Deciding Whether You Really Want to Be in the Bar Business

Think of all the great times people have in bars. They meet for girls' night out, bachelor parties, reunions, birthdays, or just because it's Thursday. They come to celebrate, relax, or have fun. It's a fact: People like bars. So it's not a leap for people to think "Hey, I enjoy hanging out in bars, so I may as well get paid to do what I enjoy — hanging out in bars."

Viewed from the bar stool (on the public side of the bar), it's easy to miss all the hard work that goes on to make hanging out in bars fun for everyone else. When you have to manage every detail — such as hiring the music, choosing the lighting, designing the menu, and picking up trash in the parking lot — the bar business quickly becomes more work than fun, so don't be fooled.

The bar business is tough for some people to relate to because you're selling an experience rather than something that's physically packaged that you can hold. Instead, your product is packaged in many layers, from the music you play, to your furniture and lighting choices, to the beers you have on draft. All these things make up your packaging, affect the costs of doing business, and affect your patron's decision to hang out at your place or move on down the street.

Think about these questions when you're contemplating your decision to take the plunge and run your own place:

  • Do you really like people? An odd question on the surface perhaps, but running a bar doesn't afford you a lot of quiet, contemplative alone-time. Make sure you can stand the onslaught of conversation and complaints.
  • How do you handle your own liquor? For some people, running a bar is like giving a kid the keys to a candy store. The liquor is always available, and they don't seem to know when to say "when."
  • Are you a night owl? Think about your own internal clock. When does it turn on and shut off? If you like to be up until 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning, this could be the industry for you.
  • Are you ready to baby-sit adults? As the owner or manager of the bar, you have many employees, suppliers, and customers who need your attention. Sometimes you're the one who has to cover a missed shift on the fly. Occasionally, you've got to handle a late shipment of liquor that arrives inconveniently at 6 o'clock on a Friday night. Most likely, you'll need to attend to a patron who needs a cab. Whatever the scenario, tag — you're it.
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