5 Key Traits of a Successful Bar Owner

By Ray Foley, Heather Dismore

When running a bar, there are several traits that make the bar more likely to be successful. Every bar owner injects her own personality into her place. In fact, many people start their own bar because they want it to be different from other places nearby. But most successful bar owners have certain qualities in common. This list gives you the inside story:

  • Business savvy: Despite people partying it up in your bar, it’s not a constant party for you, the bar owner; it’s a business. In fact, if more people looked at bars (and restaurants for that matter) as a business, they’d probably have more success. Skills that you’ve learned, developed, and honed in the “real world” can apply to the bar business, like buying skillfully, managing tactfully, and negotiating shrewdly.

    Set up your controls and systems for purchasing, cleaning, scheduling, training (and all the other -ing words you need to run your business) before you open your doors. Consider the long-term consequences of your decisions before it’s too late to make the right choice. Learn from your mistakes and build on your success, just like you would in any business.

  • High energy: Owning a bar means lots of long hours on your feet. Employees take their cue for how to deal with the physical stressors of working in a bar from you, their fearless leader. Show (rather than tell) them how to keep their energy up and keep the personality “on” at all times during their shift. Your bar can’t have a positive vibe if you don’t.

    As a manager or owner, one of your jobs is to promote a positive attitude and energy in the restaurant. You can have positive interactions with customers and make a difference. But if you extend those positive vibes to exchanges between you and your staff, your staff can in turn extend the good vibes to customers. That’s your goal, because the positive energy can transfer to your clientele as well.

    If you like to have fun but you’re serious about doing the job right, it shows. And it translates into success.

  • Ability to hold your own liquor, or just say no to it: For some people, managing a bar is like getting the keys to the grown-up candy store, and the temptation is too much to resist. As a barkeep, you often drink as part of your job.

    Whether you’re tasting a new line of flavored rums, checking a freshly tapped keg, sampling a “bad” bottle of wine, or joining your regular customer with a glass of wine or a beer close to closing time, in the course of your daily job you may have occasion to drink.

    No matter what the circumstances, you still have to count the money at the end of the night. Or you have to be ready to go first thing in the morning.

  • Trust: You need to be able to trust and depend on other people if you want to run a bar. You can’t be there all the time that you’re open, and if you are, you’re going to grow old quickly in an industry that already wears down the best of us.

    Surround yourself with people you trust and think are smarter than you. Easier said than done, but the successful people in the industry are successful at doing just that.

  • Flexibility: Achieving success and maintaining success are two very different things. As a bar owner, you should be constantly looking at ways to increase your business and keep your clientele interested in your bar, your atmosphere, and your beverages. You have to be in the know about what the other bars are doing and be willing to change your own game plan as necessary.

    Look to your liquor reps to help educate you, your staff, and your customers about new products on the market. Try out different entertainment options on different nights of the week to appeal to different groups of people. Run food specials to see what kinds of stuff intrigue your patrons.