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Buying and running a bar in Singapore

Find out what it takes to successfully buy, run and sell a bar in Singapore.

Singapore has much to offer the aspiring bar owner or proprietor of any business. 

The cosmopolitan city-state is business-friendly – ranking second overall in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business rankings 2018 – and has a diverse, thriving bar scene.

But this isn’t an easy sector in any country. Working hours are long and failure rates are comparatively high. 

Plus Singapore poses two other challenges: high lease costs and a recruitment squeeze triggered by tight restrictions on foreign labour.

Despite this, Singapore is heavily represented in Drinks International’s prestigious roll call of the World’s 50 Best Bars and Singapore has a diverse, thriving bar scene.

This article looks at the six bars in Singapore that made Drinks International’s 2017 list, the skills and qualities you need to thrive in this sector and tips for choosing the right bar, running it successfully and preparing it for sale when you decide to move on.

Singapore Nightlife

Bar scene

In terms of quality and variety, Singapore’s bar scene stands comparison with London’s Soho or New York’s East Village. Chic wine bars, plush cocktail bars, specialists in rare whiskies or flavoured gins, sake bars, craft beer bars, British-style pubs – you name it.

Competition is particularly stiff at the premium end: Singapore had six bars among the prestigious World’s 50 Best Bars 2017 compiled by Drinks International. Philip Bischoff, manager of Singapore’s loftiest entry (at #7), Manhattan, told TODAY Magazine that its burgeoning reputation has “attracted plenty of internationally renowned bartenders.” Igor Hadzismajlovic, founder of Employees Only, noted a “quantum leap in cocktail-making” witnessed “in the last five years”.

Manhattan, on The Regent Singapore’s second floor, has also been crowned Asia’s best bar two years running by Drinks International. Judges were impressed by its fastidious attention to detail and an imaginative menu that draws inspiration from as far back as the 16th century.

At #15 on the 2017 global list sits Atlas, an opulent bar on the ground floor of Art Deco building Parkview Square. A 25-foot-high bar boasts the world’s largest collection of gin, with more than 1,000 varieties of the now uber-fashionable spirit.

Other Singapore bars on the list were: the minimalist Operation Dagger (#24); 28 Hongkong Street (#25), boasting the world’s first in-hotel barrel ageing room; The Tippling Club (#31), which uses sonic waves to age one cocktail; and Native (#47), which sources – and even forages – local spirits and produce.

Singapore

What you need to succeed

Required skills and attributes vary depending on your level of involvement and the nature of your bar.

Unless you can afford to hire a manager to run the joint, bartending experience is arguably a must. You can, of course, recruit staff with the skills and qualifications that you lack – whether in cocktail-making, food, marketing or something else.

Here are some skills you’ll probably need in varying degrees depending on your role, team make-up and business model:

  • General business: Accounting, marketing, stock-taking, dealing with suppliers and so forth
  • Bar management: Rotating stock, moving kegs, cocktail-making (if cocktails are a speciality), deep understanding of liquor market and trends
  • People management: Both in managing employees (especially given that demand for skilled bartenders outstrips supply) and handling often disinhibited customers
  • Recruitment: Recruiting, interviewing and evaluating candidates is a formidable challenge given the limit on foreign workers
  • Handyman: Inessential, but you can save time and money by fixing things yourself

Choosing the right bar

If you do opt to buy a bar in Singapore, you can browse our bars for sale in the city-state and submit enquiries to sellers free of charge.

Before embarking on your search, however, it’s worth clarifying your priorities and budgetary constraints. Common factors influencing a bar’s desirability include:

  • Location and Proximity to other bars and restaurants is a good sign.
  • Revenues, costs and The online advert won’t go into excessive detail, which will be revealed only when negotiations reach a more advanced stage
  • Square footage and number of customers premises can accommodate
  • Condition of premises: Kitchen, equipment, furnishings and so on. When was the establishment last refurbished?
  • Style of bar. Do you want a cocktail bar, craft-ale specialist or a no-frills bar noted for offering value for money? You can, of course, revamp your newly acquired establishment, but that will incur substantial costs and the risk of alienating existing customers
  • A struggling business might land you a bargain if its deficiencies – like substandard service, an ill-judged menu or misdirected marketing budget – are easy to address. Challenges like poor location or formidable local competition are harder to remedy
  • Standard of local competition
  • Local regeneration proposals in the pipeline

Singapore Nightlife

Running a bar

After acquiring your bar, you’ll need to focus on minimising disruption during the transition to new ownership.

Once familiarised with your new business you’ll have a clearer idea of where its strengths and weaknesses lie. Invite and listen to the viewpoints of staff and customers, who will respect you for taking their opinions into account.

But don’t just audit your own business; visit other bars in your neighbourhood for inspiration – and perhaps the bars that made the top 50 list covered earlier. In what ways do they excel or fall short and why? 

At this point, you can think about how to attract more customers and boost takings.

You might build on existing strengths or completely overhaul the operation – new menus, new décor and even a new name, for instance. The latter option is a lot more expensive and riskier in terms of alienating loyal customers – but might be worth it if the business is struggling or you spot a gap in the market for a particular type of bar. 

Here are some other tips based on advice we’ve seen from experienced, successful bar owners:

  • Don’t let personal taste cloud your judgment where menus and décor are concerned – think of your target demographic and seek second and third opinions
  • Don’t squeeze in too much seating: People don’t like feeling overcrowded
  • Music is pivotal in creating the right ambience – both in track selection, volume and sound system quality (substandard speakers often make conversation more difficult)
  • Stay abreast of drinking trends and refresh your menu accordingly – gin and craft ales are in fashion at the time of writing, for instance
  • Don’t overload the menu – it’s more training for staff, a potentially overwhelming choice for customers and higher inventory costs and wastage. Better to offer five supremely honed cocktails than 20 mediocre ones
  • Dietary restrictions are increasingly important: More bars are offering gluten-free beers, low-alcohol wine, ‘mocktails’ and so forth
  • Beverage consultants are widely used at the premium end of the market. One consultant, Proof & Co, has been used by three of six bars in the World’s 50 Best Bars 2017
  • Don’t rely solely on weekend takings. Offer imaginative midweekpromotions and discounts, such as happy hours, plus special themed events
  • When it comes to recruitment, personality arguably matters more than bartending skills. It’s easier to teach cocktail-making skills than a strong work ethic and friendly manner
  • Treat employees well and they’ll treat customers well
  • Harness social media – especially given that the typical bar-goer is in their 20s
  • Invite feedback from customers and act on it where it reveals genuine problems
  • Invest in an effective inventory management tool and analytics software to evaluate selling patterns, spot trends and modify inventory accordingly

Singapore

Liquor licences

Obtained from the Singapore Police Force liquor licences include:

  • Public house licence
  • Beer licence
  • Outdoor beer stall licence
  • Second-class liquor licence grants you permission to serve alcohol between 6am-10pm
  • First-class liquor licence means you can sell alcohol until midnight

Singapore

How to sell a bar

If you’re selling a bar, put yourself in the buyer’s shoes: who might that buyer be and what might they like and dislike about your business?

A SWOT analysis – Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats – can help you identify ways to boost the value of your business and advertise it to prospective buyers.

It’s wise to give yourself several months to build on its strengths and mitigate or eliminate its weaknesses. And when you list the bar for sale on BusinessesForSale.com, you’ll have a clearer idea of what strengths and opportunities to highlight (for instance ‘high footfall location’, ‘high TripAdvisor rating’ or ‘up-and-coming location’).

You probably haven’t sold a business before. Even if you have, it’s still worth appointing an accountant, broker and/or lawyer to help you prepare the business for sale, deal with negotiations and prepare paperwork.

Some priority tasks when preparing your business for sale:

  • Make sure premises are clean, tidy and otherwise visually appealing – everything from the bar interior to outside signage (one potentially inexpensive way of enhancing your ‘curbside appeal’)
  • Business records — financial, legal, personnel and so on — need to be in order and readily accessible for buyers to review
  • If takings dip whenever you take a holiday, you need to equip your staff to cope without you so that you can gradually disengage from day-to-day operations. Buyers are understandably deterred if they feel a business’s success relies heavily on the current owner’s input

Read our guide to buying, running and selling businesses in Singapore for more general information about the legal, regulatory and cultural issues affecting entrepreneurs in the country.

Ready to buy a bar? Browse our  bars for sale  in Singapore now.



Faye Ferris

About the author

APAC Sales & Marketing Director for BusinessesForSale.com, the world’s most popular website for buying and selling businesses globally and attracting over 1.5 Million visitors each month. To contact Faye please email faye@BusinessesForSale.com

@YouAreYourBoss

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