So, you want to open a Craft Beer shop or Bar?


First things first: if you are opening a craft beer establishment, you have to know what you want. Everything from the décor to the music to the menu has to come together through a unified theme, so it is important to have a cohesive vision for the space. You will have a chance to revise this to fit your market, but for now use this as your chance to sketch out all the dreams you have for your vision.


Starting a craft beer shop or bar can be a risky business, and do it right, you need a vision. You must already have some ideas about what is missing from the neighbourhood. Are there too many dive bars or standard off licenses selling the same old lager and no craft beer bars or bottle shops? Is there anywhere offering a high-end craft beer take away or even delivery service? When you imagine opening, what exactly do you think of? Spend a few days to make a list, in your mind or on paper, about all the elements you imagine. If you are not sure, ask yourself why exactly you want to do this. Is it because there is great potential for a certain type of establishment providing a different kind of beer to the usual supermarket brands in the local neighbourhood?


Once you have a general idea about the type of location where you'd like to set up your business, keep an eye on rising or falling property prices in the area. Would you prefer renting your space, or buying one outright? Both approaches have pros and cons.


Both options will require the appropriate alcohol license from the Home office and at first you will need to check if you are able to acquire the appropriate license.


The UK government website states “Businesses, organisations and individuals who want to sell or supply alcohol in England and Wales must have a licence or other authorisation from a licensing authority - usually a local council.”


The law and policy governing this area is overseen by the Home Office. Many local councils now accept electronic applications, and application criteria differ depending on your location in the Union.


For a bar or craft beer shop, you will likely need a premises license. Again, the UK government defines this: “A premises licence authorises the use of any premises (which is defined in the Licensing 2003 Act as a vehicle, vessel or moveable structure or any place or a part of any premises) for licensable activities as defined in section 1 of the 2003 Act.” You can apply online if your council accepts electronic applications. More information on licensing can be found via the website.

Bear in mind that to sell alcohol to take away in a closed container you will need to make sure the license allows for off sales.


Back to the fun stuff..


If you are thinking of starting a bar or craft beer establishment, you are likely to have frequented a fair share of them yourself. Think about your local bars, and bottle shops in the place where you would want to start the business, (hopefully, these two are the same, because you have to know the area where you want to start the bar, and know it intimately). What is the drinking culture? Are there certain days when more alcohol sales take place? Do people go out with friends, co-workers, in large groups or small? Are sports integral to the drinking culture? Are there craft beer establishments already around, and is there space for more? Can you offer products not currently available in the local market?


This part of your plan might take weeks. Chances are that if you've struck upon a good location for a craft beer bar or shop (or indeed a combination of the two), and there aren't many others around that could satisfy the needs of locals, you won't find any market research data on such areas either. At this stage, it may also be better to keep your ideas largely to yourself unless you want to tip off others to the excellent opportunities provided by the areas you're considering. Instead, enter bars and establishments offering off sales if there are any and try to befriend circles of regular clientele. Try to establish an acquaintanceship, and then try to gain insider perspectives into their likes and dislikes, as well as sources of dissatisfaction, in their usual haunts.


There are a lot of resources out there and it is your responsibility to fully engage with all of them. As an entrepreneur, you have to remember that you never know where your next big idea will come from, so it is important to keep your eyes and your ears open. Always remember that, while you're free to offer talented staff or sommeliers and other such personnel better deals than they may currently be receiving, do not poach personnel from the establishments where you have also approached the owners to understand their business better. Usually, such actions escalate into personal rivalries rather than professional competition, which is bad for business.


The Name: 

Your establishment’s Name; It's the number one advertisement tool you have. Choose VERY wisely. Take some real time to think about this because you are stuck with it once you have decided. The best places usually have catchy names in order to enhance brand recall. The name of your craft beer establishment also reflects on its personality. Just like restaurants and other venues of entertainment, their name is interwoven into their identity. So, if you have a casual craft beer bar or shop that you've designed for fun and light entertainment, a serious or very high-brow name would clash and reduce the overall impact on your clientele. After all, if you enter a place named China Garden and find a Tex-Mex fusion restaurant, wouldn't that leave a negative impression in your mind?


One thing that you will want to avoid would be to somehow place your name within the business name — it would change the focus of the business from its own merits, and thus place you in the cross-hairs of your patrons' evaluation of the establishment as well (that's a situation you want to avoid at all costs).


Place yourself in the shoes of your clientele, think about the aspects of the establishment that you'd appreciate the most, integrate those into the name, and find a witty, short, and catchy way to put it across. This isn't an easy step to take — since you can't change the name of your place once you've publicised it. Studies have shown that, even if the inside of such establishments don't change, repeated alterations in the names causes a store or enterprise to lose the ability to attract new clientele (who may view the owners as weak and indecisive), and even cause defections among many regular customers except the fanatically loyal ones. Many people go through as many as hundred and fifty to two hundred names before finalizing a name and logo which would solidify and enhance their brand value.



 The best form of advertising is word of mouth, and this is especially true for places selling alcohol. Each group of clientele who leaves with far better experiences than they'd hoped to achieve, or at least as good, will become the primary chain of marketing which will get you more customers. This means that customers need to feel welcome and safe, as well as appreciated, in your establishment. Remember that the effectiveness of word-of-mouth depends largely on the tone, since you can't satisfy everyone's needs. At best you will appeal to specific niche demographics within the local population. Therefore, apart from your tone and ambience, you need to pay specific attention to your target market – craft beer enthusiasts.


Word of mouth alone is a highly unreliable method of marketing in a sound business model — and it takes some time to reciprocate enough returns in the form of new clientele, this may slow down the growth of your business in the beginning, in the absence of any other marketing strategies. Some popular marketing strategies for launching new drinking establishments are: Happy hours: Provide specific drinks at far cheaper rates during pre-determined hours on particular days. For example: offering happy hours until a certain time every day


Growlers for Off Sales:

 If you are reading this article, chances are you already have some grasp of the opportunities growlers can give you, not only in increase sales but also as a marketing tool to bring something different and possibly unique to the area. In order to provide growlers to your punters, you will need to ensure your premises license allows off sales. This opens various doors to customers you may not have seen, taking beer home or to a party but also encourages customers to return to your brewery or tap room again and again, you can also create loyalty schemes that can help increase turnover.

One of the other advantages which leads directly into marketing is the Printed logos available. The growlers you sell will be seen far and wide and with an eye-catching logo will garner business from people who may never have walked past your establishment. This is touched on in our Bison Beer blog.


 Knowledgeable Staff:

 You need to have staff you can trust with whom you can establish a system of effectively running the business. If you can do that, you can set the basis for a well-run, reliable service that keeps your regulars coming back. As you are starting up the establishment, it may seem that everything will fall into place once the place is open, but that is far from true. The first few weeks, months, and perhaps years, are essential to establishing a welcoming and consistent culture so people know what to expect. Customers will keep returning to your place when they know what to expect, so put together a systematic flow for how your operations will run before you even open shop.


Craft beer customers often need guidance so it is incredibly important to find people who have a passion for beer and learning if you wish to excel.


Establish a Culture of Timeliness and Effectiveness. Even if businesses selling niche beers operate as suppliers of “Fun”, they're still serious businesses nonetheless. Therefore, you need to ensure that you have regular schedules for yourself and your employees. Set the opening and closing times of your establishment and stick to them. If your opening times vary, you may lose potential business early in the day since customers who wouldn't trust you to be open would simply take their business elsewhere.


One major point is to not enjoy your own beer too much from a social perspective; There are very few ways that lead to mismanagement as surely as operating your business through the haze of intoxication.


Your regulars are your real assets. With potentially so many options out there for customers, it is a real treasure when you begin to develop a group of customers who visit your establishment regularly. It is important to treat them well, because they already think highly of your business and are likely to bring their friends or suggest the place and its beer to their acquaintances, if the opportunity arises. Encourage to remember their orders, become friendly with them without being invasive, and give them a free sample of new products. Prove to them that they have made the right choice by coming back to you. The flip side to this point is to remember that high volume having lots of people coming through, does not necessarily mean that you have a strong customer base.


Into the black:

Owning the establishment is about keeping it in the black and to make more money than you spend. Owning a craft beer establishment is a dream for many people, but it takes sharp financial planning, careful management and planning to cover your ground.


The Licensing:

Being a licensed premises is expensive, and often one of the costliest things about owning a licensed establishment. It involves several legal requirements that need to be followed and fulfilled at all times. Any lax in alertness while you run your business may well cost you this piece of paper — which would unfortunately also mean that you can no longer feasibly operate the business as envisioned


The Property:

Rent will include a security deposit and the first few months of rent, depending on the landlord. In addition to rent, property requires upkeep such as painting, plumbing, changes to flooring if necessary, etc. Commercial spaces may also require specific licenses depending on your local council, which may also add to the costs. Check out all the property-related legal costs along with other payables during the research phase.




If you are opening a craft beer shop or bar, generally customers will want to purchase beers and other alcohol that are not readily available in your local supermarkets or pubs. There is no room on the shelves or in your pumps for the mainstream lagers and bottled ales. Do your research and keep on top of the latest trends in the craft beer and spirit market. Offer a mix of cans, bottles and draught to maximise potential. It would be worth visiting all of the local craft breweries and stocking many of their best products. People love local produce, especially craft beer enthusiasts. Stocking inventory can be a tricky mathematical exercise. This depends on many factors which you need to consider while deciding on sizes of future orders. The objective is to always have enough supplies in stock to last you a specific period, say five days or a week or two, or longer depending on your product, without having too much excess that would lie around unsold on the shelves, gathering dust. You will also constantly keep tweaking your inventory orders from your distribution chain, as and when you see a change in the dominant tastes of your clientele. This exercise doesn't just apply to your beer stocks, but produce and ingredients for foods if you are serving these at your establishment as well . Your first menu, food or alcohol will by no means remain the exact same menu which you'll be providing years down the line.


Operational Safety:

 Apart from the costs mentioned above, remember that many licensed establishments deal with large amounts of cash each day, which needs to be counted and safely stored away. Unless you plan to drive to your bank and deposit sums of cash each morning, you may want to invest in a sturdy safe in your office, which you can then empty with your bouncer or a bodyguard, if necessary, and deposit in your bank at regular intervals. Of course, you could also look at the feasibility of operating as a card-only business if you think that would work out for the better.



 You need to also account for payroll in your costs. This would include your own pay, staff, maintenance staff, servers, chefs for the kitchen if you have one, bouncers, guards, etc if you are offering a drink in tables. Since great bartenders are sometimes hard to find, they may require a larger salary than most others on your staff — but if you want to avoid haemorrhaging money through your payroll costs, it's best to hire selective but skilled staff members rather than take on an ill-trained crowd who turns out to be more expensive to deal with in the long term. Having said that if you have passionate staff, they will soon learn on the job as they deal with customers.


Other costs:

You may also incur extra costs during the course of your operation, from printing for promotional material, to paying local radio advertising. However, apart from these gross costs listed above, you should identify every possible unique cost which applies to you depending on your theme and location, and account for them in your business plan if you want to get the most accurate picture before you take the first step.


Opening a craft beer bar or beer shop is hard work. It takes long nights, diligence, and attention to detail. It requires multi-tasking and having a sharp focus on a vision you want to achieve. But, to be perfectly honest, it sounds more difficult than it actually is, as long as you do your homework properly. Just like every other business, operating this kind of establishment is about supply and demand; the building blocks of every market.


However, owing to the particulars of this type of business, it's awfully tempting to either circumnavigate the law to obtain more profit, or to get lost in its glamour and make poorly thought out decisions based on hasty urges to get closer to achieving success which is where most people in this business fail. It has less to do with their original plan being faulty, and more to do with them having lost track since they stopped making sound business decisions.


A simple trick to finding out whether you did enough background homework is this: when you've done bare-minimal shallow research, the logistics of the business will seem confusing and quite difficult to understand which may result in your final plan being based more on hope and fiction rather than facts, and you'll know it. If you've dug deeper into the business, and are being pulled in different directions which is causing you to despair over your dreams of opening the establishment, the problem wouldn't be that you haven't done your homework. It is more likely that you're being indecisive and need to settle on the theme and elements based on what your customers need the most and which would appeal to your sensibilities as well It is more likely that you're being indecisive and need to settle on the theme and elements based on what your customers need the most and which would appeal to your sensibilities as well.


Lastly, if you've done your research, have decided on the demands which you'll meet through your business, and have accounted for every single cost that you can think of, your plan will be doable with decent returns, which is where a good business usually falls if the owner is being realistic rather than optimistic. If your assessment of the customers, location, and theme were spot on, you'll find yourself drawing in more money than you originally calculated within three months of your establishment's opening. That's primarily because it's a lot easier to account for possible costs and problems and prepare for it, than it is to account for unexpected good luck and windfalls. Good luck only comes to those who prepare for the worst. In the end, while you may lose sleep at first, remember to be open to tweaking your plans as needed and things will be fine.


Most importantly, remember to enjoy the business because someone who's miserable at their job will hit their limits at mediocrity. You'll need to stay upbeat, look for silver linings, and develop a positive attitude if you wish to become successful in this particular business.