Search & Distill: The Reality Behind Opening Your Own Bar

Get extra insurance if you’ve got a fryer.

In the last couple of months I've received more e-mails asking for advice about opening a bar than about anything else. I hear random people talking about it when I'm bellied up, and the host of new bars that have recently come on the scene are no doubt an inspiration. When you're on one side of the bar after a long day at work, the other side can look mighty attractive.If owning a restaurant sometimes gets compared to a marriage, I'd say owning a bar is very much like having twin Baby Hueys. Even before you ask whether people would want to drink with you or you're willing to start living your life at night, take stock of the logistics, and of just how deep you stand to get before you open your doors to the hopefully thirsty masses.Finding the right space can set you up for success or failure; how much work the space needs can by itself change the financial picture of the business. Renting a space means paying rent—on average, $25 to $40 a square foot or more—and paying percent rent, the percentage of net sales that goes to your landlord every month, on top of that. If you're not smart enough to negotiate delaying payment of percent rent for six months or until you reach a certain sales goal, you can hinder any paycheck or profit you'll see from your bar indefinitely.The phrase "the house always wins" applies to landlords too. They make sure they get what they can from you up front, because though bars and restaurants can be lucrative to them, their rate of failure is high. Many first-time business owners fall in love with a space or idea so much that they sign a ridiculous lease that dooms the project from the beginning.Unless you own the building, determining how much money you want to spend on constructing a bar is the next big decision. All those great ideas you have for design and lighting? You're basically customizing and remodeling someone else's property, and you have to think about what you can take with you if it all goes south. That's why spaces that have already been a bar or have a working kitchen are so desirable. You'll have to serve food, but be careful about putting too much money into the kitchen or the menu, as food sucks away profit. Even the decision to have fried food can turn into a big deal because a fryer requires extra insurance. (Of course, a selection of frozen chow is always an option, as bars like Hazlewood cleverly offer.)To stock your bar, you'll pay more for alcohol here than in just about any other state in the union, and you'll be amazed at how much ugly barstools and glasses cost. Additionally, the city will want its business and operation tax.We've only scratched the surface logistically, and the open sign isn't even close to going in the window. I haven't covered whether you can handle the physical toll a bar takes. Or, if you plan on ever having kids, considering when exactly you think you'll sleep. (Hope you're not one of those who require eight hours.) What's more, if you're in a relationship, your home life will change and you will change.So, do you still think it would be fun to open a bar?

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