Creating an alfresco bar can be a summer moneyspinner, here's how to make the most of your outdoor drinking space
How we Brits love a bit of sunshine. Which is why when the weather's fair – and predictions are that this summer could be one of the fairest of all – pubs, bars and restaurants with gardens or terraces are in big demand.
An alfresco bar serves to reinforce the outside space's appeal, bringing associations of Caribbean holidays and a Mediterranean lifestyle, and offering added convenience for the customer. For the venue, it has the advantage of easing pressure on workstations inside on a busy night, but it's also likely to generate more sales from customers sitting outside. "If you get loads of people outside, it's not brilliant for business," says Nidal Ramini, owner of Dusk bar in Battersea, London, which has its own terrace area with bar.
"You can imagine the scene. You're in a pub garden, sitting there talking and in no rush to get to the bar." Particularly if it's inside and it's busy. By locating a bar right under the noses of your outside customers, it stands to reason they're likely to drink more.
But building a whole bar isn't cheap. That's why you should look for help from your suppliers. "Start talking to your drinks reps, find a product that suits the image of your venue and start asking for sponsorship,"
advises Rod Eslamieh, bar consultant and owner of the Old Firestation in Brentford.
"Try and cover as much of the cost as you can through them. A nice trick would be to theme the bar – for instance, by creating a Tiki hut, then getting a rum brand to sponsor you.
At the end of the day it benefits both parties, they get great branding, their drinks are being pushed and you save a few quid."
This is exactly what Ramini did when setting up the outside bar at Dusk. "We were sponsored by Havana Club at the beginning," he says. "There was a big cost involved: about £12,000 and that was three years ago." The money paid not just for the bar but for a concrete seating area, for power cables, specialist outdoor speakers and plants."
But while there was a large outlay, the area has since succeeded in attracting the corporate pound. "It will bring in a Wednesday night party with a 10 grand budget," he says.
As for what to stock and what to serve, the advice is to go simple. "There's only so much you can do," says Ramini. "There's no running water in our outside bar, no plumbing. So keep things straightforward. When Havana Club sponsored us, we just did Mojitos and Cuba Libres, and a beer and a wine. You don't want to stock more than one spirit because that's just a nightmare."
Matt Preisinger, a bartender at Brighton's Above Audio, which has a small outside bar on its terrace, agrees it would be mad to try and offer a full cocktail list. "Our speed rail outside is only half the size of the speed rails inside so you simply can't carry the same number of bottles."
His venue is currently revamping its outside bar.
"It's been a bit neglected," he says.
"But the most important thing we want to do is put a beer fridge behind the bar. Currently, the fridge is below the bar and customers can't see what beers we're serving."
He also points out that outside bars can be used for special events outside of the summer months too. On New Year's Eve last year, Tuaca liqueur sponsored Above Audio's outside bar.
‘We had canopies up and it was very successful,"
says Preisinger. "It took pressure off the inside of the venue and it maximised our takings."
Special thanks to Joshua Ivanovic at Dusk, Battersea.
duskbar.co.uk, audiobrighton.com, the-firestation.co.uk
- Make sure you get planning permission from the local council if you're going to build any kind of permanent structure outside. As Rod Eslamieh says: "The last thing you want to do is spend all that money setting something up and then be told some time down the line to take it down."
- Discuss sponsorship opportunities with your suppliers, who may help finance the building of the bar, or at least provide some stock for it.
- Keep things simple. The chances are that your outside bar won't have the kind of amenities or space that your inside bar has. This will affect the kind of operation you can run outside. Offer a couple of cocktails (you'll need to liaise with your spirits sponsor about the choice of these), a beer brand or two and a wine. Depending on your particular clientele, you might wish to offer champagne too.
- Even with space restrictions, ensure the beers and wines you serve are clearly displayed.
- Don't ignore local residents. Meet up with your neighbours and discuss your plans with them. They may argue that increased drinking outside will lead to more noise and rowdy behaviour. You'll need to reassure them. "My best advice is to find a compromise of what time customers should vacate the outside area and come inside the venue," says Eslamieh. "Most local residents would appreciate that and it shows you care."
- Don't go for a temporary structure. "If you are going to do something, do it properly," says Eslamieh. "If it's temporary, it's likely to look cheap and customers can feel cheated."
- Don't operate your bar unless there's a demand for it. You don't have to use the bar everyday of the summer. And you don't want to be employing someone to man a bar that's hardly being used.
- Don't limit yourself to the summer. Consider opportunities for running special events that use the outside bar, particularly if you have canopies customers can shelter beneath and patio heaters to keep them warm.