Choosing the right building for your bar/restaurant

Bricks and mortar

At the start of your new venture setting up your own bar or restaurant, you will be excited and desperate to move as fast as you can to begin the process to achieving your goal. Whilst you will probably have several ideas for your bar or restaurant, it is advisable to wait until you have secured your building and location before you become too involved with your design. Ideally, having a clear idea on general design features is important but very often the space you find in the time frame you have allowed leads you into the design of your bar or restaurant.

Whether you are setting up your first bar/restaurant or a regular to the business, one of the first things you will want to decide is finding the right building. Most people look at real estate in one of two ways: either choosing a location that is already sought after and trendy or risking it a little more and choosing a location that is potentially heading to be the next entertainment neighbourhood. Obviously there is a much higher price tag associated with the first but you can guarantee a customer base from the outset. Whereas the alternative will require you to work harder as you will need to generate that customer base. However, the much lower rent or purchase price will mean you probably have more money to spend on marketing to encourage the flow of customers.

With this is mind, deciding on where to have your bar or restaurant can be tricky but there are a series of things to consider that will make your decision a little easier. Where in an ideal world do you want your bar or restaurant to be? How big are you thinking? Do you want a small intimate feel or big and spacious? Who will be your clientele and what market research will you do to establish how to set your prices accordingly? What is the competition? How many other bars/restaurants are close by? Are they all thriving or are some struggling and if so why? You do not want the same fate. So you need to ask, could you do anything different that means the clientele will be willing to regularly spend money in your establishment.

Alongside this you will also need to weigh up the pros and cons of having a modern, new building compared to the quaintness of a more traditional style building with period features. Modern new builds are likely to be more energy efficient and therefore more cost effective but they might not have the same character as an older building. An older building is likely to require a more detailed inspection to ascertain the structural integrity of the building and the initial outlay might be more due to the requirement to make the building fit for use, especially in light of the health and safety and planning requirements.

There are many benefits to finding a building that was previously a bar or restaurant, depending on what you are trying to open. It is likely that the necessary legal requirements were previously fulfilled and unless there has been a change in the law between the change of hands, you might find that you have automatically saved yourself time and money because you are unlikely to need to modify the building again.

When choosing the location of your bar or restaurant, you will want to consider the neighbourhood. This will tell you a huge amount of information about the style/theme you will want for the internal and potentially the external design of your bar or restaurant. Furthermore, investigating the clientele of the potential area is essential so you can price your drinks or food appropriately. If the neighbourhood has predominantly young professionals then creating a sophisticated wine or cocktail bar or fusion style restaurant would be in keeping with the potential clientele. Comparatively, if your neighbourhood has a substantial number of families then it might be more suited to creating an eatery or bar that is suitable for both adults and children. With the latter, ensuring that there is an outdoor area in which the little ones could play would be essential.

Without any doubt, you will need to do some research to establish the competition. What types of bar or restaurant are in the local area? How well are they doing? Is there going to be room for another bar/restaurant of the same genre or if the market already saturated in that location? What alternative could you offer and is that alternative going to go down well with the clientele?

It is important to recognise that having competition is not necessarily a bad thing. There are several examples across many cities, where this has actually proved beneficial to all the businesses. A new venture can entice new customers to an area especially if the new business offers something new and interesting.

Visit your competition, enjoy what they have to offer and ask the locals for their opinions. Where there is strong competition, perhaps offer a dual purposes for example, by day a chic coffee retreat and by night a sophisticated bar.

When you are deciding on the location of your bar/restaurant, you also want to consider the size of the building. Some veterans of the trade suggest starting small, on the grounds that it is better to fill a small bar than have the same number of customers in a large one looking lost and lonely.

Whatever you decide, you will inevitably need to make a choice about the size of the bar/restaurant as well as deciding on the size of space you will require for any outside space. If you are living in a busy city, a large proportion of your clientele probably live in flats where it might be challenging to socialise. Generating a place where this can happen connects you instantly with a large swathe of people.

You will also want to consider whether you need a full kitchen and the size of that kitchen in regard to the number of covers you expect to manage per night. Also, where will your bathroom or bathrooms go? Where could your customers park if the wish to drive? If you are unable to orchestrate a car park within your own venue, is there a nearby public car park your patrons could use? Even better, is there any free parking close by. The less effort your customers have to make, the easier it will be to entice them to come regularly.

If you choose your location right, you can not only have your neighbourhood regulars but you can have access to a flow of traffic from passers-by who are enticed into your bar or restaurant with your effective design.

There are positives to renting or buying a building that was previously a bar/restaurant and this might save you money however it is imperative you find out why the previous bar is no longer there. If they moved on to a bigger building because they had outgrown the space then it is likely, your venture will be a success as you will inherit many of their customers. If however, there were a number of bars before you and they all closed, the chances are highly stacked against you too.

Another point to mention lies in the proximity of your bar/restaurant to your own home. Whilst you might want some distance between your work and your home life, you must remember that as the owner of this business, you will be there everyday, living and breathing the intricate details of how this bar/restaurant works until it is ticking over smoothly. Even then, you are likely to still want to manage the business with regular visits in person. Why would you want a long commute every day if your business can be ideally situated close to home?

Staying friendly with the neighbours is also an important factor. You will inevitably have noise around your business. Even if you do not engage in a late license or wish to have music, you have to admit that some of your clientele might leave your bar/restaurant in a rowdy way. Should your bar/restaurant be positioned next to or close to a school or church, there is a greater chance for complaints and this could lead to issues with your licences being renewed. This is obviously not ideal, so bearing this in mind when choosing the location is important too.

Furthermore, the position and proximity of certain other businesses might also be something to consider especially if they might make your customer feel uncomfortable. If they attract a different type of clientele to the one you are hoping for, then perhaps the location isn’t quite right. Likewise, permanent construction sites as neighbours are less appealing to your clientele as the noise will inevitably disrupt whatever ambience you are trying to recreate. On the other hand though, should the construction work not be permanent then it might allow you to negotiate a more favourable rate of rent or decrease the purchase price. If in the meantime you have a steady flow of workmen being your first regulars then it could be a win win situation.

Whilst you might have the perfect idea in your head when you start out on the journey to opening your bar or restaurant, it might be difficult to match finding that perfect location and building. Having an open mind is therefore essential. Rather than turn down an amazing building and location, you might be better off capitalising on that project and adjusting your ideas to suit your find. It doesn’t mean you need to abandon your original idea... merely save it for when you do manage to find the right building that matches that style.

When you do find the correct location and building, if you aren’t buying, it is imperative you have professionals look through the lease agreement and have the landlord vetted. It is also highly recommended that you seek advice from professionals regarding the condition of the building, particularly the structural bones. If these aren’t considered before you begin on your lengthy and costly project, you will find that at some point down the line, you will bitterly regret it.

As many others have already said, when beginning on this creative venture, you need to establish a timeline. If you haven’t found your ideal building in your ideal location by a certain point on that timeline, everything else will be delayed. A delay so early on will obviously set the opening date back by some way. There will be inevitable further set backs along the way during the building/renovating process and all of these delays essentially cut into you making money from your project. Be realistic but you can’t hold out for perfection for ever. This is why, having an open mind about the building and location is paramount.

Once you are assured that you have found the perfect building and location, allow the neighbourhood and the history of the area to inspire or refine your ideas for the theme or name of the bar or restaurant. In doing this, the locals will instantly make a connection with your establishment and want to visit, bringing your revenue.

Starting a bar or restaurant is a monumental task and one that involves coordinating and managing dozens of different contractors-even from the very beginning in finding the location and the actual building, you will be working alongside several different people. Keeping all channels of communication open and accepting that there will be hiccups along the way are key to making this journey as smooth as possible. Have a clear vision of how your ideas for your bar or restaurant could be adapted to different buildings and locations and it will open up more possibilities.

If you are looking for more advice on starting up your own bar or restaurant, please see our other related articles.