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How to Open a Wine Bar

Austin Chegini
10 Mar 2021

Wine consumption in the United States has steadily increased year over year, with Americans drinking over 960 million gallons annually. As more varieties of wine gain notoriety, casual drinkers and connoisseurs alike will want somewhere to sample the sweet drink. 

If you want to satisfy this demand, what’s better than opening a wine bar in your town? You can share your passion for the drink with others and make money in the process, right? 

Before you order more bottles of vino than you can count, read over this guide to see how to open a wine bar smartly.  

Why open a wine bar?

If you love wine and have thought of owning a business, starting a wine bar is an excellent way to kill two birds with one stone. These venues can be anywhere from small, low-key holes in the wall to large bars with music and food. 

The core reasons to open a wine bar are similar to any other hospitality business. You may enjoy running a bar if you possess these qualities:

  • Excellent management skills
  • Conversational and friendly
  • High energy
  • Flexibility

Steps to open a wine bar

Starting your business takes careful planning, plenty of effort, and a moderate amount of risk. You can never be certain that your wine bar will succeed, but taking these steps helps you get started in the best position. 

Decide on the type of wine bar 

Much like wines that come in a range of varieties, wine bars offer unique experiences and vary in shape and style. However, most establishments will follow similar business models. 

To start, choose if your wine bar will serve only drinks or offer a full menu. Let’s recap the pros and cons of each. 

Offering drinks only will make things easier if you have limited space or cannot afford to hire a back of house team. Additionally, you can cater to a certain clientele by doing away with food. Instead of worrying about satisfying everyone, you can create a special place for wine-lovers and plan events just for them. And at the end of the day, you can always offer light bites like flatbread or other simple appetizers to pair with the wine. 

Offering food will create an additional revenue stream for your wine bar, perfect for balancing your budget on slow days. Moreover, having meals will make your business more appealing to wine lovers who have children or want to share the moment with loved ones.

While you can certainly cater to a larger audience by offering food, that can discourage some wine drinkers from visiting. Those who want to enjoy some light jazz and a glass of chardonnay may not want to be bothered by children or the hustle and bustle of waiters walking between tables. 

Next, you need to decide if you will start from scratch or open a franchise. Most business owners would rather open their own wine bar, but franchising gives you everything you need to get started. From signage and decor to menus and assistance, the franchisor will help get your wine bar in working order quickly. 

Draft a business plan

Once you decide on the type of bar you want to own, the next step involves doing your homework and determining if your business will be viable. Forming a business plan will help you accomplish this goal. 

The core elements of this process include:

  • Summary and objectives: Give a brief overview of your business and explain your overarching goal. 
  • Products and services: List the wines you plan to offer as well as any other paid offerings, such as wine tastings and event hosting.
  • Market analysis: Study your market to see if there is sufficient demand for a wine bar. Analyze the type of people who will live nearby, specifically looking at their income, interests, and drinking habits. 
  • Competition comparison: Show how you rank against other bars in the area, addressing their strengths and weaknesses to show your unique selling point.
  • Finances and projections: Explain your pricing structure and forecast future earnings. List all expenses to show how you plan to pay off debt and generate profit.

Create a legal business

If you determine there is enough demand for your wine bar, then you need to quickly take care of the legal paperwork to formalize your business. Below are two key steps you must take before you can collect a single penny. 

First, it is wise to form a legal entity to make your business separate from your personal affairs. Anyone who starts a business will automatically be tied to it as a sole proprietor. In short, this term means that you are the only owner of the business and all liability falls on you. You will also file taxes for yourself and your business together.  

While a sole proprietorship is fine for a side business, it is not wise when you are managing a bar and dealing with possible legal matters. As a sole proprietor, you can be held responsible for lawsuits and debt incurred by your wine bar. 

For this reason, you will want to form a separate business entity. Some typically structures include:

  • Limited liability company
  • Partnership
  • Corporation
  • S-Corporation

Read over this business structure guide by the Small Business Administration to determine which entity is best for your wine bar.

Next, you need to apply for an Employer Identification Number, which is essentially your business’s social security number. You will need this to pay employees, file taxes, and handle other official matters.

Obtain the right licenses

Meeting legal requirements is often the biggest hurdle of owning a bar. Since you will be serving alcohol, you need to acquire a liquor license from your local and/or state authorities. 

On top of this, you will likely need the following:

  • Occupancy permit
  • Business license
  • Resale permit
  • Foodservice license
  • Food handler’s permit
  • Sales tax license

Find funding

At this point, your wine bar is legal, but what are you going to do about money? Do you have enough capital to rent a space, buy supplies, and pay employees? 

Startup costs are often the biggest hurdle to opening a bar, so it’s vital to find to get the best funding possible.

For most small businesses, financing will come from these sources:

  • Savings: Do you want to bootstrap your business? While paying for everything on your own is possible, this process will take much longer and can wipe out your personal finances. 
  • Partners: Have you thought about bringing on another owner? They can offer you funding in return for a percentage of the business.
  • Loans: Banks and credit unions can offer you small business loans or similar products. Private lenders can also provide funding, but their repayment terms can vary widely. 
  • Grants: Some governments and organizations offer small business grants. While national grants are often for scientific and specialized businesses, your city or state might have funds for a wine bar.

Choose a location

After securing your funding, it’s time to find the perfect building for your bar. Let’s look at a few factors to consider when shopping for that perfect spot. 

  • Location: What part of town do you want to set up shop? If you want to open a hip spot, being closer to the city may be better than opening in the suburbs. If you want to create a family atmosphere, then the suburbs may be better than the city!
  • Size: Your profit margin will make or break your wine bar. The more people you seat, the lower your margins can be. Check your pricing structure and choose a space that 
  • Facilities: Will you need a full kitchen and large storage space? Can you install wine taps, a full bar, and seating? Try to choose the space that will match your business model and leave room for growth.
  • Neighbors: If your bar is in a shopping plaza or on a city street, you may want to look at the other business around you. Do they compliment your wine bar? Could they discourage people from visiting the area? 

Find suppliers

What types of wine will you sell, and from where will you get your bottles? If you are nowhere near a vineyard, you will need to arrange regular deliveries with a distributor. 

On top of wine, your supplies will need to provide:

  • Glassware
  • Paper products
  • Food and snacks
  • Soft drinks
  • Equipment (wine keys, wine stoppers, aerators)

Buy a point of sale system

Once you have your inventory, you will need a smart way to manage everything. How else do you plan on keep track of your stock levels?

A point of sale system, or POS, will be the foundation of your wine bar. These systems are incredibly flexible and can take on almost every task needed to run your business. Without a POS, you won’t be able to serve all customers and will end up doing hours of additional work each day.

Look for these features when choosing your wine bar POS:

  • Cloud connectivity: With cloud storage, your data is always backed up on remote, secure servers. You can access your system 24/7 from any device.
  • Dry/wet inventory management: Keep track of all food and drinks, down to the remaining pours in a wine bottle.
  • Menu management: Create a custom menu with all your offerings to make order processing easier. Link each menu item with your inventory to automatically update stock levels after a sale.
  • Order tracking: If you have a kitchen, your POS will send orders directly to the ticket printer or kitchen display. With real-time tracking, you won’t have to run back and forth to keep see when meals are ready.
  • Payment processing: Accept debit, credit, and contactless payments with integrated payments. 
  • Third-party integrations: Simplify operations and manage your wine bar from one place by installing programs like QuickBooks and Mailchimp.

Design your bar

What type of atmosphere do you want to create? Will you have an elegant bar with soft music or a lively place full of conversation and laughter? 

Whatever you choose, you will likely need to completely overhaul the space you rent. From adding seats and tables to mirrors and lighting, you will have a lot of work cut out for you. During this process, however, you need to consider what your customers want. 

Be sure not to crowd your bar with too many seats or pack tables too close together. Likewise, think about the type of lights you install. Psychological studies show how much lighting can affect our moods, so try to keep promote a comfortable space with dim, warm lights. 

Get ready to open! 

Once you have everything in order, it’s time to plan your grand opening. You want to make this a fun event that attracts as many people as possible. Most importantly, you want people to enjoy themselves and become recurring visitors. 

Here are some tips to spread the word about your opening:

  • Run advertisements on social media
  • Send mailers to local homes and businesses
  • Plan a soft opening for media and local businesses/social leaders
  • Offer an incentive to get people through the door

Do you need a point of sale for your wine bar? Contact Epos Now to see what our systems can do!