Opening a bar can be a difficult venture to carry out successfully. You'll find that there are many factors that need to be taken into account even before the first drink is served. If the aim is to open your bar cheaply, then you'll need to be careful that you don't make any false assumptions.
Plan your business. Write out a business plan asking yourself some tough questions. Optimism, although laudable, can be your enemy in these situations. How much do you want to invest initially? How much can you invest in running costs? How long can you afford to go without making a profit? How many customers will you need per month?
Scout out your location. Scouting a location involves two kinds of market research: research into the potential customer base and research into the property market. The former includes checking out the competition in the area, the footfall (the number of people who you can expect to be walking by at a given time), and any gaps in the local market. The latter includes a comprehensive search of available properties, comparison of rental prices and property taxes, and canny assessment of properties' potential. Use your imagination and common sense to find a property that is close enough to busy areas to generate custom but is still affordable. A similar balance is needed when assessing the state of a property. A recently refurbished place will be expensive, but you don't want to spend a lot of money on extensive work. Successful bars can be run in surprisingly cheap places. Try looking at basements or first floors where you won't be paying a premium for frontage.
Get all applicable licenses and permits. One of the most expensive things you can do is to run afoul of the law and regulatory bodies. Make sure you have all your paperwork in order.
Decorate and furnish your bar as cheaply as possible. You don't have to spend thousands and thousands on fancy decor. Keep it simple, people go to a bar to have a good time, not admire the furnishings. Character costs nothing. Try searching through local thrift and charity stores for cheap but distinctive furniture. Visit bankruptcy, demolition and police auctions. Do as much construction work as you can yourself but make sure you get qualified professionals to do potentially dangerous or damaging jobs like wiring and plumbing -- you don't want to be paying for fire or flood damage later on. Try to make a deal with the men doing the work to cut down on bills: a discount or even free drinks, they might just be your first regulars.
Get the right-priced equipment. Unfortunately, restaurants and bars go out of business all the time. Be on the lookout for bankruptcy auctions in your town and second-hand equipment on offer in trade publications and on trade websites. Try to get guarantees and have each piece checked out by an expert before committing. This way, you should be able to save substantially on buying everything new.
Shop around for your food and beverage suppliers. Every area has a number of different suppliers and you need to both form a good relationship and drive a hard bargain with them to make your margins as high as possible. If you want to be known as a cheap bar, investigate sacrificing a wide choice of drinks for the ability to offer what you have at a good price: having just one or two kinds of beer on tap cheaply for instance. Investigate making direct deals with local breweries and farms, cutting out the middle man should save you money and will most likely ensure quality.
Hire wisely. Don't have too many people on the payroll until you're sure that the bar can afford it. Doing the barman's job yourself can save you money at first, and it's a great way to keep tabs on how things are going.
Market imaginatively. Why waste money on expensive advertising when you can have greater success finding your clientele on your own and through word of mouth. Target groups of potential consumers. If you're differentiating your bar on price, try holding a student's night. Invite local neighborhood groups who could become your core customer base. Build a basic website yourself -- it's pretty easy to do; all you need at first is the core information so that people know how to find and contact you.
Work hard. The best way to save money on opening and running a bar is to do as much as you can yourself -- don't wear yourself out but you must be prepared to put in long hours, especially when the bar is in its early stages.
- bar image by Jerome Dancette from Fotolia.com