3 Things to Know When Reinventing Your Bar

By Reggie Woo


Reggie Woo

January 19, 2017

Posted in Restaurant Management, Industry & Culture

Making the decision to change the identity of your business can be a tough call.

It can be hard to let go of a concept, even as you’re watching it declining in success or never reaching success to begin with. Let’s face it, it’s your baby—you don’t want to let it go. However, with the harsh reality of high food and beverage establishment failure rates, it is imperative for bar proprietors to make the call when the numbers pointing to danger.

With all of that being said, bar owners need to make sure that they put their reinvented concept in the best position to succeed moving forward. Here are three things to keep in mind as you mull the details over:

Should you actually be reinventing?

Make sure you’re not feeling the air or going with your gut on this one. You also certainly shouldn’t be doing it on a whim. It is a massive business decision to completely reinvent the identity of your bar. Take a deep dive into your numbers and confirm there aren’t underlying root causes for your bar’s poor performance such as mismanagement or bad pour costs in your menu that could be fixed with a menu revamp.

Pour Costs in 2016 Industry Trend Report BevSpot

As a bar proprietor, you should know your business better than anyone. You should also know your clientele just as intimately. If you’re seeing sales start to slump and there’s no evidence of in-house problems, take some time to look around what’s happening in your neighborhood if you haven’t already. Visit neighboring new and old establishments with a critical eye and try to understand the reasoning behind their performance, especially within the context of the local consumer population.

What should you reinvent to?

In order to determine how you want to reposition yourself in the market, the aforementioned neighborhood research is important. You can also do some research into what is trending around the industry and understand why the trends are occuring. A prime example of fully taking advantage of current industry-wide trends to channel local success would be the recently opened gastropub Nosh & Grog based out of Medfield, MA.

Nosh & Grog

Nosh & Grog’s owner Craig Neubecker had previously owned the restaurant Zebra’s Bistro and Wine Bar that occupied the exact same space for 17 years. Despite Zebra’s initial and long-term success, the operating model of Zebra’s was finding problems with encouraging a more regular local following.

Zebra’s was focused on providing a high-end dining experience complete with an impressive wine program for its audience. As such, Craig would see beverage sales focusing largely around wine by the bottle. However, Craig was also finding that the public perception of Zebra’s as a “special occasion destination” caused an infrequent client base. In order to track more consistently with the local populace of Medfield, Craig and the rest of his team developed a concept that took advantage of recent trends in the industry such as craft beer, locally sourced food, and a relaxed neighborhood atmosphere.

“It’s much more of a casual, accessible, and approachable environment. As opposed to Zebra’s where you might go once a year for your anniversary, you go once a week at Nosh & Grog. That, of course, had impact on sales, profits, and usage.”

With his new concept, Craig would see a major shift in sales from wine by the bottle towards beer and wine by the glass. These new beverage types Nosh & Grog have tapped into might not have as high of a profit margin as before, but the more frequent clientele would more than make up for it.

Is your vision of the new concept clear and thoroughly thought out?

There are many forms that your reimagined bar can take. It’s important to make all the details clear before moving forward. If you are changing the brand entirely, the option of shutting down your old bar and going through the clear transition process such as what Craig did with Nosh & Grog can be helpful in resetting patron expectations. However, it can be extremely costly to not be operating during that period of time. You also need to cover details like whether you need to reapply for a liquor license or whether you need to take time to retain your staff or hire new staff.

Reinventing or relaunching a concept can feel like opening a brand new bar. That’s because you essentially are. It can be a breath of fresh air for you and your staff, but it can come with problems that you might have solved years ago or brand new issues if you let things get out of hand. It is essential that you move forward with the diligence and oversight that you understand a new bar requires to succeed.

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