How to Open a Bar with No Money

Yes it is possible. I did it.111

Almost everyone wants to open a bar or restaurant at some point in their lives. It’s a very common dream, but the number of people who actually follow through with it and open a bar is minuscule. There are plenty of reasons for this, the biggest being MONEY!

Yep, there are a lot of things you just can’t do without money and opening a bar is one of them…or is it?

In my previous article:( ) I go on and on about the importance of having enough capital when opening a bar and the risk you are taking opening a bar without it. In hindsight, It was a bit of a contradiction on my part because I actually opened my bar without any money. So, while I would still like to stress the importance of being financially prepared, I thought I’d let you know how I opened my bar without money.

STEP 1 – Read, Read, Read! – Know every aspect of the bar business before you start

By reading as much as you can and talking with people who have done it before, you will be much better prepared to open your own bar. When you are trying to do it without money, you need to plan things out in advance so you are not hit with a surprise cost down the track.

STEP 2 – Plan It

toiletMake a simple business plan, you’ll need it.

Let’ face it. there are always going to be costs that you simply have to pay with real money, There is no way of getting around it. So at some stage you’ll need to convince someone to give you some cash.

To start with you’ll need to have a good idea about what type of bar you want to open. Think about all the details from theme, location, clientele, services, food, hours, potential earnings etc. etc. and put it all into a simple but attractive business plan. This doesn’t need to go into all the details of the business, think of it as a brochure for your bar. Just tell it like it is from explaining your concept to identifying your clientele. The aim is to let readers know exactly what you want to do and that you have a passion for it. A Power Point presentation may even be sufficient.

Once complete, your business plan will help you to stay focused and help you to raise money, which we’ll go into a bit later.

STEP 3 – The Big List – Write a comprehensive list.

Like I said, planning in advance is the only way to make sure there are no hidden costs that will jump out and bite you later. After reading as much as you can about the bar business, and making a simple plan, next you should write a list of things you’ll need. Include everything, from signs to drink coasters, staff to floor tiles. Make sure you put the estimated cost next to each item. If you are still unsure what goes into a bar, read some more and also try looking at photos of bar interiors. You’ll be surprised how many things you forgot.

STEP 4 – Crossing off Costs

Many of the items on your list can be obtained for FREE!2222

Many things that you’ll need can be obtained for free – if you know where to look.

The aim of this step is to cross the majority of items off your list. Sounds impossible right? Well it’s not, it’s just difficult. Opening a bar without any money was never going to be easy.

This will require some extremely creative thinking. Here’s a few ideas to get you started:

* Staff – This is a comparatively easy one. Find friends and family who are willing to work nights at your bar in exchange for a piece of the company or profits. Find them and cross it off you list.

* Stock – Many liquor distributors will allow you to open a 30 or even 60 day account, enabling you to pay for your liquor later, after you’ve sold it to your customers. Find one of those distributors and cross it off your list.

* Music Equipment – Find a house DJ with their own equipment and offer them a share in the company or profits in return for their full time services and equipment. You’ll be surprised how many budding D.J.s there are out there with all the latest equipment but no where to play. Cross it off your list.

* Glassware – Another easy one. Talk with beer and liquor companies. Many will be happy to give you glasses with their logos on them. Same goes for drink coasters, cocktail stirrers, ice buckets and bar runners. Cross them off your list.

* Refrigerators – Talk with your local Coke or Pepsi distributor. They’ll loan you fridges in exchange for exclusivity. Cross it off your list.

* Ash Trays – Talk to Marlborough. Cross them off your list.

* Signs – Get a beer or liquor company to sponsor your bar. They’ll pay for signs. Cross it off your list.

Etc. etc.

As you can see, with a little creative thinking you can cross most of the items off your list, saving you thousands of dollars. Be prepared for a lot of phone calls and selling yourself though.

STEP 5 – Getting Licensed – Finding a FREE liquor license is going to be tough…

Tough, but not impossible. The only way I know of to get a free liquor license (other than being given one) is to find a premises for your bar that comes with one. This is how I did it. My liquor license was owned by my landlord and rented to me each month with my lease payment. Nothing up front. Perfect!

There is a lot you’ll need to know about the restrictions and obligations that come with holding a liquor license. Some states even require certain qualifications and training. Please read up on it so you know what you are getting into.

STEP 6 – The Premisespremises

This one you definitely won’t get for free, unless your uncle owns the building and is prepared to give it to you rather than a paying tenant. Probably not going to happen.

You will always need to pay a deposit. This is usually the equivalent of one months rent and it must be paid upfront. If this is the only money you spend opening your bar you are doing really well. To find the money, show people your business plan, offer them a cut of the business in return for a few hundred dollars each, use a credit card or personal loan or simply ask friends and family for loans. Try selling shares in your business on EBay, post to forums and find partners. If your plan is up to scratch and you have already secured all the items from STEP 4, finding this small amount of money wont be hard.

Once you have the deposit, negotiate with the landlord to give you a few months rent free to renovate. If you get the bar built and ready before the end of the rent free period, you’ll be able to open and make some money before ever having to pay rent. Some landlords won’t give you a rent free period, but some definitely will.

STEP 7 – Design Cheap – Find inspiration keeping cost in mind

Some structural works cost more than others. Stick to simple straight lines and standard fittings. There are plenty of other ways to snazz it up later. Look at as many bar interiors as possible both for ideas and so you can get an idea of what works. I read a lot of books (listed below) which were full of great interior photos of the best bars in the world. It is surprising how simple some of them are.

Step 8 – Free Labor

Utilizing family, friends and students

This one wont be all that hard. Find friends, family, art students, trade students and artists who are willing to help you build and decorate your bar in return for free drinks, or even shares in the business. Of course, many of them will have had dreams of opening a bar themselves, so you will enable them to live out a little bit of their own dreams in helping you. They may even be willing to provide materials themselves or at deferred cost to you.

 STEP 9 – Spread the word

tires toiletFree marketing and advertising

With your bar nearing completion it is time to let the world know about it, well at least the local community. One added benefit in getting so many people involved in the design and building process is the free word of mouth promotion. If 10 people work on the bar and each of them tell 10 friends about it, you have 100 patrons for opening night right there before you even begin advertising.

Free marketing techniques is another topic all together and you will find plenty of info on it right here on Squidoo. I’ve listed a few good lenses below to get you started. One great FREE iPhone marketing tool is

A Mobile App for Your Bar – Interact with your customers through their iPhones and other smart phones.

Nowadays, everyone seems to have an iPhone, Android phone or some sort of smart phone. If your bar caters to a younger crowd this will be the case for the majority of your patrons. This creates a great opportunity for you to interact with your customers. By developing a mobile app for your bar which your customer can download, you can then offer them loyalty incentives, feed them the latest news and promotions from your bar, enable them to check in at your bar, share your content on Facebook etc.etc.

Contact DreamWalk Interactive for a FREE mobile app quote.

STEP 10 – Open and Make Money Quick

Building your bar for free was just the beginning, try running it for free…

If you manage to follow all of the previous steps without any hurdles you are doing exceptionally well and I congratulate you. Very few would have had the stamina or determination. My advice to you now would be to make money and fast! You’ll soon find that building the bar was just the beginning, running the bar will be much, much more difficult.

To find out more about how I managed to build a bar without any money you can view a documentary they made about me called No Way San Jose here at

You can view the trailer below.

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