When operating a bar, there are many factors that require attention, time and money. Without a clear plan of action, it is easy to waste valuable resources. Luckily, Jason Williams, Creative Director at Proof & Company, has created a 20 pillar plan that can help bar owners and operators succeed.
Williams, who also heads the company’s bar and drink consultancy, Proof Creative, spoke to us at the Bloody Big Drinks Summit in October.
In this, Williams passed on some of the crucial knowledge he and his team have gained over more than a century of shared experience. Williams and his team identified three pillars as the most vital, prioritizing them above all else.
- The conceptual pillar
According to Williams, this is the most important pillar of all. âDefining a compelling concept should be the starting point for launching a bar. This will lead to all other creative and business decisions, âsaid Williams.
Although the word “concept” may sound abstract, for Williams the concept of a bar is not esoteric and is defined by two things. The first is âa pragmatic description of what the business is and the customer experienceâ – is it a lounge, cafe or cocktail bar?
The second is the creation of a story or a theme. Proof Creative calls this story âthe golden threadâ – a clear concept that runs throughout the bar.
Without a clear concept, a bar and a business can stray from their original purpose, jeopardizing the business model and investment.
Williams pointed out that the Swillhouse Group owns and executes high quality concepts, referring specifically to Baxter’s Inn, in Sydney’s CBD, and the Shady Pines Saloon in Darlinghurst.
- Pillar offering drinks
It may seem obvious that drinks are crucial to a bar’s success, but for Williams this mainstay cannot be overstated in its importance.
âA thoughtful, creative and engaging beverage offering is at the heart of a bar’s business model,â said Williams.
House drinks, cocktail menus and exclusive services must go hand in hand with the bar concept, helping patrons to experience the bar’s âgolden threadâ.
Williams gives specific examples of how a beverage offering can enhance and reinforce a bar’s theme for customers:
âA cocktail menu with a unique concept and story, which extends the theme of the placeâ¦ A style of house cocktailsâ¦ a list of spirits, with a selection of specialties to highlight the expertise or the interests of the team .
Balance is crucial. Beverage selections need to work commercially, while attracting and intriguing guests, Williams says. Bar owners shouldn’t overlook brand partnership opportunities when developing a drink list.
A selection of drinks can be used to enhance the central theme of a bar, while developing a sense of occasion for patrons. Williams gives the example of the Melbourne Supper Club. Although renowned for its wine list, this place gave Williams and his friends a sense of occasion with their thoughtful range of dark spirits.
- Programming pillar
Nothing to do with computers, Williams defines programming as an “organized activity in the place” – not just events, but the daily rituals that keep the bar running and on track, while retaining its sense of identity. .
Events are also a crucial part of this pillar, with Williams leading the example of liquor and wine clubs, alongside industry and consumer masterclasses.
The third aspect of this pillar is entertainment, with live music, art, and suggested performances.
Williams highlights Maybe Sammy, a cocktail bar in Sydney’s The Rocks district, as an example of a bar with great programming. “The premise is pretty simple, but really fun,” Williams says, continuing, “The concept is a 1950s Las Vegas hotel bar, but without the hotel.”
âIf someone had the pleasure of having a drink there, they would attest to the success of the concept.
Williams illustrates how the concept relates to the bar program: âThere is playfulness, there is arrogance, there is a certain sense of spectacle. And there are silly games, there are bubbles, there are costumes, and there are choreographed dancers. Everything may seem frivolous, but everyone is talking about it and everyone wants to go back to have that experience.
As always, and as Williams shows, word of mouth marketing and repetition of the custom are essential to the success of sites.
Proof Creative is now its own agency model and has a team of five senior bar consultants in Australia, New Zealand, South East Asia and China. Proof Creative works on everything from developing and opening individual bars to continental drink programs and everything in between.
The full discussion, which includes an overview of Proof Creative’s 20 pillars of bar consulting, plus more case studies, new concepts, and place examples, can be found here.
This conversation is part of the Scream Bloody Big Drinks Summit, which contains over 70 presentations, panels and speeches. Tickets giving you full access to the summit cost just $ 249, but some free hospitality-related sessions are available for free.