How to Start Your Self-Pour Bar or Restaurant
Josue Matos was just a college student when he decided he wanted to open his own self-pour taproom. With little more than that dream, Josue got the ball rolling by visiting his university’s small business development center, which helped him fill in some of the blanks he needed to make a first pitch.
But it wasn’t exactly a cake walk from there. Josue approached two banks with his pitch in the hopes of getting a loan, but was rejected by both. Realizing this process might require some unconventional thinking and a lot of hard work, Josue persevered and began a 6-month journey that culminated in the opening of an awesome new restaurant-taproom in West Reading, PA called Beer Wall On Penn.
In this guide, we hope to give you a good idea about the process of opening your very own self-pour taproom. Using Josue’s own journey as a contextual roadmap, you can begin to conceptualize your own self-pour journey, from your initial ideas all the way to your deposit for PourMyBeer’s self-serve system.
Approximate Timeline to Pour
1. Stop Dreaming, Start Doing!
THE BUSINESS PLAN
There is a lot that goes into building and opening a successful taproom. For that matter, there is a lot that goes into opening any successful business. For that reason, every successful business has to start with an effective business plan. This can seem like a daunting task for someone opening a new business for the first time, but there are many online resources that can help you at least figure out which questions you’ll need to answer when you have to make that crucial first pitch. There are even Google Docs templates available for free to help you get started with this part.
To get a general idea of the big points you should make sure to include in your business plan, here’s what Josue covered in his (in his own words):
- An executive summary which introduces and summarizes your business concept
- Industry analysis, which should include a target market analysis (who are your core target customers?), and a location analysis which provides insight on things like demographics (age, sex, household income, ethnicity etc.)
- SWOT analysis with stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunity, Threats. In simpler terms, this is a competitive analysis which should provide a snapshot of the competitive landscape in the area. Who will be your competition?
- Management team analysis – provide a background of your management team and your investors. Resumes are encouraged.
- Investment plan – provide a start up cost sheet and how you plan to spend capital.
- Pro Forma (financial projections):
1. Calculate estimated revenue projections for years one, two and three. Estimates should be conservative and realistic.
2. Estimate your total liabilities and costs. Your costs will include items such as lease, payroll, insurance, licenses, utilities, bank note, taxes.
3. Estimated cash flow for years one, two and three. This will project the businesses future net income.
Regardless of how you prepare your plan, you should make sure it’s as thorough and organized as you can manage, because this is what you’ll be presenting to banks or investors in order to convince them to get on board. More than that, your business plan is your personal roadmap; it will work to guide you through the process of building and opening your establishment.
If you know anything about real-estate, you know it’s all about location. And that principle tends to apply to most B2C businesses as well, especially in the food and beverage industries. Finding the perfect location for your business can therefore be a long process, but it’s important to be very careful and deliberate about how you choose. Before you begin searching for available properties, you should make sure you have a good idea of how big you want your space to be. You shouldn’t count on finding something to an exact square-foot figure, but still make sure to have at least a qualitative idea of how your space will look (Do you just want small taproom? Or do you want a full-fledged restaurant which requires additional space for a kitchen?) The best way to go about things after you have a better vision of your space is to use a dual-sided approach: actively use online resources, but also be willing to physically travel to the locations that you find online. As you do this, you need to make sure you keep in mind the local demographics of each candidate location. What types of people will you be serving? What kind of branding and marketing will attract those people best? Will the people in that area want to come to your establishment?
During his search, Josue used LoopNet, a platform that allows you to quickly search through many available properties for lease and for sale. Depending on which state you are in, there are a variety of useful tools that can help you quickly explore market in your area. We recommend asking your good old friend, Google for help to find out which company would be the best to use. Also, check out our tips on how to scout for a self-pour location here.
The key thing here is to take your time and be patient. Though Josue found many interesting properties, the process of finding his perfect location took him 6 months. He also explored on his own, researching and understanding the neighborhoods for each candidate location, and going there physically to reevaluate. He was even working a full-time job at the time, so it’s certainly possible to get things done entirely on your own with the right attitude and focus. With that said, you can also find help for this process by using a realtor.
Once you find the perfect space that checks all your boxes, the first thing you should do is pat yourself on the back and grab yourself a beer, because you just hit a huge milestone! Congrats! And now you can starting putting everything together. When you go to your winning space, start imagining what it’s going to look like once when you make it your own.
Plan out where you want your beverage wall to be, or think about how many tables you’ll want and how big they’ll be. You shouldn’t expect everything to turn out exactly the way you first envision it, but the sooner and more often you’re thinking about it, the better shape you’ll be in when you’re talking to contractors about real installation. You should also start doing some research on how to get a liquor license in your area; the policies and fees differ based on your location, but you can find all the information you need starting with as little as a Google search. Generally, you’ll want to visit a (.gov) websites associated with your city or area, as the info there will be the most accurate. Many people often contact attorneys in order to help negotiate liquor licenses; this is an approach we would recommend as well. You should be able to find a few local attorneys who specialize in liquor licensing with some Google research as well. And don’t worry, they are not paying us to recommend them. Now, that you got your location and permitting in place, let’s move to financing.
A good amount of this will probably happen near the start of your journey alongside your business plan, but financing is something you need to keep in mind throughout the entire process.
A BANK LOAN
Arguably the most direct approach to getting some initial funds for your new business is to go to a bank and apply for a small business loan. This may prove a bit tricky as banks generally do not give loans to businesses that haven’t begun yet, but it’s still worth looking into even before you open. To increase your chances at securing an SBA loan for your self-pour establishment, make sure that your business partners come from either the food and beverage industry, or are able to provide a strong financial background (real estate, assets, etc).
At any stage, this approach will require that you have a solid business plan (as we discussed above) and be prepared for your credit scores to be evaluated. Don’t necessarily stick the biggest banks either; approaching a smaller, regional commercial bank might increase your chances of getting a financial boost.
Finding a good investor or a good team of investors can be the fuse that lights your success. This is more often the direction people go in when opening new self-pour businesses, especially at the ideation stage. If you’re not sure where to go first, start close. Most of the best entrepreneurs in the world will tell you that often the best place to find professional contacts and potential investors is in your friends and family.
Seems a little strange to think about at first, because we so often separate the personal and professional aspects of our lives. But the fact is, your friends and family are the ones who know you best, and are thus the most likely to trust you when you say that you’ve got a solid business plan that’s worth the initial capital requirement.
And if you plan carefully and play your cards right, you’ll be able to pay them back with the profits you make down the line (and possibly free beer for life depending on how much you like them). So don’t be afraid to ask your family, friends, old classmates or even ex-coworkers for a stake in your company; that is if you think they’re good candidates.
It can also help to have an investor who is in the restaurant/food & beverage industry already, because for one thing, they can give you valuable advice on how to avoid some of their past mistakes. For another, it can reflect well on you to have that connection if you end up approaching more investors or even a bank in the future for more funds. Cultivate a relationship with a local restaurant owner, bar owner, etc. or grow your professional network until you find someone who fits the best criteria to be a good candidate.
The bottom line is that word of mouth is extremely powerful. Particularly for the process of finding investors, you need to talk to a lot of people in person and convince them your idea is worth their money. For that reason, this part can seem very daunting. But the beauty of starting with your friends and family is that they are likely to help you build your network along the way; and even if none of them personally becomes your investor, they may very well connect you with the person who does.
When they do, just be sure you’ve got a rock solid business plan and an attractive pitch as well. Make them want to partner with you as much as you want to partner with them.
Look, if you’ve got the cash and you think your idea is solid, it can certainly eliminate a lot of extra steps to just be your own investor. However, it’s not something we’d recommend if you have no experience in the industry whatsoever, unless you have an advisor who can guide you through each stage. Keep in mind however that if that advisor isn’t a stakeholder, they may not be quite as invested as you in your company’s success, so just make sure you know what you’re doing.
3. Paperwork & Brainstorming
Well, not really, because we live in a paperless world. But this is the stage where you’re going to start some serious planning for your new space; everything from creating a preliminary floor plan to getting the permits you need to get things running. Charge your computer and create a spreadsheet to organize all your documents, because there’s likely to be quite a few of them. Having your own self-pour business is so much fun (and great for your pocket), but it won’t happen overnight and it won’t pour money back into your pocket unless you do things right.
You’ve got a physical space to put your taproom, so now you can start drafting up a blueprint for how you’re going to want it to look. Where and how many taps are you going to have? Will you have a single long tapwall, or multiple smaller ones? How many tables will you have?
Don’t leave out any details. Make sure you’re very familiar with your space and its layout, including wiring frameworks, plumbing, etc. Again, there are some great online resources that can help you out here; one good example is a platform called SmartDraw. How you decide on a layout is also going to be determined by exactly what type of establishment you want to create. We’ve done installs for places that are taprooms only; with just walls and tables. But other places, Josue’s included, have a greater emphasis on food and are effectively full restaurants with tapwalls. We can accommodate you in practically any case, so it’s your call.
There’s quite a few licenses you’ll need in order to be allowed to operate a taproom legally. Hopefully you’ve done a bit of research at least with regards to the liquor license as we mentioned previously, but you’ll also need a number of others, likely including:
- A Business License: lets you run a business out of a particular geographic area
- Certificate of Occupancy: this will likely come after you’ve done your installations
- Food Service License (ServSafe): only if you plan to serve food at your taproom
- Signage Permit: if you plan to have brand signage to get the word out about your new place
There may be a few others depending on the services you’ll want to offer as well as your location; don’t be afraid to ask similar establishments in the area if you’re not sure what you’ll need.
This is the fun part. You get to decide on your very own name for your taproom, as well as how your design for the brand is going to look. This part is really up to you; this is your opportunity to put our own personality into the space you’re building. So, pick a name that you like, but make sure it’s pretty distinctive!
As personal as this step is, you don’t have to do it alone! Talk about the name with your friends and family and ask them for feedback. If you’re not super experienced with graphic design, find someone in your network who is, and see if they’ll help you out on creating a logo and color palette. If you’re looking for some graphic design resources, there’s plenty online, and a lot of them are free too. Inkscape a good one that has lots of options, but has a bit of a steep learning curve. Other options include GIMP, Krita, and Easel.ly. Do some research and find which one is best for your purposes, and don’t be afraid to watch some online tutorials if you’re trying to tackle the design yourself.
Once you’ve got at least a title and logo, start marketing! You don’t have to have a completed taproom to get people excited. Tease it on your social media, get your family and friends excited, get your network to be your audience. We have piled up more branding tips for you here.
As for the design and look of your beverage-wall, check out this video for a little inspiration.
4. Building Up the Space
With your brand image solidified, it’s time to go back inside. The contractors are who you should be reaching out to next when you think you’re ready to start bringing your new place to life. When you first scouted out your space, you should hopefully have ensured that the building has appropriate electrical wiring and plumbing. Now, you can start getting fixtures, equipment, and some furniture put in. This process is going to look very different for different people, as it really depends on what kind of shape the space is in before you claimed it. Either way though, you’ll need to reach out to multiple contractors.
For things like electrical and plumbing installation, it’s not terribly difficult to find some commercial contracting companies in your area that can come and give you an estimate. If possible, it’s really helpful to get some estimates even before you sign the lease for a location, as it can vary quite a bit. A great place to start looking is a website called thumbtack.com; this provides contracting leads specifically for businesses.
Of course, this is also going to be a taproom, which means you’re also going to need some more specific equipment. Specifically, you’ll need kegs, kegerators, beer lines, beer gas equipment, and of course this is when you’ll be getting the actual taps.
Our preferred partners are Micro Matic and Perlick, but you might find that a smaller draft installer in your area meets your needs more easily and for something within your price range, so that’s going to be your call.
Josue operated through a company called Tap Pro Solutions, and it has worked great so far. While you aren’t going to be contacting us quite yet, you should definitely be thinking about how many self-pour taps you’re going to want per screen, and have your installer help you plan that out accordingly.
As you get ready for this part of the process, you’ll want to make sure that the contractor you use has a history with restaurants and/or bars, as that means they’ll be able to advise you on how to build up your space effectively and feasibly. Josue actually went to a local bar very early on and basically just asked around for a draft installer; he met a representative from Tap Pro purely by chance during this time. Remember, networking never ceases to be useful!
Make sure you continue to monitor your budget here; you can do this by going to the various equipment stores you’ll be using and digitally creating an inventory for all the items you know you’re going to be using.
Like your other equipment needs, you’ll have to do this through official vendors. Do some research for local companies that might have furniture that fits your style, or ask around your professional network for suggestions. For Josue, Cisco Brothers was a good option in which he was able to find some solid furniture for his restaurant.
5. Final Preparations
This is going to vary based on the type of establishment you’re opening, but you will likely know more or less how many people you’ll need to hire based on your business model and layout. If you are opening a pure self-pour taproom, you’ll be able to manage with as few as 5 to 6 people to open.
But if you are opening a true restaurant like Josue, you will need people to work in the kitchen, servers, managers, etc. This will also depend very much on the size of your taproom; but for restaurants we encourage you to research or ask other establishments in your area to get a good idea of how much staffing you’ll need. Josue opened Beer Wall with 12 employees in April 2019 and since then has opened he has been operating successfully with between 10 and 12 employees total.
As a general note, make sure you keep the staff you hire well-informed and in the loop leading up to your opening. Things happen and deadlines can be missed, and it’ll save a lot of headache if everyone on your team is kept on the same page at the same time. To help make this happen, we’d recommend setting up a Slack profile for your taproom; have everyone you hire join the group and keep their notifications on so they receive any and all updates you send out for them.
Your place is looking pretty much ready to go. You’ve got fixtures, furniture, plumbing, beer equipment, and everything else you’ve decided on for your very own taproom. Now it’s time for the pièce de résistance: the PourMyBeer Install. Once you’re ready to roll, we’ll have one of our installers come down to your place and connect your beer equipment with our tech, making your place a complete self-pour taproom. We’ll be beyond excited to officially welcome you to the PourMyBeer family!
For some of the finer details regarding how the install might look, below are two great videos of PourMyBeer installs.
6. Stop Waiting, Start Pouring!
When you are set up and you did all your homework — your tables are set, your food is ready to be cooked (if applicable), your self-pour taps are bright and shiny and your finances are projected — it is time to launch your business!
We recommend going with at least two to three soft-openings with your friends and family or people in your professional network. These people will be able to give you honest, candid feedback about the user experience at your place, and if things go wrong, the cost will be a lot lower. Have them tell you everything they think, good and bad, and make sure they don’t hold back. This is a very critical time for your business, as you won’t again be able to receive user feedback without the risk of losing business or reputation. And that’s precisely why we recommend doing multiple. It might seem a little strange, but having multiple trial runs is a best practice for any product or service. Give yourself some time to work out the inevitable kinks you’ll have as well; we’d say at least one week (maybe two) between your last soft opening and your grand opening.
You’ve already done a bit of pre-launch marketing which teased your new taproom, but now is the time to start marketing in full force.
Set up social media profiles for your restaurant and start spreading the word around to pages and groups you think might be able to get you some traffic.
If you’re near a workspace or a university, try to find a contact who might be able to do some light marketing on your behalf to their friends or colleagues.
If you’ve got the budget for it, you could even hire a marketing specialist who would be responsible for you business’s PR; creating a social media calendar, finding potential events to participate in to boost image, etc.
When you’re ready, you’ll know it. Everything is all in place, you’ve done a couple of soft openings, you’ve worked out all the kinks. Now it’s time to begin your journey. Set a date, spread the word out as far as you can possibly reach, and make sure to get a good night’s sleep the night before: it’s time to open.
Work with your staff and make sure they’re as happy as your customers; and don’t worry if a few things don’t go the way you expect. Just put everything you’ve got into making your customers leave happier than they came. You’re part of the PMB family now, so we’ll be there to support you whenever you need it. Get out there and make it happen!
Congrats on joining the self-pour revolution!