decide if you want to continue with the process of starting a bar or if you want to concentrate your entrepreneurial efforts elsewhere.

2) Work in a bar

One of the best ways to learn how to start a bar is to work in one first. You’ll experience firsthand what it takes to keep a bar going and gain valuable experience in basic business practices, like:

You can then transfer the lessons you learn working for someone else to your own unique venture.

3) Research state and local health codes

Before you get too deep into the process of learning how to start a bar, take the time to research state and local health codes.

These regulations can sometimes be extensive, rigorous, and expensive to implement, so be sure you understand the hoops you may have to jump through to operate your business. It’s also a good idea to seek legal counsel.

4) Choose a name for your bar

In some cases, one of the most difficult parts of the entire process is coming up with a name for your fledgling business. That’s why we recommend brainstorming early so you have plenty of time to settle on an option that you like.

You’re also going to need a business name when you start filling out forms in the setup phase of the process. Redoing all the paperwork because you decided to switch names can be expensive, not to mention labor intensive.

How to open a bar: Setup

Woman practicing her bar skills

5) Develop a business plan

Every business needs a plan. Your bar is no different.

As you develop your plan, it can be helpful to include a wide variety of information, like:

  • Equipment needs
  • Price structure
  • Accounting methods
  • Drink (and food) offerings
  • Budget
  • Target market
  • Employee needs
  • Marketing plans

Once complete, a well-structured business plan can serve as a road map that shows you exactly what you need to do to get your bar up and running.

6) Find the right location

Successful bars often live and die by the real estate maxim, “location, location, location.” As you explore your options, be sure to consider details such as:

  • Distance from your target market
  • Parking
  • Extent of building maintenance
  • Cost of operation and upkeep
  • Safety of neighborhood
  • Esthetics
  • Decor
  • Security

You may be excited to get started, but resist the urge to pick a less-than-ideal location for your new bar. Look long enough and the right place will come along.

7) Register your bar

Registering your bar usually starts with deciding how you’re going to organize the operation for legal and tax purposes. Again, this list is not intended as legal advice, and you should consult your counsel for more information.

Options include:

  • Sole proprietor/self-employed — working by yourself under your own name (e.g., Jane Barowner)
  • Doing Business As (DBA) — a sole proprietor doing business under another name (e.g., Jane’s Bar)
  • Limited Liability Partnership (LLP) — a legal arrangement that serves to keep personal assets and business assets separate
  • S-Corp — an independent corporation that allows profits and losses to pass through to the owner’s personal income
  • C-Corp — an independent corporation that is taxed separately from the owner’s income

After you settle on the type of business you’re going to run, you’ll need to register with the IRS, the federal government, and state and local authorities in order to obtain the necessary licenses and permits.

8) Open a business bank account

Regardless of the type of legal and tax entity you choose, it’s a good idea to open a separate bank account just for the business.

Keeping your personal and business finances separate can help with a wide variety of activities, including:

It may seem like a waste of time to open a checking account for your new bar, but doing so might save you time and effort down the road and come tax time.

How to open a bar: Operation

Craft beer at a bar

9) Purchase equipment

Bars require a lot of equipment: coolers, freezers, taps, bar tops, tables, chairs, mirrors, POS equipment — the list goes on and on.

Some of this equipment can get very expensive very quickly because of health and safety regulations. You may find some deals online, but it’s always a good idea to purchase high-quality equipment so you don’t run into problems down the road.

That includes the software you’re going to use to schedule and organize your team.

The right program can often mean the difference between a smooth workday and one that’s rife with problems, confusion, and no-show employees.

10) Hire and schedule employees

Hiring and scheduling employees may seem like an impossible task at first, but with the help of modern technology, you’ll be a pro in no time.

The Sling software suite is particularly useful for tasks like:


Once you’ve hired and scheduled the best team for your bar, you can use the Sling app to communicate, assign tasks, get a handle on labor costs, and even democratize future scheduling.

11) Focus on customer service

Right from day one, encourage your team to focus on customer service and how they can best serve the patrons who walk through your doors.

Since you’re not necessarily “producing” anything (other than high-quality mixed drinks, of course), bar customers may often come for the atmosphere and the friendly service they receive from your employees.

12) Consider advertising for your bar

Whether you started advertising your bar before you opened the doors or waited to market your establishment until the drinks were flowing, now may be the time to kick that activity into high gear.

As you consider ways to advertise and market your bar, don’t just focus on the most expensive options. There are plenty of ways to get the word out that only cost a fraction of what you might spend on the big three (TV, radio, and print media).

Try these relatively inexpensive advertising alternatives to get things started:

  • Ask your friends and family to talk up your bar
  • Post flyers on local bulletin boards
  • Put together a Facebook page
  • Build a website
  • Market to customers with email and loyalty programs

Get creative with your marketing efforts to reach as much of your target audience as possible.

Use Sling to help you run your bar

Cheers at a new bar opening

When it comes to how to open a bar, you need the right tools. As we mentioned earlier, incorporating the right scheduling software into your workflow from the start can help your new business stay on the road to success.

And when it comes to organizing, managing, and optimizing your workforce, Sling is the preferred choice of thousands of bars and restaurants.

The Sling app can help you save countless hours each week that you can then dedicate to learning how to open a bar, growing your business, and making your dream a reality.

For more free resources to help you manage your business better, organize and schedule your team, and track and calculate labor costs, visit today.

Last Updated: August 2023

This content is for informational purposes and is not intended as legal, tax, HR, or any other professional advice. Please contact an attorney or other professional for specific advice.

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