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Wine glasses toasting in a restaurant

Do you dream of spending your days catching every sports game on television and hosting your city’s biggest fans all while munching on classic bar food (wings anyone?) and washing it down with beer? If you answered yes, it’s likely that you’ve at least considered opening your very own sports bar at one time or another.

If you’re getting more serious about it these days (desk job got you down, perhaps?) or you’re just curious about what it might really take, look no further for your how-to guide.

Here are the eight major steps to opening a sports bar.

1- Concept first

What are you going to offer than the competition doesn’t? Unless you’re lucky enough to live in a magical place that doesn’t already have a sports bar, you’re going to have to figure out what sets you apart from the competition. Will you keep it classic and authentic in a way that the other bars in your area don’t? Will you feature games that are hyper-local or cast a wide net and become the go-to place for all things sports? The first, and perhaps the most important, step is figuring out what your restaurant mission statement and value proposition is—what sets you apart from everyone else?


Unless you’re lucky enough to live in a magical place that doesn’t already have a sports bar, you’re going to have to figure out what sets you apart from the competition.


2- Then the menu, of course

Closely tied to your concept will be the food and drinks that you serve. Is it just going to be wine and beer or will you venture into liquor and maybe even craft cocktails? (No one says that craft cocktails and sports bars can’t go together.) Is it going to be just straight bar food or will you offer original twists on the classics or pair sport with an entirely different kind of food altogether?

Once you know what you’ll be serving up, you can start some early stage restaurant marketing (think social media) and begin to build the hype.

3- Location, location, location

If you’re going to have a sports bar, you’re going to need a place to put it—plain and simple. Figuring out the right location for your future sports bar means analyzing the locations of the competition, the composition of various neighborhoods, and weighing what you can afford.

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4- Restaurant licenses and permits

Once you’ve got the building, you’ve got to get all of the necessary licenses and permits required to run a bar or restaurant. Think liquor licenses, food permits, and business registrations.

5- Find your bar POS system

While this step might seem granular compared to the rest, the choice you make about the POS system for your bar can actually make or break the process. It’s the heartbeat of your business—the central portal where it all happens, from payroll calculations to online food orders and everything in between. This is one place where you don’t want to go wrong. The main factors to consider are the cost of a POS system for a sports bar, the key functionalities you need, and whether or not you can integrate your POS system with the other technology you’ll be using (like an iPad).

6- Invest in entertainment equipment

What do all sports bars have in common? Sports. That means you’ll need large, high definition televisions and an impeccable sound system that makes your patrons feel like they’re in the front row of the big game while they’re sitting at your bar stool.

7- Hire and train your staff

Finding the right staff is no small feat. They’re the face of your sports bar, the people that your customers will get to know and hopefully grow to love if you do it right. From interviewing to scheduling and professional development, there’s a lot to consider. Make sure you’ve got a plan in mind for all of it before you start putting ads in the newspaper.

8- Make sure to market

Even after your big launch, you work isn’t over yet. You’ve got to keep the buzz going and the key to that is a rock solid marketing strategy. From creating social media profiles to responding to dissatisfied customers on Yelp, managing your the reputation of your sports bar is an essential, ongoing process.

Of course, there’s a lot more to it than this, but these are the big steps. If you got to this point and think you’ve got what it takes, the only thing left to do is act on it! Just make sure you invite us to your launch party.

Check out Upserve’s guide to starting a restaurant!


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Cinnamon is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer and journalist who paid a large part of her way through college and graduate school by serving. Her work has been published with outlets like National Geographic, the Washington Post, Pacific Standard, and more. You can read more about her at www.cinnamon-janzer.com.
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