How To : 11 Tips for Successfully Running a Bar

Photo: Shutterstock/ Master1305.

Ways for every bar owner to succeed.

By Bruce Hakutizwi


unning a bar is an appealing business opportunity for many people. If you consider yourself a “people person,” then buying a bar may especially seem like a slam-dunk. But this entrepreneurial pursuit goes beyond attending bartending school and chatting it up while slinging cocktails.

It’s important to understand that there is much more involved than what appears from the outside when you’re mulling this option from the customer side of the bar.


Like any business, there is a backend that needs to be run, employees that need to be managed, and a gamut of customer service and other issues to consider. That is not to say that bar ownership can’t be the dream job you’ve envisioned, but before you dive in, there are some tips to consider that will help you succeed as a bar owner.

1. Find the sweet spot in pricing.

Once you’ve chosen your establishment—whether it’s a taproom, tavern, hip cocktail lounge, or the neighborhood dive bar—the first thing you’ll need to do is set your prices correctly. It may be tempting to inflate prices for a quick win in profits, but this is a short-term fix that won’t be sustainable.

Instead, set prices that are fair based on what you offer and what’s comparable in the area. Determine a sweet spot that is neither too low nor too high.

2. Train yourself on everything.

Even if you’re planning to leave the day-to-day operations of your bar in the hands of a capable manager, as a bar owner, you should know how to do everything you would ask or require your staff to do. That means everything from making cocktails to doing dishes to running the cash register. In the service industry, your employees will respect you more if they know you’re willing to get your own hands dirty when necessary. Running a bar isn’t something that can be done from behind the walls of an office. Of course, you’ll need to know how to keep your books and financial records as well, or make sure you hire an accountant that can help you do so.

3. Understand the associated liability and take it seriously.

Serving alcohol comes with a lot of responsibility. Therefore, it’s imperative to ensure that everyone working in any capacity in your bar is trained to handle alcohol-related safety issues. This will be crucial to protecting your restaurant from fines, losing your liquor license, increased insurance costs—or worse, going to prison or losing your business altogether. Make sure your staff is thoroughly trained on these issues through a reputable program such as The National Restaurant Association’s ServSafe Alcohol training course.

4. Know what you need to stock.

As a new bar owner, this will take a while to figure out. What patrons want will differ on any given day, however, you will likely identify some favorites that draw people to your establishment and begin to figure out your optimal inventory. Keep track of your bestsellers as well as your busiest days, times, and seasons so that you can predict needed stock accordingly.

5. Keep your equipment in good shape.

Make sure you purchase and maintain the proper equipment to store and display the drinks your bar offers. You’ll also need to make sure you have all of the tools of the trade that will enable you to provide speedy service to customers—and minimize the stress
on your staff—on those busy nights.

6. Monitor your liquor quantities.

Especially when it’s busy, it can be tempting to skip measuring the amount of alcohol and mixers that go into drinks in an attempt to prevent mess and reduce clean-up tasks. But this is a shortcut that will always end up costing you money in the long run.

Jiggers are an essential tool for even seasoned bartenders to easily measure alcohol amounts. Measuring alcohol and mixers keeps portions consistent and prevents heavy pours and lost inventory due to spillage. Glassware can also impact your bottom line. Not only do heavier glasses require less liquid to fill, they also hold up better and last longer.

7. Add extras to attract patrons.

Food is a standard extra, and every bar should have at least a limited menu to provide imbibing patrons with something to nosh on. But there are other additions that will make your bar stand out.

Consider offering daily or weekly happy hour specials or events like a weekly trivia night or pool tournament. Schedule the events for those specific times when you need to increase traffic at your bar. For example, after-work hours or daytime hours on a Saturday or Sunday.

8. Get social.

Social media is an effective, free method to advertise your bar and to spread the word about weekly drink and food specials or other events. This is also a great way for patrons of your bar to connect, share photos, etc.

Just make sure you, or someone on your staff, manages any social media channels and that anything posted is approved before going live. The last thing you want is unsavory pictures of your establishment circulating all over social media.

9. Invest in a POS system.

This is another area where many bar owners skip to save a few bucks, but an electronic point-of-sale (POS) system is essential to organize orders and track transactions. These systems also ensure that things run smoothly on the front end. By streamlining communication between servers, bartenders, and kitchen staff, you’ll be better equipped to keep customer orders and tabs straight when things get busy. There are a variety of POS systems available, and the prices vary based on the level of service and management you need, so do your research.

10. Hire the right staff.

People patronize a bar as much for the people serving them as for the food and drinks served. That’s why it’s essential to have friendly, competent staff in order to be successful in the bar business.

Hire personable, outgoing, professional-looking staff who can put customers at ease and who are knowledgeable about your bar and what it offers. While anyone can be taught to make a drink, not everyone can be taught social skills.

11. Have fun!

At the end of the day, don’t forget why you got into the business in the first place. Owning a bar is supposed to be fun, so enjoy it.

Just make sure you keep the business operations, such as accounting, inventory management, payroll, etc., separate from the nightlife.

If, after reading these tips, you’re still seriously considering buying a bar, then you’re probably on the right track for a successful business opportunity that will provide a good balance with your personality and lifestyle.

Photo: Shutterstock/ Olena Yakobchuk.

Bruce Hakutizwi serves as the U.S. and International Business Manager at

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