Sven Almenning’s advice on how to find the right location for your bar

Sven Almenning is back and this month he’s talking locations — just where you should set up this shiny new bar you’ve been talking about?

Story by Sven Almenning

BEFORE opening Mjølner, our latest viking-inspired restaurant and bar, I promised myself that I would never open a venue outside the CBD again. And then we went ahead and opened a restaurant named after Thor’s hammer on a no-foot traffic street in Redfern. So this article is definitely a case of “do as I say, not as I do”.

Finding the right location is arguably the single most important thing to consider when you are opening a new venue. The following musings are some of what I’ve learned along the way, as well as my thoughts on different types of locations and the benefits and drawbacks of each. 

Prominent Street Front

If you’ve found a prominent street front location on a busy CBD street, your rent is going to be premium, but in return you will receive a LOT of exposure. Some of Sydney’s (and I am sure the same goes for Melbourne and Brisbane and any big city as well) most successful and longstanding venues owe a lot of their success to their location. 

If your motivation for opening a venue is just to make bank, then pounce on it should the opportunity arise. However, be aware of this one little thing: you’ll need to be everything to everybody. If you have a prominent street front venue, then anyone both can and will come in and you’ll be expected to serve the same as any other venue of that nature. Remember, with a location like this, people are not necessarily visiting your business because of what you do, they are there because of where you’re doing it. 

You are effectively paying high rent to ensure you don’t have to be great at what you do in order to attract customers. Your location is doing it for you. What you need is to be good enough to keep them around and keep them coming back for more.

CBD Location, but still hard to find

This is the sweet spot for me, and I think a style that is perfectly illustrated by Eau de Vie in Melbourne, as well as places such as Baxter Inn, Hubert’s and Lobo Plantation in Sydney, just to mention a few. 

The beauty of these places is that people aren’t just going to happen upon them. No-one has ever walked by Eau de Vie Melbourne and said “hey, I think there’s a bar down this laneway, behind a door with no sign, let’s drop in for a beer and a shot”. It doesn’t happen. Instead of people randomly coming in for a drink, they are actively seeking your venue out. 

Your guests are therefore there because of what you do, and, by being in the CBD you are still making it super convenient for them to come see you. 

If I ever propose to open a venue in any other style of location, feel free to punch me. For me, this is the winning combination!

Little to no foot traffic – hard to find

This description describes Mjølner to a T. Eau de Vie Sydney too for that matter. 

If you’re considering a venue in a similar situation, please ask yourself this: What are you doing that is going to be so special that people will go out of their way to come see you? Would you travel, go out of your way, to visit your venue? 

If the answer is yes, then by all means, this can be a good way to go. Do I recommend it? No. The money you save on rent is most likely lost over and over again by lower turnover. High rent (for a good location) is less likely to sink your business than low turnover. Often choosing a venue in a poor location is a choice driven by the desire to save money on rent. Whilst tempting I find this to be a very poor place to start. Your focus should be on driving revenue, not reducing costs, and when you’re focussing on putting “dollar dollar bills (y’all), in the till, it makes more sense to look for a great location.

A few other things worth considering:

Once you’ve decided on one of the above location styles there are a few other things worth considering as well.

Day time vs Night-time Economy

Just because an area is busy during the day, does not mean it will be busy in the evening. Research your location before you sign the lease. A few years ago, we were offered an amazing space in a very densely populated are that was booming with cafes and trendy stores. On paper, everything looked sweet. We then went out, or tried to go out, for a few drinks there in the evening only to discover that all the buzz that was there during the day, was gone at night. There were bars and restaurants around, but they were empty. I have since then learned to look out for places like this, and to say ‘no’ when they come up.

The more the merrier

I prefer being in an area with lots of bars and restaurants. The more venues around you, the more of a reason is there for people to come to your area. The area, pulls the guests in. Sydney’s Kings Cross is a great example. Before the lock-out laws people flocked to the area because of the many bars and clubs there. The area thrived. After the lock-out laws, people disappeared and with them over 30 bars and clubs closed down. If your area is busy, you have a better chance of being busy. Don’t think of other venues in your area as competition, think of them as partners. You’re in this together.

Future works and developments

What is happening around you? What developments are going up? What has council planned for the next few years? These are very important questions to ask. When we opened Eau de Vie Melbourne we knew there was a lot of development happening in the surrounding area. Offices were going to open up. Residential was increasing. As the works started to be completed the area got busier, and so did we. 

In the end though, you’ll probably choose a space that speaks to you; and sometimes that will be a venue that might fly in the face of good advice and common sense. And that’s cool to. Just be aware of the challenges that may come with such a decision. We opened Mjølner, knowing full well that the location was going to be difficult, but we felt, and still feel, confident that what we are offering is so awesome that people will make the effort to come find us. And so far – so good! As social media continues to grow, and with Google maps in everyone’s pocket, it’s becoming easier and easier for guests to find you, regardless of location. But remember the harder you are to find the more worth-while you’ll have to make it for your guests. .  

Best of luck and much love

Sven

• 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.

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