There was a time, during the 60s and 70s in particular, when pretty much any professional footballer worth their salt hung up their boots and immediately purchased their local boozer. Not a silent partner in a fancy Notting Hill gastro-pub, but the actual landlord at somewhere likely called The King’s Head or The Rose & Crown.
The thinking was that, when not playing, they spent all their time and money there anyway, so they might as well combine work and pleasure.
Times might have changed for today’s Premier League stars – creating a fashion label is much more en vogue – but the allure of owning your own bar remains for a lot of people. After all, it’s basically like having friends over for drinks but with a till, right?
It looks fun and easy
The reason why so many people dream of owning their own bar or pub is that, deep down, they think it looks pretty easy. They expect to spend most of their time sitting at the end of the busy but not too busy bar, sharing a joke with regulars, watching their skilled team satisfy the heck out of customers.
The reality is that, to start, you’re going to need a licence to sell alcohol, which involves a whole lot of holes that’ll need jumping through. You’d be well advised to also get your British Institute of Innkeeping National Licensee’s certificate, for good measure.
A word or two about the costs? Tenancy at a leasehold usually ranges from £20,000 to £50,000, and then there’s your monthly rent on top of that. Your dream probably doesn’t involve being tied to a brewery who dictates a lot of the terms of your tenureship, however, so you’ll be looking to buy a freehold. A nice little country pub could be snapped up for around £150,000. If you want a thriving city bar in London, then your mortgage is likely to be in the millions.
It’ll be just like hanging out with friends all the time
Blame the TV show Cheers for this one. The social element of bringing people together and chatting to them is one of the main attractions of owning a bar.
Most people start fleshing out their bar dream by deciding what quirky decor or promotions they’ll run: from pool tables and dartboards to Tuesday quiz night and Champagne Thursdays; from stags heads and vintage jukeboxes to pianos and “hilarious” gender symbols on the toilet doors.
Essentially, the dream starts with the kind of place that they and their friends would like to hang out in – wrong for several reasons.
First, after a few quiet weeks, you’ll soon learn to do what other people like, not just you and your mates from uni. Second, after a supportive visit or two, your friends will never visit again because babysitters are too expensive, it’s too far from their homes, or they’ve just got other things going on.
Which is actually fine because, third, you’ll never be behind the bar anyway. Every minute you spend behind the bar is a minute that marketing, stocktaking, ordering, line cleaning, health and safety checks, and staff rotas aren’t happening. Get rid of that romantic view you had of being sat at the end of the bar and replace it with an image of you inspecting the premises twice a day every day with a bar opening and closing checklist.
You’re On The Wrong Side Of The Bar
Not only are you going to be too busy serving customers, tapping barrels, receiving deliveries, cashing up and posting social media updates to enjoy a pint of the latest guest ale, but pretty much everyone else in your place of work will be drinking, chatting and merrymaking. Your job is to keep the good times rolling without really enjoying them yourself – you’re sort of a permanent designated driver!
The other side of the bar has its own problems too. Hospitality has a staggeringly high turnover rate, which means you’ll likely be searching for or training new bar staff pretty much permanently. Some will be experienced, and you’ll trust them with your pride and joy business for a few hours here and there. Others you won’t. Especially if you catch them giving drinks on the house to their friends who do manage to stop by with alarming regularity!
It’s not all bad news
So why would anyone ever want to own a bar then? With gross profit on draught beer around 55% and bottled beer even higher, there’s undoubtedly money to be made. Particularly in freeholds, if you’re able to make the upfront investment. And technology has come along leaps and bounds in this space, making labour-intensive jobs like staff rotas, inventory management, accounting and compliance more comfortable and accessible than ever before.
But, like all entrepreneurial endeavours, it’s hard work – mentally and physically – with sleepless nights guaranteed. But plenty of fun and, if you’re lucky, maybe even an occasional pint here and there once the crowds have thinned.
Matt is an experienced journalist-turned-marketer, with content in his blood and a particular affinity for tech, SAAS, B2B and hospitality. Originally from the north west of England but now a proud Amsterdammer, his first job was working as a kitchen porter, eventually progressing to the dizzy heights of silver service waiter and occasional barman!
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