The dream of owning your own bar is one that many a young man has fantasised about. Tom Cruise and Bryan Brown's shenanigans in Cocktail had an impact on those old enough to remember the '80s (I only just qualify admittedly). And certainly the life of bar owner is thought to be a rather enviable one. But how closely does the dream match reality?
I've finally had a chance to realise my bar ownership aspirations with the opening of Neighbourhood in Sydney's sunny Bondi Beach. It has been a challenging, rewarding and eye-opening experience – one that's worth sharing for those thinking or even daydreaming about mixing things up themselves.
The more the merrier
Opening a bar is a lot of work - it's a lot of work. Having a team of people with different skillsets is crucial to ensure that you don't burn yourself out. Who has a head for the books? Who is your front-of-house expert? Who is your handyman?
As much as working for yourself is hardly a chore, no-one can last working 80-hour weeks forever. At Neighbourhood my four business partners and investors, each with their own strengths, have made it all possible. Yes, a group this size has brought its challenges, but for all of us this was our first venture – and in hindsight I wouldn't have wanted to pull this project together without any of them.
On top of my business partners I've got a great team of talented staff. It's still only early days for us (seven weeks!) but I believe we've got a formula that works.
You can't please everyone
Criticism. I've never been good at taking it, but it is something that you really need to take on when running a new business. We've found that we've constantly been refining and making adjustments to how we do things at Neighbourhood, whilst still trying to stick to our vision for the venue.
One thing we have learnt rather quickly, though, is that you can't please everyone – but that this isn't necessarily a bad thing. An endless pursuit of pleasing everybody would result in a venture that would be bland, confused and ultimately not inspiring to own or work in.
The venue we've created reflects the tastes of myself and the team. You don't have to like what we do (though we hope you do), and you don't have to come back. I'm sure there's a venue out there that's just right for you.
It isn't a free-for-all
The bar business isn't no ordinary retail business, inasmuch that it's one where everybody expects to get something for free. I've never gone into a supermarket expecting free milk, or into a clothing store and brazenly asked for a free shirt. So what's on the house? The roof is – that's what. We've got bills to pay!
That said, I do often get shouted drinks when I visit other venues. I never expect it and it's much appreciated when it happens. If you are ever shouted a drink by a bartender or bar owner in a bar, do realise that there is a real cost to this – and maybe, just maybe, consider leaving a tip.
Remember that despite the price of drinking out in Australia (yes, we know it's expensive) the margins in the bar game aren't as high as you might expect. Rent, staffing, taxes, licensing and cost of materials makes the bar game as hard as any business in Australia. Even if it's a friend of yours that owns the bar, always offer to pay for drinks. Or do your friend a favour and ask for free drinks somewhere else.
It's a lifestyle thing
The bar game can be incredibly rewarding, but it isn't always about partying. Those who stick around in the biz get a kick from blowing people away with amazing service, whipping up cracking food and drinks or getting customers' feet tapping to awesome tunes.
Despite the perks you've got to be ready for long, often unsociable hours and a potentially unhealthy lifestyle. Bar owner or not, days off, healthy eating, exercise and a break from drinking are necessary – though often harder to maintain for anyone in the service industry.
So is owning a bar worth it? You bet. I'll see you at Neighbourhood soon.
What's your vision for the perfect bar?