The United States bar and nightlife industries created $28 billion in revenue pre-pandemic. That’s a yearly average. Then 2020 happened.
With the current vaccination push, a return to normalcy feels closer than ever. Bars and restaurants will return to regular capacity, and not soon enough.
People kept inside for a year are ready to go out, and if you’re an entrepreneur, you recognize the pent-up demand. Now might be the time to open a bar.
Opening your dream Oregon bar isn’t easy. You’ll need to do a lot of work, and you’ll need to have proper licensing.
Do you have questions about how to open a bar in Oregon? Read this guide on all the pertinent aspects of starting an Oregon bar.
What’s Your Plan?
Every bar starts with an idea. You have to know what type of bar you want to own and operate. Industry people call this the bar’s concept.
Determining your concept is a key first step. Every other step hinges on what you want your bar to be. Your concept is your location, naming, purchasing, and licensing.
The best bars are an extension of the owner’s personality. Customers want unique experiences, and the best way to provide one is to use your style.
The more you love your concept, the better eye you’ll have for details. Here are some common bar ideas to consider.
Neighborhood Watering Hole
Are you a relaxed, laid-back person? Do you enjoy the slower pace community vibe of a local watering hole? Many of us indeed want a place “where everybody knows our name.”
These bars are perfect for people who desire to build a friendly community pillar.
Do you love sports? A sports bar is the concept for you. You know what a sports fan wants out of their sports bar, and you know how to provide it.
You want televisions galore, great greasy bar food, and decor to match the local Oregon teams. The great thing about a sports bar? They’re malleable.
They can function as a neighborhood spot and a great place to watch the game.
Music Venue/Night Club
Music venues are a passion project for music lovers and artists. The truth is live music and entertainment drive bar business. The right kind of music or entertainment can result in a 9% increase in regular business.
You can increase revenue by charging covers for bigger shows. You’ll also help foster tomorrow’s famous musicians.
Many skilled Oregon bartenders dream of owning a bar in Oregon. They have a repertoire of craft cocktail recipes honed from their years of experience.
If this describes you, a craft cocktail/foodie concept matches your personality.
Business Structure Matches Location
Your dream craft cocktail bar won’t be successful in a working-class neighborhood. Your sports bar will be out of place in posh, cultural areas of a big city.
You have to structure your business and your concept based on your location. Your location should be affordable and fit your idea.
Your start-up capital determines a lot. You have several routes available for finding the best location to match your business structure.
Buy a Bar Already in Operation
People want to sell their business for many reasons. If you’re buying an already operational bar, you have to find out the reasons why.
Before you buy in, you have to research whether the bar is actually profitable. If it is, why? If it’s not, is it a business worth buying?
Start a New Bar From Scratch
You’ve found the perfect location. The unfortunate part is your perfect location was never a bar or restaurant. This business structure needs a lot of start-up capital.
You’ll be responsible for the complete installation of bar fixtures and kitchen equipment. You’re also responsible for installing all safety equipment for licensing and coding.
While you’ll be working with a blank slate, blank slates are expensive. Make sure your business structure includes inevitable cost overruns.
This initial business structure is the middle. You’re buying an existing business and adding your personal touches, but you’re not building a bar from scratch. It won’t be the same bar, but you’re not starting fresh.
Remodeling is a great way to start your bar business. You’re coming into an established location that already has proper zoning. That doesn’t mean you’ll be without paperwork.
Oregon Liquor Control Commission
Opening a bar in Oregon means you’ll have to work with the OLCC. Before you begin the licensing and permitting process, you have to have a location.
Under OLCC rules, you can be searching for a location. The process must be active to start the licensing process.
Before you apply for an OLCC permit, you need to determine a few important business items. Your bar must follow Federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) regulations. Contact them for compliance questions.
You must determine your business address. If you don’t have one, you must be finding one.
You must also determine your business. Will it be sole propriety or a legal entity? Legal entities must register with the Oregon Secretary of State Corporation Division.
Bars serving food must register with the Oregon Department of Agriculture Food Safety Division.
What Licenses and Permits?
Most full-service bars and restaurants only need one Full On-Premises, Commercial License. You might need others depending on your business model.
For example, an extra license is required for off-premises catering.
You’ll provide your liquor license application, personal history, business information, including floor plan, and a written proposal for licensing.
Once you submit the forms, you’re required to pay the fees for licensing.
Liquor Liability Insurance
The OLCC will not grant a license unless you carry liquor liability insurance. You must have a minimum of $300,000 coverage, and the state must be listed as a certificate holder.
Alcohol Server Education Course
The OLCC requires you to pass an alcohol server education course for licensing. If you’re a sole proprietor, you must take the course. If you’re a legal entity, you can choose a person to take it.
This course is also a requirement for any future employees.
Determine Your Food Service Menu
Oregon liquor regulations require Full, On-Premises Licensees to serve food. In other words, if you want to serve liquor, you have to serve food.
Oregon Licensing requires bars to serve food for a minimum amount of time.
Bars open past 5 PM must have at least a three-hour designated meal period. Bars that close at 5 PM also have a required two-hour meal period.
You are required to have at least five different entree options on your meal period menu.
What Constitutes a Meal?
A meal is defined as a “substantial food item.” Potato chips and beef snacks do not constitute a substantial food item.
These substantial food items must come with at least one side dish, with at least two other side dishes available on the menu. Think burger and fries with the option to order onion rings or a salad.
Substantial Food Item Preparation
Oregon defines a substantial food item as an item one would consider an entree. Licensees must cook or prepare these food items on-premises.
Side dishes alone are not considered substantial food items.
What’s a Side Dish?
Oregon regulations are particular about side dishes. Your offered side dishes can be fruit, vegetables, and bread. A side dish is also defined as a starch. Fries, rice, and pasta are all substantial side dishes.
You’re required to have at least five “different” entrees. Oregon defines “different” as items that differ in ingredients and preparation. Changing sizes doesn’t count.
For example, say you decide to serve burgers with a side of fries. A larger order of fries does not constitute an entree.
You’re Halfway There
Location, licensing, and food service determination make up half of your bar opening process. Once you have all those, you can start the real work.
- Layout and design
- Find your suppliers
- Build a cocktail, beer, and wine menu
- Buy equipment
- Start advertising
- Hire staff
- Train your staff
- Soft Opening
Opening Your Oregon Bar
The bar and restaurant business isn’t for everyone. It’s tough, and your profit margins are very slim. Before you begin the process, make sure you have the passion to see your investment through the tough times.
Opening an Oregon bar is a process that involves a lot of time, money, and paperwork. You need to have your concept and official Oregon licensing to start. After that, your business acumen and work ethic determine success.
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