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The three pillars of bar development you need to know

When operating a bar, there are many different factors that require attention, time and money. Without a clear plan of action, it is easy to waste precious resources. Thankfully, Jason Williams, Creative Director at Proof & Company, has created a 20 pillar plan that can help bar owners and operators find success.

Williams, who also heads up the the company’s bar and beverage consultancy, Proof Creative, talked to us during The Bloody Big Drinks Summit in October.

In this, Williams imparted some of the crucial knowledge that he and his team have gained during over a century of shared experience. Williams and his team have identified three pillars as the most vital, giving them priority above all else.

  1. The Concept Pillar

According to Williams, this is the most important pillar of all. “Defining a compelling concept should be the starting point when embarking on launching a bar. This will drive all other creative and commercial decisions,” Williams said.

Though the word “concept” might sound abstract, for Williams, a bar’s concept is not esoteric, and is defined by two things. The first is “a pragmatic description of what the business is and the guest experience” – is it a lounge, a café or cocktail bar?

The second is the creation of a narrative or theme. Proof Creative name this narrative “the Golden Thread” – a clear concept that runs throughout the bar.

Without a clear concept, a bar and business can drift from its original aim, putting the business model and investment at risk.

Williams pointed to the Swillhouse Group as possessing and executing high quality concepts, referring specifically to Baxter’s Inn, in the Sydney CBD, and Darlinghurst’s Shady Pines Saloon.

  1. Drinks Offering Pillar

It might seem obvious that drinks are crucial to a bar’s success, but for Williams, this pillar cannot be overstated in its importance.

“A thoughtful, creative and enticing drinks offering is core to a bar’s business model,” Williams asserted.

House drinks, cocktail menus and signature serves should go hand-in-hand with the bar’s concept, helping to guide guests through the bar’s “Golden Thread”.

Williams outlines particular examples of how a drinks offering can enhance and solidify a bar’s theme for guests:

“A cocktail menu with a unique concept and storyline, which is an extension of the venue’s theme… A house signature style of cocktails… a feature spirits list, with a speciality selection to highlight the expertise or interests of the team.”

Balance is crucial. Drinks selections must work commercially, whilst enticing and intriguing guests, Williams says. Bar owners should not overlook the brand partnership opportunities when developing a drinks list.

A drinks selection can be used to enhance the central theme of a bar, whilst developing a sense of occasion for the patrons. Williams gives the example of Melbourne Supper Club. While renowned for its wine list, this venue offered Williams and his friends a sense of occasion through their thoughtful dark spirits range.

  1. Programming Pillar

Nothing to do with computers, Williams defines programming as “organised activity within the venue” – not just events, but the day to day rituals that keep the bar running and on track, while maintaining its sense of identity.

Events are also a crucial part of this pillar, with Williams giving the examples of spirits and wine clubs, alongside industry and consumer masterclasses.

The third aspect of this pillar is entertainment, with live music, art and performance suggested.

Williams highlights Maybe Sammy, a cocktail bar in Sydney’s The Rocks, as an example of a bar with great programming. “The premise is quite simple, but really fun,” Williams says, continuing: “The concept is a 1950s Las Vegas hotel bar, but without the hotel.”

“If anyone has had the pleasure of a drink there, they’d attest to the success of the concept.”

Williams illustrates how the concept relates to the bar’s program: “There’s playfulness, there’s cockiness, there’s some showmanship. And there’s silly games, there’s bubbles, there’s costumes and there’s choreographed dancers. All might seem frivolous – but everybody talks about it and everybody wants to go back for that experience.”

As ever, and as Williams shows, word of mouth marketing and repeat custom is vital for successful venues.

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Proof Creative is its now own agency model, and possesses a team of five senior bar consultants found in Australia, New Zealand, South East Asia and China. Proof Creative works on everything from developing and opening individual bars, up to continental beverage programs and everything in between.  

The full discussion, which includes an overview of all 20 of Proof Creative’s pillars of bar consultancy, complete with more case studies, new concepts and venue examples, can be found here.

This conversation is part of The Shout’s Bloody Big Drinks Summit, which contains over 70 presentations, panels and keynote addresses. Tickets giving you full access to the summit are just $249, but certain free sessions related to hospitality can be accessed for free.

Get tickets and more info here: https://theshout.com.au/bloody-big-drinks-summit/

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