Two kinds of people open cafés, bars and restaurants: those who foolishly believe that this is a good investment, and those who think that an entertainment venue open to the public will make a nice extension to their living rooms.
In the former case, it’s imperative to offer people what they want, even if this means installing mirror balls and stripper poles. In the latter, the proprietor has much more leeway in deciding which way to go. It becomes a labor of love instead of a business…but it also has to be run along commercial lines, or it risks becoming more of a financial sinkhole than you can afford.
This generally means starting small instead of trying to draw all the traffic the market will bear. However, this might be exactly what you’d like: an atmospheric, intimate hangout featuring live folk music and appealing only to your kind of people.
How difficult (and costly) it is to obtain a liquor license depends entirely on where you live. This step, as well as dealing with zoning laws, health permits and fire codes is best done in conjunction with a local attorney who knows the ins and outs of the starting a business.
Even before you get there, though, you should consult someone with some knowledge of financial planning if you’ve never written a business plan before. Bars usually make a high profit on each individual item sold, but it turns out that you have to make a whole lot of sales before meeting your fixed costs: rent, salaries and so on. This may seem like a downer, but it’s far better to reject a marginal opportunity than to ignore the warning signs around a potential loser.
Controlling Your Startup Costs
One of the main reasons entertainment venues fail with such depressing frequency is that the owners just don’t realize just how much shopfitting, furniture, flatware and other necessaries really cost. This means that they end up spending way more than planned to get off the ground, leaving them with just enough operating capital to keep the doors open for a brief while. If they can’t become popular during those few weeks, which tend to fly past as if the repo man is hot on their heels, they simply disappear.
This brings about one advantage for new entrants to the market, though: keeping an eye out for liquidation sales can often mean picking up slightly scuffed but perfectly serviceable furniture for a song. Similarly, don’t let any salesman upsell you: there are coffee machines intended for home use that produce a very good espresso for the price. A small bar has no need for a state-of-the-art POS system. Reheating bought-in, frozen food and snacks may not be ideal in many ways, but doing so allows a single person to essentially run the whole operation, saves on capital expenses and eliminates a whole bunch of things that can otherwise go wrong.
Is Owning and Running a Folk Bar for You?
Now that the seed has been planted, you may already be wondering if this isn’t the great idea you’ve been waiting for. If this describes your thoughts at the moment, hold up.
Not everyone can be a successful publican. Although a folk music bar with a chill vibe should suffer from a minimum of passed-out drunks and fistfights, any entertainment venue comes with its share of annoyances. Whether this means a clogged toilet or a patron’s car being stolen from outside, you’ll be the closest thing to an authority figure available and be expected to handle whatever comes up.
There is also a certain type of personality that excels in this role – or have you ever read a Yelp review along the lines of “great bar, lousy manager”? Liking to drink socially may or may not be part of the mix, but the owner is expected to make people feel welcome without being intrusive, has to be just as switched on at 2 a.m. as at 8 p.m, and should know that the grind of serving, cleaning and fixing what’s broken is not quite the same as hosting a party.
Still, if you tick all of the boxes, opening your own folk bar might just be fun. A few people I know have actually tried this in a part their own homes, and while they didn’t make much money, they at least enjoyed the experience.