How to Open a Hookah Bar

by Shanika Chapman ; Updated September 26, 2017

Hookah bars are a popular destination for college students and others looking to relax in a low-key environment and escape the typical club scene. While hookah bars draw plenty of smokers, many of their patrons are non-smokers who simply enjoy imbibing from time to time or sitting in an aroma-filled room. Though hookah smoking uses tobacco, it is a significantly different experience than smoking a cigarette. For one, smokers draw from a hookah, which is a smoking apparatus filled with water and shisha, which is tobacco mixed with various flavors. Depending on the smoking laws in your state, starting a hookah bar in a college town could prove to be extremely lucrative.

Contact your state’s health department to learn the smoking laws for your state and verify that you can open a hookah lounge. For example, if tobacco is outlawed in bars in your state, sometimes there is an exemption process or you might consider using herbal, tobacco-free shisha. If you are considering serving alcohol in your hookah bar, learn those regulations now.

Scout out potential locations for your hookah lounge. Look for high-visibility locations with adequate ventilation and enough square-footage to accommodate large college-aged crowds. Hookah smokers tend to gather in groups of about three to four. Look to accommodate at least 30 people. Review the utility fees for each locale to help you narrow down your options. Secure a locale with enough square-footage to accommodate any additional options you may want to provide, such as a bar, espresso bar, cafe or cigar lounge.

Become a hookah smoker or seek the advice of someone who is. You’ll need to know which hookahs and shisha provide the best flavor and burn, how each hookah draws and the best charcoal to use. Additionally, visit lounges around your region to get ideas for décor, food and beverages, and entertainment to include in your hookah bar.

Invest in barista training, if serving espresso. For the coffee lover, nothing beats great espresso. And many smokers also drink coffee. Don’t overlook the financial advantage that comes with being known for serving great coffee. You might woo new customers from one side of the business to the other this way. It is well worth it to invest in solid training or hire a trained barista, though. Contact the American Barista & Coffee School for information on barista training.

Design your lounge to project a relaxing atmosphere. Bohemian or Middle Eastern décor are popular in hookah bars. Outfit your lounge with curtains, sofas, bean bags, tables, chairs and art that will reinforce your theme. Implement warm lighting and music. Consider implementing entertainment such as live music, a DJ, open-mic nights, belly dancers, cards, poker or arcade games.

Purchase 10 to 20 hookahs, depending on the size of your location, keeping in mind that three to four customers will rent a hookah for at least 45 minutes. Offer a good selection of shisha, without overdoing it; you don’t want to run the risk of having a less than popular shisha that ultimately dries out. About 10 to 15 flavors is a good selection. Additionally, you’ll need to secure suppliers for your coffee, food and beverages for your café and espresso bar. Retail options are also available for exploration.

Hire reliable employees and train them on the importance of checking identification and making the perfect hookah.


  • To obtain financing, you will need to develop a detailed business plan. Your local Small Business Administration can help. To give your business idea more credibility, hit the streets and conduct market research, which you will include in your business plan. Interview college students and learn what they look for in a hookah bar, such as refreshments, preferred flavors and entertainment.

About the Author

Shanika Chapman has been writing business-related articles since 2009. She holds a Bachelor of Science in social science from the University of Maryland University College. Chapman also served for four years in the Air Force and has run a successful business since 2008.

Photo Credits

  • Jessica Isaac/Demand Media
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