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Your Guide to Starting a Bar or Nightclub

Now you’re familiar with the general information about starting your business, you’re ready to delve into the more in-depth information around opening a bar or nightclub. Read on to find out about bar licences, rules and regulations, as well as tips for finding the right venue and employees.

You can also download this guide for the perfect reference point throughout your journey. Our downloadable version comes with a comprehensive startup checklist so you can track your progress!

Pros and Cons to Running a Bar or Nightclub

 
Pros
  • Ability to be your own boss and have more control over your career
  • If successful, financial reward will be superior to working for another bar or nightclub
  • Opportunity to be creative in relation to bar concept, including menus and fit outs
  • Ability to utilise a range of different skills that you may not get as a regular employee of a restaurant
  • Ability to meet a lot of new people
 
Cons
  • Running a bar or nightclub is not a job and ‘business hours’ don’t exist: it requires a significant investment of personal time and planning
  • Bars and nightclubs can fail – meaning huge drain and stress on financial resources and time lost
  • Subject to seasonal variances meaning cash flow a notable stress point for bar/nightclub owners
  • You will need a range of different capabilities beyond hospitality to be a successful owner of a bar or nightclub; including business and finance management skills
  • Employee tenure can be lower than other industries; meaning higher time investment required to find and train staff
 

Licensing Requirements

Liquor Licences

Liquor licensing will be the main type of licensing requirement for bars and nightclubs. Venues that intend to serve or sell liquor (alcohol) must ensure they have the right license. Licences may include:

  • A Small Bar Licence
  • On Premises Licence
  • Primary Service Authorisation
  • Liquor Approved Manager Licence

But requirements will vary depending on the state or territory you’re in, where the alcohol will be consumed, council requirements around land use, and your business intentions.

Before you lodge an application for a liquor licence, you’ll need a National Police Certificate which will include a criminal record check. You can find out more about liquor licensing in each state here:

 

Business Licences

You’ll need to apply for a business licence and registration from the local council. The local council will ask you to provide information such as:

  • Your food business classification
  • The type of food to be served
  • Whether food is pre-packaged
  • The name of your food safety representative

For information on the process with your local council, visit the Australian Business Licence and Information Service.

You’ll also need to apply for a number of certificates from the local council, including:

  • A zoning certificate
  • A construction certificate
  • A fire safety certificate
  • A compliance certificate
  • An occupation certificate

You’ll then need to pay the associated fees and fill out the required paperwork.

Food Licensing

If you plan to serve food in your bar or nightclub, you’ll need to follow food business licensing requirements, which also vary from state to state.

Food business licensing ensures your venue can produce safe food before it is supplied or prepared for the local community. Licensing requirements vary depending on the size of the venue and state or territory where you’re establishing the business. You can view the relevant licensing requirements for your bar or nightclub here:

There are also several other licenses that you may require, so it’s best to seek advice. For example, you’ll likely be playing music at the bar or nightclub, so you may need a music license to cover copyright issues.

 

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Owning a Bar/Nightclub: The Rules and Regulations

 

Licensees must provide a safe environment for customers and employees in and around the business premises. Depending on your licence conditions and the state or territory you’re in, you may need to comply with:

  • Lock out law requirements: For example in Sydney, there are 1.30am lockouts and 3am last drinks at bars and clubs in the Sydney CBD Entertainment precinct
  • Security staff requirements: Security staff will require their own licence under the state-specific Act. They must also dress to distinguish themselves from other staff and patrons
  • Use and management of CCTV recordings: Required for bars and nightclubs that trade after a certain time or that have a specific condition on their licence
  • Use of ID scanners at licensed venues: May be required for venues that trade after a certain hour

 

All employees (including security staff) will also require Responsible Service of Alcohol (RSA) training, and you may need to appoint a Liquor Approved Manager.

Smoking is banned in enclosed public spaces (defined as having 75 percent notional walls and ceiling) in bars and nightclubs in all states and territories in Australia. Designated smoking areas are allowed, but regulations prevent these from being within a certain proximity to seating or dining areas.

 

 

 

Liquor licenced venues are required to display certain signage.

The sale or supply of liquor to minors under 18 years at bars or nightclubs is illegal, as is liquor consumption by minors on licensed premises.

 

 

 

If your nightclub has a gaming licence for poker machines, you will also need to comply with gaming regulations in your state or territory.

 

How to Find Your Perfect Bar or Nightclub Venue:
Choosing Your Location

 

 

Nightclubs and bars are unique in the hospitality world when it comes to location. Unlike other businesses, a secret or hidden bar location can add to the mystique. Of course, the success of these bars still rely on being in places that are hip enough to warrant it. Other bars and nightclubs benefit from being out in the open, easy to find and get to.

 


These are some questions you should ask yourself when choosing a location for your bar or nightclub:

 

How are your patrons getting to your bar?

Ideally, you want to be close to public transport or alternative transport options. If your patrons need to drive to your location, they’re unlikely to drink much – which isn’t good for business!

How will you promote a hidden or secret bar?

Before moving into a hidden bar, you will need to think about how you will promote it. These bars often require a bigger advertising budget than one located on a main street.

Where are your patrons coming from?

Are you planning on serving Happy Hour drinks for the after-work crowd? You will need to be within walking distance of some office buildings. If it’s the student crowd you’re targeting, you’ll want to have at least one university nearby.

How loud will your bar or nightclub be?

Many cities will make life hard for nightclubs or bars that are in residentially-zoned areas. Some areas may impose late night curfews, so it’s best to research the area before you invest in your venue, just in case it turns out to be more hassle than it’s worth.

How to Choose the Right Staff for Your Bar or Nightclub

 

 

Good staff are essential to keeping a bar or nightclub running smoothly. Running a bar or nightclub can be a lot of work, so your staff should make it easier, not harder.

These are some of the top tips to help you employ the best bar and club staff:

 

Staff who work well under pressure are a must

Staff who are easily overwhelmed need not apply for a job in a club or bar. Bars and nightclubs get busy quickly and the peak hour can last all night. Many people struggle to begin with, but if they don’t find their footing after a couple of weeks you may have to make a tough decision.

Advertise far and wide

Good bar staff can be hard to find, so advertising online will give you a large pool to draw from. Whether they need to know how to expertly pour a beer, or need to be able to list a dozen cocktail recipes, sifting through job applications to find the star hospitality staff is a worthwhile pursuit.

Make sure they have their Responsible Service of Alcohol certificate.

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