What's a piano bar? Piano bars are specialty clubs that feature a professional pianist playing popular songs for guests. Some of these bars are loud and cater to younger crowds, while some are smaller with dim lighting and romantic tables for two. Being in the business of fun requires serious effort behind the scenes.

Develop a Concept

Decide what kind of atmosphere you want to create and think about what you want to offer as far as drinks, food and entertainment. What customer demographics do you want to attract? Choose a name for the piano bar that fits the concept you want to create. For example, a bar called "Quiet Nights" would attract a different crowd than one called "Merrymaking".

Find a Location

Depending on your goals, you can select a small space for a more intimate ambiance or a large one for more of a party atmosphere. Check with your city's planning office to find out about zoning laws and any licenses or permits you need.

Secure Financing

Unless you can pay for everything yourself, you'll need lenders or investors to help finance your piano bar startup. Before committing funds, lenders and investors want to see a detailed business plan that shows you've given careful consideration to every aspect of the business. You can go online to find templates for a traditional business plan.

A business plan includes these elements:

  • The executive summary briefly describes your business and why it will be successful. Include the business name, a description of the products and services offered and information about the employees and leadership team.

  • The company description tells about the customers you plan to serve and the competitive advantages you will offer over similar businesses.

  • A market analysis demonstrates a solid understanding of the industry, including trends, themes and the competition. 

  • The legal structure of your business states whether you will operate as a sole proprietorship, partnership, limited liability corporation (LLC) or another form.

  • The organization of the company, typically shown with an organizational chart, details the unique qualifications of key individuals.

  • The services and product line section of the business plan describes what you will offer customers. For example, you may want to host sing-alongs or open mic nights. You may want to develop signature cocktails or feature local craft beers.

  • The marketing strategy details how you will attract and retain customers and what you'll do to increase sales while still encouraging responsible drinking.

  • The funding request specifies what you're asking for and how it will be spent.

  • The financial projections show what you expect your business to look like for the next five years. Include forecasted income statements and quarterly, even monthly, earnings and expenditures estimates.

Apply for a Liquor License

Location matters when applying for a liquor license. Costs can range from $12,000 to $400,000 for full liquor licenses, while beer and wine licenses can cost as low as $3,000. Laws vary from state to state. In some cases, states limit the number of establishments that can serve alcohol at any given time, meaning that you may have to wait for a license. Apply for licensure early in the process of starting your business.

Line Up the Talent

When word gets out that a new club is opening up and will feature live music, performers are likely to start getting in touch with you. Visit establishments similar to the one you want to open and, if you like the music, ask the pianist for contact information. You can also find musicians advertising on websites such as Craigslist and GigSalad. Local music stores and college music departments can also give you leads on piano players for hire.

Plan Promotional Events

Word-of-mouth advertising is considered the most effective way to build bar business. As you get ready to open your piano bar, plan promotional events to attract your target demographic. Consider both grand opening events and regularly scheduled events to draw attention to your piano bar and keep customers coming in.