Opening a Bar: Dos and Don'ts

163 Taproom in Lake George, NY is Stephanie Richardson's baby.

Sitting down with a successful owner and operator is one of the best ways to learn how to open your own bar, nightclub or restaurant. Whether this is a chance encounter, a mentor or an owner who also happens to be a great speaker – like those you’ll have the chance to see at the 2016 Nightclub & Bar Convention and Trade Show – the information gleaned is priceless. Really listening to a person who has gone through the daunting process of creating, building out and opening their own venue can give you a much needed edge. Of course, this is often times easier said than done.

Enter: Nightclub & Bar and successful owner and operator Stephanie Richardson.

Landing a meeting with a person such as Stephanie isn’t always easy. Let’s face it, motivated, dedicated owners are busy. Luckily for you, Stephanie was more than happy to take time out of her day to speak with us and share what she’s learned over the course of 20 years and 5 venues. Stephanie just recently opened her fifth bar, 163 Taproom, located in beautiful Lake George, New York. Just an aside: beautiful is no overstatement – Lake George was ranked number one this year for most beautiful lakes in America. Fresh off of another fruitful opening, Stephanie has fantastic advice for anyone looking to open a bar of their own.


  • Stick to your projections and have money in reserve. A fair amount to consider having on hand is 20 percent over your projection. There will always be unexpected costs before you open your doors. It does you no good to complete your build out and not have the funds to stock your bar.
  • Just begin. If you’re renovating or building out a blank canvas, just get started. Paint your walls, put in your floors, put up your décor and install your equipment. With the almost endless combinations of colors that will look good with everything else installed, know that you’re probably going to repaint…multiple times. Stephanie painted the inside of 163 Taproom five times and settled on the first color. However, without the repaints she wouldn’t have known if that first color had been the best choice after all.
  • Know who you’ll be hiring during your build out. While this may not always be possible, it’s a huge advantage when placing equipment. If you’ll have a kitchen, bring the kitchen staff in and have them help place the kitchen equipment. Employees working behind the bar should help to place that equipment. Stephanie learned this over time from her first bar to her baby, 163 Taproom. She placed equipment where she thought it should go and realized that the kitchen and bar staff moved things around to where they felt they made the most sense.
  • Have a gimmick. As Stephanie explains it, “If you have your one gimmick, a lot more ideas will come and people will come. They’ll be like, ‘Oh yeah – that place with the craft beer!’ You’ve got to have something. You can’t have just a place a place with the average stuff. You’ve got to have one big, special thing that’s going to bring people in that you’re going to be known for. It’s good to think about that in the beginning so everything else can fall into place.” For instance, 163 Taproom has a killer list of craft beers and pairs them with cheeseboards, tapas and different meats. They also offer a great promotion: beer and brat of the day. Know how you’re going to hook your guests and bring them in. Having your gimmick in place also helps you to advertise and promote your business, particularly for your grand opening.


  • Wait to deal with licensing. You need to be proactive and begin the processes of handling the health department, code enforcement and, should your state require it, your fictitious business name (DBA). You need to know right away whether you’ll be forming your business as a sole proprietorship, corporation or LLC so you’ll know whether or not you need to file DBA. It will also help you to determine whether or not you’ll need to file such a document with the office of the Secretary of the State, another state agency or a county office. Deciding on the type of business you'll be forming and learning about the processes involved with licensing will also assist you in figuring out a portion of your budget. If you make the mistake of waiting to begin any licensing process, it could set back your opening by several months.
  • Assume you know all there is to know about your community. Even if you’ve always lived in the area in which you’ll be opening your bar, things change. You should already be working closely with government agencies and they have detailed demographic information you need. How can you effectively set your price points if you don’t know the average yearly income of your target demographic, what they want, can afford and will and won’t pay?
  • Think that your designer knows what you mean when describing your vision to her or him. Go online and scour the Internet for images of what you’d like in your bar and how you’d like it to appear. Print these photos out, share them with your designer and make certain you’re both on the same page. Speaking of designers, your name and logo have to flow. Stephanie was lucky enough to have found a designer who also happened to be a graphic artist. She started with a list of 100 possible names, whittled down the list to the top 10, made her final selection and was able to have her designer create a logo.
  • Work yourself into an early grave. This is where hiring rock star employees becomes so critical. You need to be able to take a couple of hours for yourself in between your shifts. Identify your rock star bar managers, bartenders, barbacks, servers and kitchen staff and schedule them to work on the days you want off. It doesn’t do you much good to be stressing out over your operations when you aren’t working. Certainly there isn’t much harm in checking in on your numbers and how things are going but you need personal time and time away from your business.

Want to get more insight Stephanie Richardson?  She will be attending the 2016 Nightclub & Bar Convention and Trade Show.  Make sure to register this October to network with Stephanie and thousands of other experienced nightlife professionals. 

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