LIFE AFTER FLAIR – Owning a bar (Part III)

Updated: February 1, 2005


Getting away from the “How’s” of running a bar, we should bring up the one thing you will need that’s very important. Time.  We will assume you’re not filthy rich and can just hire a staff to do the work for you.  In that case, you merely own a bar, and not run one.  But you will find that the one thing you need above all else is time.  More so than knowledge, money, skill or talent, you need time. And there’s only so much of it. How much time do you need?  How much time do you have?  Let’s put that another way.  How much time can you give?  How much is needed will depend on the place you own.


Our bar opens at 11AM and closes at 3AM, seven days a week.  In the beginning, one of us needed to be here at all times.  There were two bartenders currently working in the bar when we took it over.  They were already opening and closing the bar themselves.  Does that mean we could show up late and leave early?  Sure.  But not knowing them well enough to trust them with our bar, we needed to be there at opening and stay until closing.  That’s 16-18 hours, 7 days a week.

Now, there was plenty of work to be done around the bar.  I kept busy calling vendors and setting up accounts, getting credit card services established, clean (the place was filthy)!  Paul handled construction, odd fix it jobs, lighting and also going out and promoting the bar.


We also worked bar shifts.  Four nights each week.  I’ve had one day off in the last five months.  Not much time for sleep either.  I average about 5 hours.  But this is the bar we chose.  Others won’t require you to be there as often.  Nightclubs don’t open until late.  Maybe your bar opens around 4PM in time for happy hour.  Or maybe you’ll be required to close by 1AM. We are in our fifth month of business.  Sales are up significantly and the outlook is good.  We feel comfortable with our day bartender that we don’t have to show up at 11AM, more like 1PM.  But with business picking up we aren’t able to get out until close to 5AM after clean-up and paperwork.

Gain an hour, lose an hour. Work suffers when you’re tired.  I find it hard some nights keeping drink orders straight in my head.  I never used to have a problem with that.  But then, I’ve never worked 5 months straight either.  I find myself nodding off on the way home.  I’ve even slept in the bar one night.  Knowing full well I would not be able to drive home I was so tired. It’s not just your time you need to think about.

If you’re married or in a serious relationship, you need to consider how the business will affect your partner.  You will be spending more time working and less with them.  This won’t last forever, but it’s not like picking up a few extra shifts one week either.  Are they willing to give up your time together while you get the bar going?  Can they watch you leave home at 10AM and not return until 3 or 4AM?  Everyday? Paul is married, and the time he spends at the bar is beginning to take its toll on his marriage.  He went from working four nights a week, to seven nights.  Seven days, too.  The normal routine has been shattered.  He and his wife both had jobs before, but Paul has fewer days off and he is finding he has to make time to spend with her now.  He takes one day and tries to make it count. She adjusts her schedule to try to be off at the same time.

PaperIn the beginning you may think you both can handle it, but eventually it gets frustrating, and there is no time frame for when things will return to normal.  One of the nice things about running your own business is that no one can fire you.  But you can’t exactly quit if things are rough. Think of the business as not only an investment of money, but also time.   You are investing your free time now, with the hopes of more free time in the future.  No requests off to be made, no set vacation time, etc.  The more time you can invest, the better chance for a bigger payoff later.  Every little bit helps.  An extra hour a day could be the difference between being a world champion, and being nicknamed “Deuce”.


But whatever time you can invest must be invested wisely.  You will find out quickly that you must learn time management.  You will need to get yourself on a schedule. You will need to plan not just days, but weeks or months in advance.  Get yourself a PDA or at the very least a notepad and keep it on you at all times.  Make notes to remind you of things as you think of them.  You will forget if you don’t write it down.  If you’re a bartender whose only planning was to have a somewhat clean shirt to wear by your last shift of the week, you will quickly find yourself smothered by responsibilities if you do not plan ahead.

Now go back to my original question.  How much time do you have?  How much can you invest?  If you don’t have the time, or do not wish to give up the time you have, then you are not ready to open your own bar.  But you can still prepare for it in the future.  Like putting a little money aside everyday, take a little time to learn about running your own business.  You took a few minutes to read this article.  Spend an hour in the bookstore business section.  Find a book or two on the subject and read a little each day.  Use the internet.  Run a search on bars for sale and start bookmarking broker’s websites.  Browse the listings and familiarize yourself with the terms used.  If you don’t know them, ask.  Talk to business owners.  Learn.  Prepare.  A little each day.  Use your time wisely.  It goes by fast.


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