What’s the secret to successfully opening a bar?

It’s a conversation many (non-industry) people will have had, the old “let’s open a bar” chat because people think it’s as simple as picking a location, buying the booze, choosing some food and opening the door.

The hours of planning where that location should be, what the theme should be, designing a cocktail list, thinking how long it will take to make each drink and investing in large amounts of stock are forgotten. Not to mention licensing, council applications, staffing and the million other things that can’t be covered in one paragraph.

I had a chat recently with the co-owner of a leading bar group in Sydney and mentioned I had a couple of friends who were looking into opening a bar. He half chuckled, half snorted at me and asked what they did for a living, I told him they worked in TV news and his response was, “there’s no way I think I could rock up and put a TV show together, but people think they can just open a bar. We’d been working in the industry for years before we opened our first bar and that was tough.”

It’s a valid point and I’m sure one many agree with: it’s not easy to open a bar. You have to plan every detail and yet still be prepared for every single one of those details to change and for everything you’ve trained for to change.

So what is the key to opening a bar successfully? Well, rather than asking my two mates, Bars and Clubs turned to those people who have done just that in recent months. Across Australia some amazing bars have opened their doors in the last 18 months or so, and we decided to ask some of those involved: “How do you open successfully and make a splash?”

One great place to start is with the team at Maybe Sammy, not just an amazing bar, but one recently voted as the Best New International Cocktail Bar at the Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards.

For Stefano Catino, Co-Owner of Maybe Sammy, clarity and understanding are crucial.

“We believe you need to have a clear idea of what to do, then a high sense of hospitality. All of our places are based on the customer’s experience and making sure everyone wants to come back,” Catino said.

Preparation was obviously a big part of the process for many of those involved, as Ryan Noreiks, Co-Owner of Fancy Free in Melbourne explains. “For us making as big a splash as possible was our game plan while we learned as much as possible about running a business and working with each other as a team. As well as the day to day running of the bar we held numerous events with chefs and bartenders both locally and internationally.”

For Matt Holding, Partner at Malt and Juniper in Adelaide, it was a mix of factors including what was on trend in his local area.

“Our secret was choosing two spirits we thought everyone could enjoy. Whisky I found to be a growing category for Adelaide, and with the success of local gin distilleries, supporting that category was a no brainer. We tried to make the bar as approachable as possible, comfortable and have nothing but personality behind the bar.”

The Speakeasy Group have obviously opened a number of venues successfully and Director and Operations Manager, Greg Sanderson said there is one main principle the group uses for all its new venues, including Nick & Nora’s which opened in Sydney recently.

“All our venues are opened with one key principle in mind: offering guests a sense of escapism through memorable, personable and unique drinking and dining experiences,” Sanderson said “. For Nick and Nora’s, it was creating an unprecedented offering previously not seen in the area.”

Brett Robinson, Co-Owner of Panama Social in Perth, has a very honest view of the process.

“If someone knows the secret, please call me!”

But, more seriously, he adds: “If you don’t think the concept you’re rolling out offers something new and exciting then you’re not ready to open. You need a create a buzz that gets people through the door but more importantly you need to deliver a vibe and an experience that has them coming back, with friends, lots of friends.”

Josh Hunt, Co-Owner of Ends & Means in Melbourne agrees that having a great experience for customers is important, but adds that the continuing development of how people use social media is also something prospective owners should think about.

“The way we ‘made a splash’ was tailoring the experience to the patron’s expectations. We also focused on aesthetic drinks that photographed really well, which allowed us to have a strong social media presence. Consistency of product helped as well, so the drink you see on Facebook/Instagram looks exactly the same as the one you’re served at the bar.”

And for all the hard work, planning that has to be done, as Justin De Beer, Owner of Hello Gorgeous in Brisbane says, there’s one factor that can often be out of your control at play.

“I think it comes down to three things – location, an original concept and timing,” De Beer says. He adds: “Also offering people something different to the generic looking venues you come to see. The rest of it can be down to just pure luck!”

The great thing is that many owners and operators are making it work, they are understanding all the aspects of what it takes and most importantly making it happen and making it work. It’s amazing to see so many new venues opening and being successful and it’s fair to say I’ll have a word with my friends about many of the things they probably haven’t considered.

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