Here’s what you need to know about hiring a designer for your bar

Boilermaker House, Melbourne
Boilermaker House, Melbourne
This is the second instalment in a series by Speakeasy Group owner Sven Almenning, offering advice on How to Open Your Own Bar. Below, Sven is looking at hiring designers.

Just as with signing a Heads of Agreement (HOA) and a lease, the actual design and construction of your venue are aspects of opening a venue that your life as a bartender, bar manager, even as a venue manager, may not have prepared you for. And if you are anything like me then you might find this process one of the most rewarding, whilst at the same time frustrating realities of opening and running your own venue.

Hiring Designers

Most people will need to hire an interior design team in order to build their bar. That said I didn’t it for either of the Eau de Vie venues, and it was not until we did Boilermaker House that we had a design firm on board for the entire process.

The reason I think hiring a design team can be beneficial is that they are in charge of producing a proper brief for the builders. To me this is their main purpose, as I normally have a very clear idea of the look and feel of the venue myself. Without a clear and concise scope of works, detailed documentation and clear list of all finishes and detailing, the builders won’t be quoting off the same specs – which makes it extremely difficult to decide between builders, at least if price is a concern (which it always is to me).

Besides, a great interior design team will also work with you to ensure that the builders are delivering in accordance with what they quoted on.


The design brief

I take a lot of pride in creating a tight and comprehensive design brief. As the venue owner I think it is important to have a clear vision for your business. There are of course design companies out there that can do everything for you; from creating a concept, logo and even your venue name all the way through to briefing and managing builders for the construction. And for many this is probably a great avenue to go down. We don’t operate like this, and chances are that if you’re a seasoned bar veteran, you won’t either, as you’ll have a strong idea of your concept already.

I prefer to create a detailed brief covering my proposed venue layout, mood boards and key design features. Once your briefing document is ready try and brief three to five different interior design companies.

Selecting your designers

Always check out their previous work. If you can, contact their clients and ask them how they were to work with. They may claim to have worked on some great venues, but how much was them, and how much was the owners and managers? You’ll often find that some of the things you love the most about a venue has come directly from the owners, not from the designers.

Other key things to check are:

  • Did they come in on budget? It is important to choose designers who are able to work within a budget and who understand this and won’t design something you can’t afford to build or to fit out. (I have for instance yet to find a designer who has been able to find chairs that are within budget…)
  • Were they easy to work with? This is perhaps the most important thing. Working with a team that you don’t get along with or who don’t take direction well can be a nightmare and can cause unnecessary stress and friction
  • How was their invoicing and budgeting? I often find this to be frustrating as some companies seem to be all about the creative, but then become a mess when they try to invoice you for things.

Did they meet the timelines you agreed to? Hitting timelines on design is crucial. Every week lost in the beginning means a week lost when you open. This affects your rent, as well lost turnover. So you want to work with designers who are known for getting the job done on time.

Also worth checking is the quality of their drawings. Could the builders easily quote and work from them? Or were they inaccurate or incomplete?


Both design and builder’s fees can vary enormously. We’ve seen quotes for the same job ranging from $45,000 to $ 165,000. Similarly we have had builders come in more than $100,000 apart of a $500,000 build, so it pays off to get as many quotes as you can.

Some teams charge you a percentage of your budget. This is not something I am willing to entertain. This means they have no incentive to keep the costs down, and all the incentive to blow your budgets out. I prefer a flat fee! However, you may also want to be careful here, as flat fee proposals often are limited in their scope, and often include exuberant rates should you require them to do work that they have put as “out of scope”.

For past jobs we have paid anything from $5,000 to $25,000. The lower end being basic shop drawings and elevations and the higher end a complete design solution for venues with around 200pax capacity

In the end what seals the deal for me tends to be whether or not I believe they have the expertise to deliver what I need them to for the specific project we have hired them for as well as price (of course!) and whether or not we think we will be able to work with them in an amicable way.

If you have a strong concept for the venue, you may be able to brief builders directly and without drawings, and ask them to put forwarded an estimate. This has worked well for us in the past as well – however it is more time consuming and the quotes you receive are not necessarily comparable.

Good luck & much love,

Sven Almenning is the founder of Eau De Vie and the Speakeasy Group as well as online hospitality training platform Ananas. He was Bartender Magazine’s recipient for the Outstanding Contribution Award in 2009 and has been in the top 5 of Bartender Magazine’s bi annual Most Influential List every year.

Please note the advice given in this article is general in nature and not to be considered specific legal or financial advice and isn’t a substitute for professional advice.

1 Comment
  1. Looking to spend approx 30k to transform a downstairs games room into a sports bar with memorabilia, big screen tv, bar tables etc

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