Owning and operating a pub or bar can be tough work. However, with the right attitude, even a small bar can be developed into a profitable, rewarding business.
Whether you’ve recently purchased a bar and want to improve and expand the business, or you own an aging bar that’s in need of an update, there are numerous ways that you can improve it and turn it into a more valuable asset.
Like everything else business related, there’s no one-size-fits-all way to enhance and develop every bar. However, there are a few tactics that just about any bar or pub owner can implement to attract more customers, increase revenue and run a smarter business.
From expanding your business to improving your existing location, we’ve covered these tactics below, with actionable information and advice on how you can further develop and expand your bar or pub.
When Should You Consider Improving Your Pub/Bar?
As with many other business decisions, improving your bar is all about making the right choices at the right time. Generally, there are two times at which you’ll want to think about improving and developing your bar:
- When your bar is doing well and growing quickly, especially when you feel your current location is as successful as it could be in its current state.
- When your bar isn’t doing well, whether due to an outdated interior design, a menu that no longer attracts customers or changes in the market due to competition.
In the first situation, your goal is simple -- build on your bar’s existing success and make sure it can make the most of its potential. In the second, it’s a little different -- turn around your bar and redevelop it into something that’s more attractive to customers and better as a business.
We’ve covered both of these situations below, with actions to help you succeed whether your bar is growing rapidly or needs a new jolt of energy.
Financing Your Pub or Bar’s Development
As the saying goes, you often have to spend money to make money. Developing a pub or bar is no exception. Without easy access to capital, making improvements to your bar or expanding to a second location can be a challenging, if not impossible process.
Thankfully, a variety of options are available. The first is to finance your bar’s development using your existing cash flow. If your bar is consistently profitable, you can use its revenue to fund any improvements you plan to make, or to pay for the development of a second location.
The biggest advantage of this approach is that you won’t need to pay any interest, as you would with a conventional bank loan. However, funding improvements or a new location this way require significant outlay, with most bars simply not generating enough cash for this to be feasible.
There’s also the timing aspect to consider. While it may be possible to finance your pub or bar’s development using operating cash flow, doing so could significantly delay the date at which your new location (or your improved, original location) is ready.
The second option is to borrow money from a bank. If your existing bar has consistent cash flow and you’ve prepared a thorough business plan for your improvements, a bank may be willing to give you a loan.
However, there are several downsides. First, you might be required to provide an asset as collateral. This means that if your improvements aren’t as successful as expected, your existing location could be at risk.
Most banks are also very risk averse, meaning it’s uncommon for a bar, pub or other small, new business to successfully receive financing without first ticking a variety of boxes and, in many cases, paying significant interest rates.
The third option is to use a service such as our pub and bar financing. With this option, you’ll be able to instantly access the capital you need to fund your pub or bar’s development without any lengthy approval process, fixed monthly payments or APR to worry about.
Instead, you’ll repay your financing via a small percentage of your bar or pub’s debit and credit card sales. This means that your payments mirror the performance of the business, instead of having to make a set minimum payment every month, regardless of how well your business is performing.
As a bar or pub owner, it’s important to carefully consider all of the options before you make a decision about how you’ll fund your business’s development.
Enhancing Your Food and Drink Offerings
A lot of the time, you can improve your bar and increase revenue without having to make any physical changes by focusing on your menu.
By changing your menu, or simply enhancing it with additional offerings, you can increase the amount that your existing customers spend in your bar. The final result is an increase in your pub’s monthly revenue, all without having to market your business to a new audience.
That said, changing your menu can also expand your audience. From adding drinks and dishes that are local favourites to simply offering a wider variety of options, the right food and drinks can often spur people into action, inspiring them to visit your location.
There are several ways to enhance and improve your bar’s menu, many of which are easy to implement:
Add a Larger, More Diverse Range of Food Options
One of the most common bar and pub mistakes is offering a small menu that’s limited to pub snacks and other simple fare. Instead of focusing on pub snacks, it’s better to offer a diverse range of choices so that your customers never need to leave your space.
Try to craft your menu so that all of the most common food-related situations your customers could find themselves in are answered. For example:
- If a customer drops by your pub at 5PM for happy hour, do you have a range of dinner options for them to choose from an hour or two later?
- Your pub is visited by a family. It’s a mixed group of men and women, ranging in age from their 20s into their 60s. Do you have appealing food options for everyone in the group?
- After visiting for dinner, a group stays at your pub until closing time. Does your menu feature a range of snacks and other shareable items to make sure they always have something to snack on until they leave?
In short, is your bar prepared for the vast majority of its customers? While there’s no need to offer a comprehensive menu -- after all, you’re not a restaurant -- it’s important to provide at least a reasonable selection of food options so that your customers never feel hungry.
Add New Drink Options to Increase Spending
If your bar has a fairly simple drinks menu, one of the easiest ways to increase revenue is to expand its selection.
As ever, there’s no proven, one-size-fits-all way to expand and improve your bar’s drink menu. However, there are a variety of tactics that you can use based on the type of bar you own:
- If local and imported beers are your top sellers, consider adding a selection of craft beers and other favourites to tap into local tastes and preferences.
- For a cocktail bar, add your own selection of unique drinks. Let your bartenders pick creative names for their favourite drinks -- after drinking a gin and tonic of two, lots of your customers will be interested in trying something new and unique.
- Provide upsells. For example, make sure that there’s both an affordable option and a premium choice for everything on your menu, from beer to sparkling wine. Customers will appreciate the choice and many will opt for the more expensive option.
- Practice smart menu design techniques. Effective design can make all the difference between a successful menu and one that fails to hit the mark. The Restaurant Times have an excellent guide to this that covers all of the basics.
Refurbishing Your Bar
The second step in developing your bar, whether you’re expanding it or simply changing the way it looks and feels, is physically refurbishing the space.
There’s no perfect way to refurbish every bar. Instead, the best strategy is to focus the bulk of your efforts (and your budget) on the aspects of your bar that have the greatest potential and need for improvement.
An easy way to identify these opportunities is to look at feedback from previous patrons. View your bar’s online feedback (Google reviews are great for this), then make a note of any weak points your customers identified.
For example, if your bar is held back by a kitchen that limits its food offerings, put most of your budget towards improving the kitchen with new equipment that lets you offer a wider range of food options to your customers.
If outdated or worn out decor is holding you back, focus on refreshing and replacing furniture your customers will notice. To create a cohesive and stylish design, consider working with an interior designer that specialises in bars and restaurants.
Expanding Your Existing Location
As we covered in our complete guide to expanding your restaurant, there are two ways to grow a restaurant, pub or bar business.
The first is to expand to new locations. For example, if you have a successful bar in a suburban area, opening a second location in a similar area is a great way to reach a similar demographic and increase your sales.
The second is to expand your existing location, allowing you to serve more customers per night without ever spreading your attention too thinly.
As with refurbishments, the most effective way to expand your existing location is by looking at your current weak points:
- Is your bar or pub limited by a lack of space? If so, developing an additional dining area or simply expanding your space with more tables and seats could be a smart, effective investment.
- Could a terrace, garden or other outdoor space enhance your bar and make it a more appealing option for customers?
- Do you have interesting, Instagram-worthy spaces? If not, consider prioritising design elements and spaces that inspire people to spread the word about your bar. Like this CNBC story notes, a growing number of bars and restaurants are investing in stylish, photogenic spaces due to their appeal for social media users.
If your current location is at its limit and you aren’t ready to open up a second location, it’s also worth considering moving your bar to a new, larger location. As this article explains, moving is often tough in the short term, but can be a vital part of taking your business to the next level.
Developing a Multi-Site Pub or Bar Business
If it isn’t possible or feasible to expand your existing location, expanding your pub or bar to a second location is an excellent way to grow your target audience and increase the amount of revenue your business generates.
Opening a second location is a major step. As we explained in greater detail in our complete guide to expanding your restaurant business, there are numerous steps involved, all of which require careful consideration:
- Choosing the right second location. A good second location should attract customers similar to those that visit your existing restaurant, preferably without cannibalising your current location or being too similar to local competition.
- Preparing a detailed plan. Expanding to a second location is quite similar to opening a completely new business. As such, it’s essential that you prepare a second plan for your new location.
- Working out how to market your new location. A new location is, to a certain extent, a new business. As such, it’s important to have a marketing plan ready so that you can take full advantage of your second location after it opens.
- Purchasing and installing new equipment. Since you’ve already opened one profitable location, this step is rarely a challenge. However, it’s important to know the kitchen and bar equipment, as well as supplies, that you’ll need to operate your second location.
- Training your staff. Just like your first location, your second location will fully depend on your staff for its success. Since you won’t always be able to be around, it’s important to train your staff to handle the day-to-day operations of your second pub or bar.
- Opening and running the new location. From soft launching to hosting a great opening night party, there’s both an art and a science to successfully opening your pub or bar’s second location.
Each step in this process can require a significant amount of research and preparation. As we mentioned above, our guide to expanding a restaurant to a second location is a great resource that, with a few minor tweaks, can help you successfully do the same for your pub or bar.
Purchasing the Lease on Your Site
If your lease agreement includes an option to purchase, raising capital to exercise this option is a fantastic way to increase your level of ownership over your business and reduce your monthly operating costs.
Depending on the terms of your lease agreement, your landlord may provide an option for you to purchase your location. This provides several advantages:
- First, you’ll gain full ownership over the property, giving you a greater ability to change, modify and renovate it to suit the needs of your pub or bar.
- Second, you’ll own your location outright, reducing your operating costs by eliminating the rent you’d typically pay for your location.
- Third, you’ll gain a greater level of control over your business. Since you’ll own the site, you’ll become protected against potential issues such as rent increases and the risk of losing access to the property at the end of your contract.
Not all commercial lease agreements will include an option to purchase, and those that do often set forth restrictions on the purchase option. Because of this, it’s important to consult an expert if you’d like to acquire the property on which your business is located.
Take Action Now to Plan for the Future of Your Business
At first, the prospect of sinking your pub or bar’s hard-earned cash flow into improvements can seem daunting. The idea of borrowing money via a traditional bank loan can seem even more challenging and stressful.
However, it’s important to remember that you aren’t just spending this money -- you’re investing it to create a larger, more profitable business in the long term. If you decide to take a merchant cash advance to fund your expansion, our team of experts can guide you through the swift, simple application process.
Like other investments, it can take months or years before you’ll begin to see real benefits from developing and expanding your pub or bar. However, over time, these benefits can accumulate and become more obvious, eventually resulting in a significant return.
If you’d like to take the first steps towards expanding your pub or bar, contact us. We’ve worked with thousands of small and medium-sized UK businesses to fund expansion, improvements and other smart, profitable long-term investments.
Our experienced team can help you learn more about your financing options and provide expert assistance to help you take action and grow your pub or bar business.