A great article from our guest blogger, Anne Sophie Bigot who runs a successful whisky blog, The Whisky Lady
As you may have seen if you’ve been following my recent adventures on social media, we (we as me and my partner) recently open our very own Scottish Pub & Microbrewery in Toulouse (FR) called the Hopscotch. It’s been a very long process from the initial idea to the actual opening and I wanted to share it with you with some tips along the way, if anyone is thinking about taking the same journey anytime soon!
“Hey, what if we stopped everything we’re doing and open our own bar?!” – Yeah that sounds amazing, let’s do that!
Step back and look at the overall picture
Before jumping too fast into anything, ask yourself the right questions: why do I want to open a bar? Will I be able to completely change my lifestyle (I mean, it may not be a good call if you’re expecting a baby or planning to welcome one in the family anytime soon… As silly as it sounds, same goes with a new cat, puppy or a relative you need to care of)? Can I work late hours? Am I ready to say no to all fun Saturday night parties, birthday events etc because I’ll be working? Am I passionate enough?
Time is what you’ll be lacking the most so be prepared to work 8422547 hours a day even before the business officially opens. Owning and running a bar is rewarding but is a LOT of commitment. So yes, it will be fun, you’ll meet amazing people, but it will also be hard and you’ll encounter some complete pricks as well 😉
Beside the obvious market study (I mean, are you sure you want to open yet another hidden prohibition-style cocktail bar in an area that already counts 14987 of those? Or the contrary, there may be a reason why there’s no whisky bar in this remote 320-inhabitant village…), first thing you need to check is your financial capacity, there’s no need to start viewing venues if you don’t know exactly what you can or cannot afford, you’ll be wasting your time and as we said earlier, you don’t have time.
As we were complete newbies when we started looking for premises about 2 years ago, we had no idea about the financial needs implied by such a project: it’s not only about giving his money to the owner and his commission to the estate agent, there are far more people to take into account… And they don’t work for free! Broker, attorney, consultants… They will all take their piece of the cake.
Oh, and if you start from scratch, don’t be like us and think you can start looking for a venue in January and open the doors of your shiny new bar in July. Doesn’t happen (especially in France where every admin duty is a heavy burden). It took us almost 2 years from the initial idea to the official opening.
In this “study” part, you need to figure out where you wanna go: what will be the exact concept of your bar? What kind of products/experiences do you want to offer? Do you want to only serve drinks or also offer something to eat? Who’s your target customer?
We added ourselves a difficulty as we wanted to produce our own beers, so in addition to the main bar, we had to also take into account the creation of a microbrewery which wasn’t an easy part!
Probably one of my favourite steps here. Now that you know where you want to go, you can start making plans, visiting places, taking pictures, searching the internet, spend hours on Pinterest and travel as much as possible to see what people do in other countries.
We chose to open a Scottish-themed pub, so obviously, a lot of our inspiration comes from the time we spent in Scotland, from the bars of the capital city to the remote guest houses of the Highlands. But we also took some ideas from Berlin, New-York and as far afield as Dubai! Don’t be shy and open your eyes 😀
Finding the right location
It’s important to be adaptable – you’ll never find exactly the premises of your dreams, there will always be something wrong, so you’ll need to adapt your concept to the place. For instance, our first idea was to open a brewpub so that people could directly see the beer making process inside the bar… But Toulouse city centre being what it is (small streets, vaulted caves, historical buildings so difficult to change the structure…), it was simply impossible to find a location fitting the technical criteria for such an installation. We then had to decide between two solutions: move away from the centre or open 2 different locations, one for the brewery and one for the bar.
We finally went for this second solution as remaining in the very centre was number 1 on our list (location is probably the most important factor to the future success of a bar) but this choice added a lot of new difficulties: 2 locations = twice more admin duties and logistics issues.
Bank and Business Plan
Probably not the most funny part but no bank will lend you money without a strong business plan (when I say strong, I’m not talking about those 20-pages BPs you had to hand over to your teacher at university while studying “business”). If you’re not good with numbers or anything else, here’s the point when you start finding the right people to help you out. If there’s one thing you need to understand, it’s the importance of being surrounded by experts in their field, whether it is about the accounting part, communication, products…
Only when you have a proper Business Plan to show you can start making your way to the different banks you have selected (which is also a very important step, so again, ask people you trust for their opinion on the different offers you’ll be proposed and never take a decision too quickly).
Getting into the process
So here’s where the actual work really starts… Oh you thought it was a lot of work already? Better stop here then 😉 – My bad, I forgot to mention, but all the above researches and studies have to be done in your spare time, yeap, you’re not making any money yet with this bar so you need to keep working to make a living!
> Administration : If there’s one thing I really hate in life, it has to be administrative tasks – filling out papers, sending letters, making phone calls… Brrrr. But you’ll need to get over it as your desk will soon be invaded by all sorts of papers (again, I’m speaking about my experience in France here so I don’t know how those things go in other countries), you’ll need to compile 15648523 documents to build files for all kind of applications: loan, terrace, licence… and so on and so on, there’s no end to admin duties.
> Training : the bank is almost ready to support you, your business plan is strong, you found a great location but… Hey, you never worked behind a bar (and this summer helping the local restaurant as an extra waitress doesn’t count) but overall, you’ve never runned a business! While it may not be mandatory, I can only firmly advise you to enroll on a proper “management” training and if possible, try to find a work placement in a similar venue to experience the job and make sure you actually like it. In our case, my partner (who is running the bar, I’m only associate and consultant here) took a 3-months management course, moved to Scotland to work in 2 different whisky bars (The Pot Still & The Scotch Malt Whisky Society) and passed a diploma in brewing (so again, all this took a lot of time!).
Finding the right partners and suppliers
At this point, you already have a banker, an accountant, an estate agent, maybe a broker, an attorney but you’ll need to find the right suppliers and ensure the logistics for your future bar will be as smooth as possible. You may sometimes be carried away by the diversity of products you could offer but think about the burden of dealing with 154897984 different suppliers on a daily basis?
Employ the right staff
We’re probably not the best example here as the only interview question we asked our current cook had nothing to do with his cooking skills but more about his musical taste but hey, turns out his cooking is amazing! My point is, don’t be too demanding at first and prefer people you can train to your standards as long as they show passion, motivation and if you feel a connection between you.
There are so many other aspects I could have discussed here: works, first orders, initial stocks, communication, events, the art of making choices… But this piece is already too long and I probably already lost a good half of you 😉 Maybe I’ll discuss this in another piece!
See further interesting articles by Anne-Sophie, on The Whisky Lady