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How to Open a Mobile Bar: Starting a Mobile Bar Business Steps

Aimee LevittAuthor

This is your checklist for how to open a mobile bar, complete with info on permits, branding, drinks menu, and more.

Opening a mobile bar is an exciting way to dip a toe into the bar and events industry without having to commit to a costly brick-and-mortar location lease. In recent years, mobile bars have been growing in popularity: as more and more people turn to food trucks to cater their weddings, they also need a mobile bar to provide the drinks!

Outgoing, business-savvy hospitality pros are well-suited to running a successful mobile bar. Like other types of catering work, no event is ever exactly the same, so operating a mobile bar can be very engaging, exciting work.

What is a mobile bar?

A mobile bar is exactly what it sounds like – it’s similar to a food truck, but instead of serving food, they serve alcoholic beverages. These types of businesses are great for festivals, corporate parties, birthdays, weddings, and other events, and they have much lower startup costs than brick-and-mortar bars. 

There are a few types of mobile bars: some operate out of trucks or vans, while others use small trailers or even those little bicycle ice cream carts you see in the park. It just depends what type of events you want to specialize in!

Many mobile bars try to provide a range of options for their customers, depending on what kind of event they’re throwing, like Alexandra Peck and Nicole Sisson, owners of mobile bartending service Bad N’ Boozy in Hampton Roads, VA. “We really try to make it a unique experience for every client, and not so cut-and-paste,” shared Sisson in the Virginian Pilot.

Here’s everything you need to know about the mobile bar industry and about the step-by-step process of opening a mobile bar business.
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Bar Business Plan Template

Use this free bar business plan template to easily create a great business plan that organizes your vision and helps you start, grow, or raise funding for your bar.

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How to Start a Mobile Bar Business

Write Your Mobile Bar's Business Plan

First things first: you need a business plan. Every aspiring entrepreneur who’s planning to start a new business should have one. A mobile bar business plan is the blueprint that outlines your entire vision, and it explains in detail how your business will take shape and operate.

Here’s what a bar or restaurant business plan should describe the essential elements of your business, including:

  • Target market

  • Types of events you’ll serve

  • Business structure

  • Key team members

  • Sample menus

  • Marketing strategy

  • Operational costs

  • Financial projections, including break-even point

Once you open, you don’t have to adhere to every detail, but making a plan helps you identify holes in your business model that you can repair before you even get started — saving yourself a lot of money and aggravation further on down the road.

Set Up Your Business Structure

Small businesses tend to operate as LLCs, so the business owner can avoid personal liability. However, depending on your plans for your mobile bar business, you may pursue a different business structure. Learn more about the five US business types here.

Secure Funding and Loans

Starting any new business is expensive, even a mobile bar with relatively low startup costs (within the realm of the hospitality industry, anyway). It’s likely you’ll need to apply to outside sources for funding to help you cover everything you need to get started.

To learn about all the funding options available to restaurant and bar businesses, read our complete guide to financing and loans.

Obtain the Proper Licenses, Including a Liquor License

With any startup, it’s important to obtain all the necessary licenses and permits to operate legally. A mobile bartending business requires a different set of paperwork than a brick-and-mortar bar, so look into the local requirements on a municipal and state level before you get ahead of yourself and plan your grand opening.

First off, you’ll need a business license to turn your business idea into a legal business entity. Since a mobile bar sells alcohol, state, city, and federal liquor licenses could be required. Look into the requirements for your area’s liquor license process — applications can typically be found online. Some states will also require you to obtain a portable bar license or a different class of liquor license than what a brick-and-mortar bar would need.

If you plan to serve food, you’ll need a food service license, typically issued by your city or county health department, and food service permits for your employees, often issued by your state. You will likely also need a mobile food truck license, also often issued by your city. This may require you to secure other permits. Information can be found on your city’s website.

Read up on the rest of the licenses and permits needed by most food businesses, bars, and restaurants — and always consult with your local government and licensing entities to ensure you’re approaching the process correctly.

Also look into liability insurance and vehicle insurance, as well as other local legal requirements for businesses that serve alcohol.

Taxes, DBA and EIN

As a business owner, you’re going to have to pay taxes. The first thing you should do is apply for an Employee Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS. This serves as your tax ID number. If you’re planning on doing business under any name besides your personal or your business name, you should also register your DBA (Doing Business As).

Trademark Your Name and Logo

Your name and logo will need to be registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Follow the steps listed on the USPTO website. You may or may not need to work with an attorney through this process.

Decide on a Warehouse or Parking Location

For a mobile bar, the location you’ll need to look for isn’t the location of where the business will operate — it’s the location of where you’ll store and prep everything you need to operate your mobile bar at events all over the city.

It’s also a good idea to set parameters of how far you’ll be willing to travel for an event. How much gas money will need to be spent to get there? Will you offset that cost with a long-distance surcharge?

Consider what kinds of private parties you’ll serve and where they tend to be located.

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Decide on the Design and Atmosphere

A portable bar has a much smaller footprint than a permanent one, but it’s still important to think about design and the kind of atmosphere you want to cultivate.

How does your setup (and the truck or trailer itself) fit in with your brand? Will you paint it in the colors of your brand? Will you design floral arrangements that can be added or removed depending on the style of the event?

Also, take some time to consider your layout for the interior of the truck. In a small space, it’s especially important that your staff members have the space to prepare drinks efficiently without bumping into each other.

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Branding, Marketing, Promotion, and Advertising

Now that you’ve cleared the bureaucratic hurdles of permits and licensing, it’s time to start thinking about how you’ll introduce your mobile bar to the world.

Your brand is the vision of your business that you show the world. A logo is just part of it: it also encompasses what your bar looks like, the type of drinks you’ll serve, how your staff will interact with customers, and how you’ll present the bar on social media.

Take some time to think about your target market and the type of customer you want to attract — and what sort of mobile bar will best appeal to that sort of person. Will you market yourself as a mobile bartending service that’s good for small backyard parties, or a more comprehensive mobile bar that can handle serving a whole wedding?

Once you’ve established how you’ll present your brand, you can decide how much you’re willing to budget for promotion and advertising, and then start drawing up your mobile bar marketing plan.

Consider where you’re most likely to reach your ideal customer: If you’re hoping to appeal to younger people, for example, you might focus your social media marketing efforts on TikTok, while customers in their 30s and 40s hosting private parties might be drawn in by Instagram. Depending on your budget, you may think about buying social media ads on Facebook or Instagram.

There are plenty of other ways to get the word out without using social networks. Search engine optimization for your website will give you a better position on Google searches. You can collect email addresses for direct marketing, or you can go totally old-school by sending out menus and coupons through the mail.

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Create the Menu

What are you going to serve? And how are you going to organize and engineer your menu to show off your mixology skills and your beer and wine knowledge? Your menu will be a major deciding factor for potential customers and event planners who are comparing their options, so put time and care into making sure that it’s the best it can be. 

Don’t skip the details: talk about the specific liquors you’ll highlight, the wines you’ll stock, and the garnishes that will make your drinks memorable.

Consider creating a few different sample menus, including one for corporate events, another for weddings, and another for smaller private parties.

Keep menu psychology and design in mind, and update your menu when your mobile bar business is growing and changing.

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Find Suppliers and Order Inventory

Now it’s time to stock the bar with liquors, mixers, wine, beer, and more.

Do you have particular suppliers in mind? If not, take some time to research small-batch producers and larger liquor distributors in your area to get the flavors you want at the best price. Also, consider how much inventory you can afford to keep on hand – that’s where your warehouse, home base, or storage space comes in. You’ll need somewhere to hold excess inventory so you’re not scrambling to buy the basics before every event.

Buy Equipment and a POS

Equipment is just another necessary expense when you’re opening a mobile bar. You’ll need glassware, jiggers, strainers, and cocktail shakers. You’ll also need an ice maker, a refrigerator, and cleaning equipment. And of course, you’ll need technology, like a point-of-sale system that can keep track of customers’ tabs and allow them to pay up at the end of the night. And if it has handhelds and inventory capabilities, even better.

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Hire Your Team

Though mobile bar businesses tend to run with a much leaner staff than brick-and-mortar bars or restaurants, you’ll likely still need to hire several staff members. You’ll need bartenders, obviously, but how many? Will you need barbacks, too? How many shifts per week do you need to fill? How will you schedule them in accordance with events, and how much do you plan to pay them? 

Also think about what kind of people you want working for you, where to find them, questions to ask, and, most important, how you plan to retain them so you’re not constantly hiring and training new employees. In this case, word of mouth and neighborhood and industry Facebook groups may be an effective way to find people you want to work with, but sites like Harri, Poached Jobs, and AllBartenders.com are also helpful.

Figure out Finances, Sales Forecasts, and Operating Expenses

Luckily, a mobile bar can be a very profitable venture, since the overhead is much lower than a brick-and-mortar bar or restaurant, and you’ll be working with pre-booked parties, so you’ll be able to better predict your revenue over the coming months. 

Before you open, it can be difficult to project exactly how much revenue your mobile bar will generate — especially before word of mouth starts spreading about your bartending skills and great service. 

Still, there are specific critical performance metrics you can calculate to check how your business is doing. It’s also helpful to break your fixed costs down by weeks or days to figure out your overhead rate, and that, combined with prime cost, can help you determine how much it costs to stay in business and what it will take for you to reach the break-even point.

A smart POS system with bar and nightclub management software is critical to the success of your business from the beginning.

If you're interested in learning more about how Toast helps bars get up and running and be as profitable as possible, schedule a demo today!

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DISCLAIMER: This information is provided for general informational purposes only, and publication does not constitute an endorsement. Toast does not warrant the accuracy or completeness of any information, text, graphics, links, or other items contained within this content. Toast does not guarantee you will achieve any specific results if you follow any advice herein. It may be advisable for you to consult with a professional such as a lawyer, accountant, or business advisor for advice specific to your situation.