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Raising the bar! Hot tips on how to snazz-up your bar business

As of 2019, the food and drink industry was the largest manufacturing sector in the EU, creating more than 4.6 million jobs directly, with an annual turnover of over €1 trillion and and an added value of more than €230 billion. The sector comprises more than 294,000 companies, 99% of which are small to medium businesses (SMB). Moreover, it generates more than €100 billion in wages and salaries. The bar business is a subset of this industry -  and boy, oh boy, is it ever a big business. According to Spirits Business, 2019 was a stellar year for Europe’s bars with venues throughout the continent dominating cocktail culture and collecting an impressive haul of trophies at some of the world’s biggest cocktail contests. So where does your bar fit in in all of this?

If you have been looking for ways to revamp, tweak, or do a major overhaul of your bar, you have come to the right place. Here are some ideas for how to get in on the impressive trends benefitting bar owners in Europe today.  We’re asking you to rethink your interior, your exterior and your overall feel to make sure your business is on point. The best bit: it doesn’t take a great deal of effort.

Dress up the interior

Like any establishment where a customer spends time, a bar is no different. Even before they have sat down for a drink, your customer has taken in the interior of your pub. What feel does it give off? Is it clean? Snazzy? Comfortable? Inviting? Most importantly, does it make you want to return? Maintaining its interior is extremely important. So, as you go about thinking of ways to improve your bar, take stock of the inside of it -  as if you were a customer. Don’t be afraid to ask others (like staff and regulars) for ideas and their impressions.

Once you have decided on what you need to revamp, think of working with what you have. Could keeping the hard furnishings work, if you simply throw in some new soft furnishings? What is it that is missing? Booths, sofas and cozier areas invite people to stay longer (and order more over time) than say, bar stools set up in a well trafficked area or corridor. 

You want to keep as many original features as possible. Those fireplaces and original hardwood, even the odd cuckoo-clock in the corner may have been in your bar a long time. Returning customers will remember them, the more quirky they are, the better, so don’t be too quick to replace them. Indeed, these small touches add authenticity and character so remember what sets you apart aesthetically from your competitors. Of importance is thinking through your actual floor space and arrangement. Is it overcrowded and is there enough space for people to move around? Are there other spaces that could be used more effectively?

Budget and plan

As with any project, prioritize what you think is really needed. What is the look you are aiming for? What needs routine maintenance? Would redoing that outdoor space bring in added revenue this summer? Take a minute to plan, prioritize and then create a budget for the whole affair. Start by having a running and ongoing wish-list. Next, consider breaking up the must-haves and move on to the less essential items one-by-one. Some important tips as you go about this process include planning and calculating just how much time the work will take, how many days or weeks you’ll be out of business for, and how it will affect your business. Indeed, a bar can be refurbished in 6-8 weeks, so think of giving yourself ample time for these more robust efforts. 

Once you are done considering the work you want to do, set a budget. Know that this step is one of the most important parts of this process because everything must be taken into account. Everything! Nails, screws, labor, lights, parts, and yes, that includes any and all small jobs. Being absolutely meticulous with your financial planning and projections is key to avoid running into any problems or risking running out of money before the work is finished. Be as detailed as possible when you finally set a budget.

Offer grub

Drinks may be your mainstay, but offering food at your bar offers serious revenue potential. The reality is after several drinks, you want your customers sticking around and not taking off for the nearest restaurant in search of food and more drinks. So, start by thinking about how much you want to take on. Bar snacks are fine, but if you have the kitchen space for serving up food, the more you offer, the more you are likely to increase sales. Indeed, based on the emergence of gastro-pubs, the desire for local, gourmet and healthy eating, people might expect more variety than a bag of chips, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. Perhaps there are some local olives or seasonal dishes you could offer? How about speciality cuisine? You could simply focus on one meal a day too (a brunch?) or simply a basic set menu.

As you go about the process, the most important decision is keeping track of your food budget. This is the case because, according to insider secrets, it can have a huge impact on your bottom line. Indeed, calculating how much your food items cost, what your most affordable ingredients are, how much to charge for add-ons, what the high margin items are (that you may want to promote) and what your losses are all going to help you maximize your profit. In addition, in terms of the actual location where you serve your food, you may want to separate your eating area from your bar, if that suits you. If you can accommodate this, it will help to promote and visually cue your customers for food. If you are short on space, you could think of simply decorating a bit differently to emphasize the division or giving the table area a more formal or upmarket feel, so you cater to the upscale clientele and differentiate from your straight-up drinker. 

Light it up 

You don’t have to be Giselle or Cindy Crawford to understand the importance of lighting. No, we are not talking about having a size 0 killer bikini body. What we are talking about is how a space can look dramatically different if it is well-lit or not. There’s research and psychology to prove this is the case. In the 1970s, Dr. John Flynn conducted a groundbreaking study of lighting’s effects on our moods and experiences. His conclusions show that lighting in a space determines whether someone considers the environment pleasant or unpleasant, public or private, spacious or confined, relaxed or tense and visually clear or hazy. That means if customers’ moods and experiences are affected, bar owners better pay attention to the message their lights are sending. Ultimately, know that good lighting can equal increased sales or not.

With this all in mind, give some thought to how the area looks now. How does your lighting differ from day to night. Do you get a lot of natural light through windows and doors during the day? Are there enough lights installed for the evening? Customers generally love a light and airy feel during daytime hours, but they also take note of hygiene most during this time of day, so pay attention to what they see then that can’t be seen as well at night. Carpet stains, dust and dirty tables will be observed! When the sun goes down, night-owls go for the softer, dim or mood lighting, so artificial light that you can control is key. Finally, be mindful that winter and summer brings different perspectives so lamps and spotlights can help. 

Jazzing up your bar can be as hard or as easy as you like. The key is to continue to look for ways to raise the bar and we hope these hot tips have helped.

Jessica Brown
Jessica is a globally renowned writer specializing in International Relations, Economics and Political Affairs. A graduate from Brown and Cambridge Universities she now focuses on helping small to medium businesses grow their bottom line.
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