Some of you probably think the life of the owner of a successful bar involves dating models and zooming around in fancy sports cars while trying to find new and ingenious ways to spend their piles of money. This is of course as far from the truth as possible.
The more realistic among you know that most of a bar owner or manager’s time revolves around the more mundane operations of running a bar. These are the behind-the-scenes things like managing employees, preventing theft, advertising, ordering products, doing the accounting, that keep a good bar going.
However, there are other things that bar owners obsess over that you’ve probably never even thought about. Every single successful bar owner has spent days, if not weeks of his or her life worrying about:
Do people really spend that much time reading the menu at a bar? Yes. Not everyone is the kind of person that always drinks Jack Daniel’s or simply asks for whatever is on tap. People want to know what you have, and they want to know how much it costs so they take a look at the menu. And the design of the menu can be a huge factor in what people decide to order.
A well-designed menu not only informs people about what you have, but it gets them excited about ordering certain things, while trying to get them to avoid ordering things you don’t want them to order. When you figure out what you want people to order (usually your bar’s signature drinks and high profit-margin products) you now have to figure out how to get them to do that. Pictures, descriptions, location of the drinks, how people naturally read, the price, and many other things need to be taken into account when designing your menu.
There are even people out there who have made a career out of designing menus for bars and restaurants. That’s how important it is, even if you never really give the menu a second thought.
You would think that setting a price for a drink is pretty easy. You take how much you pay for it, multiply that by a set amount that allows you to make money off it, round that up to the nearest round number and that’s your price. In reality, that is the first of about ten steps it takes to figure out how much to charge for something.
Bar owners have to ask themselves a lot of questions to see if they can charge a little bit more for something, or if they have to charge less or even take a loss on a certain product. They need to ask “Who are my customers, are they willing to pay this price for this drink?” “What is the normal price for this in this neighborhood?” “What does our competitor across the street sell this for?” “What do we have that our competitor doesn’t have that makes us able to charge more for this drink?” and so on. Settling on the right price for a drink is not a computer formula, but an art form that takes years to master.
Bars are dark inside. Contrary to popular belief, this is not because keeping the lights low covers up how dirty the bar actually is or to allow people to hook up without knowing how ugly the other person actually is. In reality, it is because the darker atmosphere makes people feel more relaxed and comfortable, encouraging them to stay longer and drink more.
It may seem like making a bar dark is a pretty easy thing to do, just turn off most of the lights and you’re set. However, it is actually incredibly difficult to find the right balance of light where the bar remains dark and cozy, but there is still enough light so people can see their drinks, read the menu, and find the bathroom when they need it. Bar owners probably spend more time playing with the lighting setup in their bar than on any other one thing.
Even if you never even consciously think about the music in a bar, the bar owner does. After the lights, bar owners spend more of their time stressing about the music in the bar than anything else. One of the most important things in a bar is the sound system, and owners invest hundreds of hours and a whole lot of money in trying to find the perfect system for their bar.
And once that system is in place, and then the hard part begins. What kind of music should be played? Many bars play one kind of music earlier in the night while the place is relaxed, while the heavy rock and pop music comes out only after midnight. And of course, there is always the question of how loud the music should be. Can people hear it but still talk? No bar owner in history has ever walked into his or her bar and not adjusted the volume of the music at least once.
Keeping the bathrooms clean is of course an essential part of running a successful bar. But bar owners (at least the ones who actually care about their customers) also realize that a dirty, ugly bathroom can turn customers off, and have them heading for the door before they’ve had a second drink. Making the bathroom experience pleasant is something that bar owners worry about a great deal.
This involves everything from what color the bathroom walls should be painted to the specific aroma of the hand soap. The brand of toilet paper, the type of air freshener, the temperature of the tap water, these are all things that bar owners obsess over. If you don’t believe this, next time you meet the owner of your favorite bar, compliment them on something in their bathroom and watch them beam with pride.