T Nation

Turning Around a Bar


I've recently purchased a stake in a dive bar that's currently operating at break-even levels. I'm not the majority owner but the I have a 25% stake and the 75% owner has given me the responsibility of increasing traffic/sales in order to get this place making money.

Right now the place is a dive that attracts a bunch of old timers (including the old timer bands we hire).

Here are a few ideas I plan on implementing over the next few months, tell me what you guys think or any new ideas would be appreciated (I've been out of the bar scene for a few years now).

  1. Making the place non smoking
  2. Celebrity bar tending
  3. Ditching the live bands on Friday OR Saturday and getting a DJ
  4. Upgrading the dining room tables to the high top tables and high bar stools

What do you guys think?


Add an outdoor element: knock out a wall, something on the rooftop. I detest smoking, but alcohol and cigarettes go together for most people. From a dollars and sense angle, going non-smoking I think would be a mistake. But smoking outdoors might be a nice compromise.


This is pretty much common sense but..
What part of the market are you trying to attract? Is it in a college town, where you could hope to get the younger crowd? You need to make your bar as attractive as possible to your target group of customers. Example: if you want to get college-age people in to your bar, start hosting dollar draft nights a certain night of the week.


My questions for you:

1.What kind of area is this place located?
2.What sort of interior does this place have? If it's beat up hole in the wall getting a DJ that clearly doesn't meet the personality of the place will be off.
3.How will your existing clientele react to your proposed changes? 4.Will old timers really want a DJ and do you care about maintaining your existing clientele or are you trying to cater to a different market?
5.Do you charge cover? If not, have you considered charging cover?
6.Do you serve food or is it just drinks? 7. If so what generates the highest contribution margin? Perhaps pushing and/or developing a menu could be another improvement.
8. What sort of time table have you set to grow your sales? and How much are you expecting to grow them by? Are you investing new capital into the business?

I like the non-smoking idea because a lot people would avoid a place that allows smoking. That being said, a large portion of the nightlife crowd does smoke. Also why are you considering swapping the chairs and tables?


I second the question asking what crowd you're going for.

For what it's worth, the changes you're suggesting would actually cause me to go to a different bar. Life music is awesome. I like good and varied beers. I like to sit down at a bar. I hate "celebrities."

If you're going for the "young" scene though, just get some of those half-naked women selling shots for their company to come in. Or hire hot "waitresses" to sell shots or something. What's your Thursday night special?


Just my two cents, maybe make changes as slowly as possible. If you already have enough to clientele to break even..and you make a lot of changes at once and chase away the regulars, without a line-up of new customers to take their place, you'll be in trouble.

Also, if possible, keep the live bands. Though you may want to focus on getting some younger groups in that will bring in their friends to watch.

What's the buildings set up like? My favorite place in my town has live music and their main bar upstairs, and turned their basement into a giant dance floor with DJ, small bar, poles. Could be worth looking into if that's a possibility.

And I agree with having some kind of outdoor element for smoking. Maybe some kind of patio or something out the back door if possible. Sure, they can go out the front and smoke on the sidewalk, but it's nice to have an area outside connected to the bar.

And don't get too fancy with the bartenders. As a consumer, the bartenders I've always been happiest with were just regular bartenders with good bar tending skills. No need to get fancy..although, hiring some hot bar tenders can go along way with bringing in a younger crowd.

Again, just my two cents as a customer.


I like this, if you can, and have a kitchen on site, try partnering with a popular restaurant in the area. My favorite bar in the area partnered up with an popular hamburger joint that's been in the area since the 50's. On the busy nights, they one waitress and one cook come in with a partial menu (couple burgers, chicken strips, different types of fries, etc).

There's been times I've gone in just for a burger and beer.


Since you can't hire Patrick Swayze to be the cooler you're pretty much fucked.




Maybe the most important thing is not who it caters to but is that people know it exists at all. Not to sound silly but people have to know that your little bar is there first.

I grew up in Winnipeg and we had numerous bars we'd go to for our first 5 drinks of the night or our last 3...this bar you're talking about sounds like that. We'd choose one that was near a buddy's place. I mean there are a lot of dynamics involved, but yeah, if you know what to do to become known as the good bar to go to on Friday/Saturday night Before The Big Bars then maybe you have something...but I dunno.


If you're going to change the night clients are you going to keep the old guys and just change at 8:30 for the night life?


The non smoking thing is tricky, so many non smokers will smoke when they drink and most people realize that bar=smoke and won't care. My favorite bar/pool hall used to be the local place to go on and Fri/Sat night. A few years ago the city banned smoking and now the place is teetering on closing, I was there last night and there was about 30 people in the whole place. Most people will drive 20 minutes to the next town where they can smoke.

  1. Get majority ownership, without that you are wasting
    your time.
  2. Clean up, really, really, clean the joint.
  3. Smoking outside. If it's not a law where you are
    it will be. Make the smoking area a nice place to hang out.
  4. Hook up with a local event promoter, schedule events
    and younger bands.
  5. Advertise, Advertise, Advertise.
  6. Did I mention Advertise.
  7. Make it profitable, then,,, SELL


My impression of the above is that it's random and that you lack a plan. First, what's your vision? It's one thing to say "increase traffic / sales" but without defining who those patrons are, it's pointless to implement anything, because you need to tailor your approach to the demographic you're trying to attract.

Are you trying to attract other than the "old timers"? If so, an entire new theme, possibly new name is in order. Bars and clubs change their name (and not necessarily ownership) all the time in an effort to she association with the prior theme and reputation. If you want a different crowd, I'd say define that crowd and then decide your theme. And I'd also say don't hesitate to steal ideas from places that are in your opinion successful - just take the ideas and try to improve them. Until you can say who you're trying to attract, it's really impossible to comment upon your proposed changes.


Uh...that would make them "smokers". :slight_smile:


Middle class area, Philadelphia suburbs.

Nice interior, the only issue is some crappy outdoor carpet with cigarette holes in it that we plan to replace in time.

The old clientele sucks and needs to go. They sit there all day, don't spend a lot of money and complain when the younger crowd plays the juke box because it's louder than the news they're watching on the tv.

Possibly when we have more people who want to come in. Charging cover when you don't have a good customer base seems foolish.

Serves both, drinks GP% is 72%, food GP% is 48% (I think food prices are too damn cheap, I wouldn't want to raise prices until we have more people buying, though).

Hoping to double sales in 6 months. The summer months are tough because people in this area go down the shore on weekends during the summer. But I'm hoping some of the changes we implement will bear fruit starting in September.

Smoking is banned in Philadelphia bars right now, this bar is on the outskirts of the city. A bar opened up about a mile down the road inside the city (non smoking) and people left this place to go to the new non smoking bar.

Honestly, I've even spoken with smokers that hate bars which allow smoking. It's one of those things you don't even notice until smoking gets banned in all bars.

The table upgrade is to change the dining room atmosphere into more of a bar atmosphere. Sitting down at low tables while at a bar just doesn't seem right (to me, at least). The high top tables make it easier for crowds to stand around a table.


The specials are already better than any other bar I know of. $2 miller high life bottles all day, every day. $3 Tuesdays in which we have 5 or 6 appetizers or entrees for $3. I've come to the conclusion that specials or prices are not the problem, just the overall atmosphere of the place doesn't attract customers who spend a good amount of money.


"Celebrity bar-tending" is an east coast term which means we get regular people (usually cute girls) to bartend for a night in the hopes they'll tell all their friends to come and see them bartend. I've seen it used successfully in other bars. We'll do this once a month hoping some of the new crowds that come in to see their friends bar tend become regulars.


Unfortunately we only have 1 floor. I'll see if I can MS paint a sketch of the layout when I have some more time.


We're hoping a combination of our friends (my girlfriend and mine) and celebrity bartending will generate positive word of mouth. We'll also be advertising in all of the local papers that the bar is under new management and is now non smoking.

The bar used to sell 150% of what it does now 10 years ago when pints were only $1.50, so it definitely lost a good amount of customers somewhere in there. The goal is to let those customers know that the bar is making some changes and they should check us out again, and also grab some people who don't even know about it.