Feb 19

Make money by starting your own portable bar business

Starting a business in the drinks industry can be one of the most rewarding and exciting experiences you can have as a start-up entrepreneur. If you’re someone who has an interest in running a lively business and working at different locations, a mobile bar catering company could be perfect for you. Whether you’re looking to launch a large scale portable bar enterprise which operates at the largest events and shows, or a smaller refreshments stall at intimate events in your local area, the opportunities available can be equally lucrative. The bar trade does not come without its challenges, though. While the trade is bursting with demand, there are a number of considerations you need to take into account before you take any orders behind a till.


Why start a portable bar business?



By running your own mobile bar catering business, not only will you be able to work for yourself and make your own money, but you will also have the opportunity to work at exciting events, shows and corporate functions. I’m sure we’ve all had the same thought when paying over the odds for a drink or food at a festival. The people behind the till must be making some serious money. Well guess what? They are. And you can too. By starting a catering business, you can run your own financially successful bar.

One of the big benefits of running your own portable bar is the ability to scale it to your ambitions or logistical capabilities. Whether you are looking to create a full-time business which has a collection of employees or just a part-time, one-person drinks stall at small shows and events, there will be demand, providing you run the business correctly. In the private sector, there are numerous opportunities to supply mobile bars at corporate functions and events year-round.


Different types of portable bars


There is a whole host of variety when it comes to designing a portable bar. In recent years, we have seen a number of growing trends. The popularity of bars with a focus on craft beer, gin and prosecco have grown massively. Before you start thinking about your bars niche, you first need to think about what type of bar you are going to operate from. Here are the main options available.


Portable Bar

While for some events it may be easier to operate out of a van or trailer, that isn’t true for all events. A lot of corporate events will require a bar to be installed within a venue, and this simply isn’t possible in a vehicle. Therefore, if you’re looking to target corporate functions or indoor events, purchasing a bar which can be erected and dismantled quickly could be a much better option. Companies such as Portabar provide you with the opportunity to purchase fully customisable bars which can be quickly set up in any venue or location.


Motorised Van

The motorised van is seen by many to be the champagne choice of vehicle for a mobile bar. While they are practical, classy and generally impressive, they are definitely the most expensive choice on the list. If you are going to purchase a motorised van, make sure you have a structured and well thought out business strategy behind you.


Trailer bar

Trailer bars are slightly less expensive but arguably just as practical and capable of running a successful business from. With a towed trailer, you will also be able to quickly set up and run your business at various events, shows and festivals across the country.


Drinks Stall/Gazebo

If you are planning on running a portable bar business as a part time project then a simple stall is probably the best bet for you. While you might not set the bar trade ablaze with your drinks stall, you will still be able to make a handy profit at numerous shows year-round. When looking for locations to set up your drinks stall, focus on small festivals or corporate events. Once you have created a foothold for yourself in the industry, you can always invest some money in a trailer bar or motorized van to make more profit.


What do you need to consider?


Complying with regulations

In order to sell alcohol at any premise you will need a license. If you are planning on operating at a relatively small event, you or the event owner will need to get a Temporary Events Notice (TEN). This will enable you to legally sell drinks at an event which does not currently have a license. If you are planning on selling alcohol at a large-scale event, they will already have an agreed event license so you will not need to worry about obtaining one.

If you intend to make this a full-time business, you’ll have to register as self-employed. See our article on freelance finances for help on this. You may have to pay tax on your profits – find out whether you’ll need to declare extra earnings to HMRC.


Initial investment costs

If you’re planning on creating your own mobile bar business, you need to think about how you’re going to fund your start up. If you are planning on purchasing a motorised van or mobile bar, there is often a significant financial investment involved. If you don’t have enough capital to fund this outright, you could think about getting a loan.

While you could go to the bank and ask for a loan, there is another option available. In the UK, there is an option for individuals who are launching a new business to apply for a loan and mentoring from the Start Up Loans company. You can borrow up to £25,000 with a fixed interest of 6%, which needs to be repaid within one to five years. You will also be paired with an experienced mentor who will offer a helping hand during the start-up process. Usefully, they have a handy collection of free start up guides you can read here to get you started.


Can you make a tasty drink?

Everyone thinks they are talented when it comes to making a good cocktail, especially if they’ve had a few before getting their hands on a shaker. However, you need to be realistic when it comes to your own talents. Do you belong behind a desk rather than behind a bar? If so, it will be worth employing a talented bartender who can run operations on the frontline for you. At large events and music festivals, there are willing volunteers who will work for free for your catering company, and in return they will be able to visit the festival for free. You should each festival individually to see if this is an available option.


Expect some challenging times

Like with any start up, you should be prepared for some tricky challenges along the way. Whether it’s after a show which failed to make as many sales as you would have liked, or when you’re struggling to find events or shows which will accept your stall at your show, be ready to grit your teeth.


How can you get started?

Create a business plan

No business has ever been successful without research. Before you take any major steps to getting your business off the ground, you must first put together a thorough business plan. Starting a business with just an ‘idea’ is dangerous and one of the best ways to make your business fail. Conduct thorough and proper research into the bar trade and create an in-depth business plan. If you need help with creating a business plan, have a look at this useful guide.


Gain some experience

Before launching your business, it will definitely be worthwhile gaining some experience in the bar trade if you do not have any. This is an industry you will either adore or despise so it is vital that you start your business knowing that it is absolutely the right sector for you. If you are planning on running the mobile bar yourself, it will also be worthwhile sitting a bartender course. Barschool offer two-day mixology courses which will sufficiently educate you on how to make the best and most popular drinks.


Build a list of contacts

Before you invest any big money, it would be sensible to first have a list of contacts who you can rely on for business. If you don’t know of any contacts, consider volunteering at events and shows as a way of networking. While you’re volunteering, make an effort to speak to event organisers and try to obtain some contact details. There are a number of volunteering opportunities at large events, from working as a steward to even working for somebody else’s catering company. When they are pitching for your company to appear at a future show, you can contact them and ask if they are looking for any new caterers. They should remember you fondly as you have volunteered for free at a previous event. Working as a volunteer for somebody else’s catering company will also give you a great insight into what you need to do to make your own operation run smoothly.


Think of a Niche

The event stalls which do well are the ones which are different. If you’re planning on creating a cocktail bar or a smoothie bar without any real focus, there’s a good chance that you’re not going to do as well as you could if you think of something original. The competition between catering stalls at large events is intense and small advantages can make a big difference. You need to make sure that your business stands out over every other stall in the area. Even if it’s something as small as a really catchy bar name, then it is going to give you an advantage over your competitors.

Your niche doesn’t necessarily just have to be based on the type of drinks you serve. For example, based on the success of the ongoing television show Peaky Blinders, entrepreneurs in Liverpool launched a Peaky Blinders themed bar, which has become a big success. Perhaps your portable bar could take on a similar quirky theme and become equally popular, get creative!


Create an event schedule

It is advisable to create a 12-month plan which contains where and when you’re going to be operating, the cost of operating at that particular festival and the amount of money you can realistically expect to make. If you’re just starting out in the catering business, you shouldn’t expect to be trading at Glastonbury within 6 months. It’s important be realistic and set achievable targets. It’s always good to start small and work your way up gradually. Usually, the application process to pitch at large events and festivals opens in the Autumn before the festival. To pitch for a spot, typically you will visit the event’s site and fill out a contact form.


Insurance is important

Insurance is essential for any business, especially one which operates in the drinks industry. Liability insurance is a legal requirement for anyone looking to start their own mobile bar business. The cost of liability insurance isn’t extortionate and it will cover you if any accidents ever take place.


Register your business

If you intend to start mobile bar catering full-time, you’ll have to register as self-employed. See our article on freelance finances for help on this.


How can you get noticed?

Create attractive social media pages

No matter the size of the business you are trying to create, you should make the most of the opportunities social media make available. Platforms like Instagram and Facebook should be used to showcase just how great your portable bar company is. While your bar is running at an event, take the opportunity to get high-quality photographs of customers enjoying themselves and the amazing drinks you are making. This will make your business appear more attractive to both event organisers who you can pitch to in the future as well as potential customers who might recognise your stall at a future event.


Build a website

It is important that you create an engaging, popular website as soon as possible. We understand that launching and running a website can sound like a complicated challenge, but there are resources available to help you. If you’re not sure where to start, research a government-led initiative called Get British Business Online (GBBO), which will provide you will the relevant information you need to launch your website.


Create a buzz

Once you’re at an event, it’s important to draw a crowd. Usually, one of the biggest determining factors in your success at an event is the amount of people who are seen around a stall. If potential customers see other people at your stall, they will assume that the product you’re selling must be good. Conversely, if your stall is dead, then it is unlikely to suddenly attract a crowd. So, how can do draw a crowd?

Here’s another opportunity to get creative. You can come up with challenges in which people can try to win a free drink. Everyone loves a challenge, especially when there’s something up for grabs. These challenges should be fun and one which a large group of people can watch. Something as simple as a hang from a bar for two minutes to win a free drink appeals to people’s competitive side and is likely to draw in a crowd. If you can think of a challenge which will be videoed on social media then this will result in added exposure for your business.


How much can you make?

The amount of money you can make from operating a mobile bar is highly dependent on a number of different factors. If you operate properly, there is serious financial gain to be made year-round. It should also be stressed that the amount you can make depends upon the type of mobile bar you are operating from. A large bar with multiple bartenders at a highly popular event will make much more money than a small drinks stall with just one operator. That being said, the overheads of running a large bar will also be significantly more than a small stall.

It is also important to take into account the fact that the event will always take a cut of your earnings after the event. While the percentage of the cut will vary from event to event, it will typically be around 20-30%. This should always be taken into account when you’re deciding which event to make a pitch for.


Room for expansion

If you are successful with your mobile bar venture, there are other likely successes to be had. If you can make a nice profit from catering for the drinks sector, why not also venture into food catering? If you have the talent and organisation necessary to succeed, why not make the most from it. Take a look at our guide to sandwich catering to explore this idea further.


Article provided by Jamie Griffiths on behalf of Portabar.


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Jaz Bolton
Jaz Bolton

What about a private alcohol license?

shirley hubsch
shirley hubsch

Are there tools to help you work out what you could make on an event though … surely its a bit of a guessing game to start with.. or not ?

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