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Setting up a Mobile Bar Business

All you need to know about starting and running your business

Business guides » Setting up a Mobile Bar Business

What is a Mobile Bar business?

The mobile catering industry has exploded in popularity in recent years. With a huge plethora of events and venues to cater for, it’s no surprise that more and more budding entrepreneurs are trying their hand at mobile catering. Combining the popularity of mobile catering with the UK’s love of alcoholic drinks means a mobile bar business could be a great business opportunity.

Your mobile bar business options are endless. You could opt to start a mobile cocktail bar, mixing some of the nation’s favourite cocktails, such as Mojitos, Pina Coladas, Martinis and Margaritas. Alternatively, you could opt for a mobile beer bar, offering up craft beers or kegs to your customers. Some mobile bar businesses specialise in Champagne, Prosecco or wine, whereas others focus on locally brewed or sourced alcohol. You could even choose to run a general mobile bar, serving a variety of different drinks.

A mobile bar business involves taking a bar to different indoor and outdoor venues and events and serving alcohol and other drinks. A mobile bar can be hired with or without bartenders, although you are likely to get more business if you provide bartenders.

There are several different ways you can run your mobile bar business, including:

  • A mobile van.
  • A trailer.
  • A bicycle with an attached cart.
  • A pop-up stall that can be transported to different events.
  • A gazebo.

 

Starting a mobile bar business does not require you to have any prior qualifications and experience. Although bartender training could be an advantage, these skills can be learnt quickly. All you need is a flair for business, the commitment to making your business succeed and a solid business plan.

Running a mobile bar business requires time and commitment. It can be a competitive industry that is difficult to break into. However, if you have a solid business plan and the commitment to make your mobile bar business succeed, you could create a lucrative and rewarding business.

Types of Customers

If you have attended any type of event in recent years, you will likely have encountered a mobile bar. The diversity of events and locations that offer mobile bars, means that there is a huge variation in the types of customers you could focus your business plan on.

Although you may not want to limit yourself by focusing on one type of customer, having a target market can help you to choose the types of events and locations you are going to run your mobile bar business from.

Some options include:

  • Hiring a pitch at organised events such as festivals, fairs and music events.
  • Food markets, food fairs or street festivals.
  • Seasonal events, such as Oktoberfest, Christmas markets and summer fairs.
  • Pop-up events.
  • Private events and functions such as weddings, christenings and parties.
  • Organised outdoor events.
  • Sporting events, such as football matches or cricket games.
  • Conferences and other business events.
  • Popular outdoor locations, such as beaches and parks.

 

Choosing specific types of events to focus on can have a significant impact on the type of customers you are likely to attract. For example, a music event is more likely to attract young people and groups of friends, whereas a conference is likely to attract working professionals.

As well as location, the type of customer you are likely to attract, or your target market, will depend on several other key factors:

What types of drinks will you serve?

The types of drinks you serve will have a huge impact on the types of customers you attract. Consider the drinks you serve before choosing the events you will run your business from. For example, a cocktail bar is more likely to be successful at a wedding, compared to a football game.

What are your price points?

Your pricing will be based on several factors, including the cost of your ingredients, your running and overhead costs, and your location. A cocktail or Champagne bar is likely to have higher prices compared to a beer bar.

What is your brand identity?

How is your brand identifiable? What makes you stand out from other mobile bars? Your brand identity will be based on several factors, including your menu, the visual look of your business, your price point, your business name, and your logo and displays.

Beer glass icon
Champagne bottle icon
Cocktail glass icon

Equipment You Will Need

The type of equipment your mobile bar business will require varies, depending on the type of business you plan to run. To help you plan your equipment requirements and prepare for the associated costs, we have developed a list of the most common equipment needed for mobile bar businesses.

A vehicle

If you opt to run your mobile bar business from a vehicle, this is likely to be your biggest expense.

Prices will vary significantly, based on the type of vehicle you choose:

  • A van – This is the most expensive option. They usually come with inbuilt facilities, such as a fridge and freezer. You will likely have to install specialist equipment depending on the type of mobile bar you are running. For example, wine racks or beer taps. Vans can range in price from £20,000 to £200,000.
  • A trailer – This is a cheaper option and is recommended for those who don’t need to transport their business regularly. A trailer is usually larger than a van, allowing you to store more equipment and stock and hire extra staff. The average price of a trailer ranges from £5,000 to £50,000.
  • A bicycle with an attached cart – This is a cheaper option, although the type of drinks you will serve and the amount of stock you store will be much more limited. A bicycle with an attached cart can be purchased for £2,000-£5,000.

A stall

If you opt to run your mobile bar business from a stand or stall, you will have different equipment requirements.

You could choose to purchase:

  • An integrated stall with a built-in canvas roof – £200–£500.
  • A standard stall with an additional gazebo – £400–£1,000.

A fridge and freezer

If your vehicle does not come with an inbuilt fridge and freezer, or if you opt to run your business from a stall, you will likely have to buy this equipment separately. You can opt for specific beverage fridges, for example a wine fridge, a drinks dispenser, a portable fridge/freezer, or you can pay separately to have this equipment installed or inbuilt to your vehicle. Some mobile bar businesses may not require a freezer. Others may choose to purchase an ice freezer or dispenser.

Drinks making facilities and equipment

There is a huge variety of equipment you could purchase for your mobile bar business. This includes a blender, cocktail shakers, muddlers, jugs, corkscrews, bottle openers, chopping boards, knives, a strainer and trays.

Electrical equipment

When purchasing electrical equipment, you must ensure it is installed correctly and would pass a safety examination. Some of the electrical equipment you may need includes power cables, lighting, a generator, a cash register and a card payment machine. For more information on electrical safety at work, consult our knowledge base.

Serving and takeaway equipment

You will need to provide something to serve your drinks inso will need to invest in a variety of different cups and glasses, depending on the drinks you serve, for example Champagne flutes, cocktail glasses and pint glasses. Try to provide reusable glasses or recyclable plastic drink holders. You may also want to provide paper straws, cardboard drink holders and napkins.

Display items, boards and pricing

You may need display equipment for your drinks. Your options include wine racks, shelving and display cabinets. Eye-catching display boards can help you to attract customers. It should also be easy for customers to see your menu and pricing. Ensure your display boards match your business brand.

A gazebo, tables and chairs

Not all mobile bar businesses opt to purchase these, but it can help to attract customers who want to sit down while they drink. A gazebo retails for £400+. The cost of tables and chairs can vary depending on the size and quality.

Stock

Stock prices can vary significantly depending on the types of beverages you sell. It is recommended that your stock price is no more than 30% of your selling price. When purchasing bottles, such as spirits and wine, consider how many sales you can make per bottle. For example, 1 bottle of wine = 5 glasses. If you charge £5 per glass, one bottle = £25 worth of sales. This means you should pay no more than £7.50 per bottle, in order to maximise your profits.

Costs of setting up a mobile bar business

Typical Costs

A mobile bar business usually requires a much lower investment than a traditional bar business. However, it is still important to be aware of your start-up and running costs, so you can estimate your initial investment amount and your potential profits. Some typical pricing associated with your mobile bar business could include:

Equipment costs

As examined above, your equipment costs can vary significantly depending on the type of mobile bar business you set up. To help reduce the cost of your equipment, you could consider buying some of the larger equipment second-hand. However, keep in mind that your business may have to undergo gas and electricity testing. You could also start your business by renting your equipment, only purchasing it once you are sure it is likely to be successful. This helps to reduce the risk to your finances.

Pitching fees

Some events are much more expensive to pitch at than others, with prices ranging from £20 to £2,000 per day. However, events that have higher pitching fees may result in higher profits. For example, the pitching fees at a music festival are likely to be much higher, however, you are likely to have more business and turn an overall higher profit. Keep this in mind when calculating your pitching fees.

Licensing costs

There are several types of licences you require, and each has different associated costs. You will be required to first obtain a BIIAB Level 2 Award or CIEH Level 2 Award. The cost of this ranges from £150 to £200. You will also need a Personal Licence at a cost of £37 and a Temporary Events Notice at an average cost of £21 per event.

Insurance

A mobile bar business will have several insurance requirements, including Employer’s Liability Insurance, Public Liability Cover and Equipment Insurance. If you run your business from a van or trailer, you will also require Vehicle Insurance. Insurance prices can range from £100 to £500 depending on your insurance provider and your coverage level.

Street trading licence

Depending on where you plan to trade, you may require a street trading licence. The cost of a street trading licence can vary, depending on your local council. You can expect to pay approximately £75 to apply for your licence and may then have to pay weekly or monthly fees to trade.

Running costs

Running costs are the costs associated with running your business. You may be expected to pay these costs monthly or yearly. Your running costs could include your overhead costs such as electricity, gas and petrol. You should aim to have low running costs to help maximise your profits.

When considering the pricing of your menu, there are several factors that will influence your price points, including:

  • The type of drinks you sell.
  • The cost of your ingredients.
  • Your overhead costs.
  • The location or event you are catering for.
  • Your target market.

 

If you cater at public or organised events, you will likely charge per item ordered, for example £5 per craft beer. However, catering at private events, such as parties and weddings, requires a different pricing strategy. The organiser of the event will pay you a per-day cost or, alternatively, you will be paid to supply a certain amount of beverages, for example 100 bottles of wine or 200 cocktails. In this situation, you must calculate your fees carefully, to take into account the amount of stock you will use, your overhead costs and the wages of you and your employees.

Safely Running a Mobile Bar

There are several safety requirements you should adhere to when running your mobile bar business. Safety procedures help to ensure the safety of you, your employees and your customers.

There are several safety protocols it is recommended your business follows at all times:

Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP)

Having an HACCP plan is a legal requirement for all food and drink businesses in the UK. HACCP helps you to manage safety hazards and identify potential risks and implement measures to ensure these risks are reduced or removed. Keeping records of the actions you take in line with HACCP is recommended.

Risk assessments

Risk assessments are an effective way of managing, reducing and removing risk. A risk assessment can be used as clear evidence of your safety procedures and risk management. An additional risk assessment is now needed for risks relating to Covid-19. Some events will require you to provide your risk assessments before they accept your mobile bar business at their event. For more information on risk assessments, consult our knowledge base.

Drinking policies

Implementing consistent drinking policies that all employees are aware of can help ensure the safety of your staff and customers. Your policies could include regulations on serving drinks to people who are considered to be inebriated and checking photo ID. Ensure your business’s drinking policies are in line with government legislation.

Safely running a mobile bar
Hygiene when running a mobile bar

Safe storage of stock

Even though you will mainly be dealing with beverages, it is still imperative that you store your stock safely. Alcohol should be stored in a way that it cannot be accessed by customers. If you serve garnishes, such as fruits, ensure this is stored in airtight containers and is kept at the correct temperature.

Security

Mobile bar businesses can be exposed to violent or disorderly behaviour. Ensuring the safety and security of your staff and equipment is paramount. Keeping staff and customers separate is recommended. Preventing customers from being able to touch staff and equipment is also advisable. Ensure you are aware of the security measures that are in place at any events you attend and how to contact security staff.

Cleaning requirements

You will likely have a variety of equipment that you use in your mobile bar business. All surfaces, equipment and utensils should be kept clean at all times. It is best to implement a cleaning schedule to ensure cleaning is done regularly. Make sure you are using the correct cleaning products for each piece of equipment.

Record keeping

You should keep up-to-date records of your business’s cleaning schedule, any risk assessments and any health and safety policies that are followed.

Legal Requirements

There are a number of legal requirements you must ensure your business adheres to at all times. Failure to follow legal requirements could result in a fine, the closure of your business or even a prison sentence.

Register your business

You need to register your business before you begin trading. Register your business at least 28 days before you begin trading. You may also need to register your business with your local council.

Apply for the relevant licences

You will need to obtain a BIIAB Level 2 Award or CIEH Level 2 Award. This licence teaches you about your responsibilities regarding alcohol sales, specific prohibitions, the strength of alcoholic drinks and protecting children from harm. Without this licence, you cannot apply for your Personal Licence. For more information, visit BIIAB’s website. You also need to obtain a Personal Licence and a Temporary Events Notice and to send a copy of your licences to your local authority. You may also be required to send copies to your local police department and the Environmental Health Officer (EHO).

Obtain a Basic DBS check certificate

Without this certificate, you will not be able to apply for a Personal Licence to sell alcohol. You can request your DBS check on gov.uk.

Obtain insurance

There are several types of insurance you will be legally required to obtain. If you hire any employees, the law states you must obtain Employer’s Liability Insurance. You will also be legally required to purchase Vehicle Insurance if you use a van or trailer for your business. Other types of insurance are not legally required but are recommended to help protect you, your employees and your business.

Register as self-employed with HMRC

Running your mobile bar business as an individual or as a self-employed person requires you to register as a sole trader. You will have to think of a name for your business and keep records of all your income, profits and expenses.

Obtain a Gas Safety Certificate (if applicable)

Any gas equipment used as part of your business must be inspected every year by a gas safe engineer. If your equipment is deemed safe to use and complies with government requirements, you will be issued a Gas Safety Certificate.

Challenge underage drinking

It is against the law to serve alcohol to those under 18 years old in the UK. Because of this, you, and any employees, request to see ID for any individuals you believe are underage. It could be beneficial to adopt the Challenge 25 policy, whereby ID is required for all individuals who look younger than 25. This helps to prevent your business from mistakenly serving alcohol to an underage person. For more information about retail guidance for serving alcohol in the different countries of the UK, consult the Retail of Alcohol Standards Group (RASG).

Positives of running a mobile bar

Positives of Owning a Mobile Bar Business

There are many great benefits to starting a mobile bar business.

High markup on products

Quite often, the ingredients you purchase when running a mobile bar business are significantly cheaper than your selling price. If you make cocktails, brew your own beer, or buy your products in bulk, you will be able to sell your products at a high markup price.

Great fun

You can choose your products and create a menu, travel around attending different events, work directly with the public, and build relationships with other vendors. Running a mobile bar business can be a fun and rewarding job.

High demand

The UK is famed for its love of alcoholic drinks. With thousands of events running across the country every year, mobile bars are in high demand, meaning you will not be short of work and can choose which events you cater for.

Ability to cater for various events

You could choose to cater for private events, business events or organised events. You can choose to cater for a variety of events, to keep your work interesting, or focus on specific types of events.

Flexibility

You can choose how little or often you work, fitting your business around your lifestyle and control your hours. Some people even choose to only operate seasonally or at specific annually run events.

It’s a vocation

If you love bartending or being your own boss, this could be the perfect business opportunity for you. Working in the catering industry can be a vocation, in that you can enjoy your work and be eager to put in the time and effort your business will require.

Customer and event loyalty

If you frequent the same places often, you are likely to receive repeat business. Private event customers may also recommend your mobile bar business to friends or colleagues in the area. If you cater for events, you may be invited back or recommended to others, increasing your business.

Negatives of running a bar

Negatives of Owning a Mobile Bar Business

However, there are some important downsides to owning a mobile bar business that you should first consider.

High stress and risk of violence

You will likely be dealing with drunk people and may be exposed to violence which could be potentially dangerous to you, your employees and your equipment. Some events may not provide adequate security, or the security may be difficult to access. This can make dealing with violence or disorderly behaviour even more stressful.

Can require a lot of cash flow

Although start-up costs will not be as high as traditional bar establishments, you will still need to purchase equipment and stock. You also need to consider pitching fees, which can be as high as £2,000 per day, depending on the type of event you attend.

Competitive

The mobile bar industry can be difficult to break into. Private events often hire mobile bar businesses based on recommendations and reviews. Organised events usually desire diversity in the types of businesses they hire. For example, if you run a craft beer bar but this type of business is already hired for the event, you may be denied a pitch.

Business can be up and down – may be busy in the summer and quiet in the winter

Catering businesses tend to be much more popular in the summer. Your business could be up and down based on several factors that are out of your control such as the weather, the season and your competition. This can make it much more difficult to predict the success of your business and your potential profits.

Time-consuming

Even though you may have limited sales time, a lot of time will be required for sourcing and ordering stock, bookkeeping and perfecting your beverages.

Limit to the amount of stock you can store

A catering van has an extremely limited amount of space available. This means you may be limited in the number of employees you can hire and the amount of equipment and stock you can store in your van. This could mean you run out of stock and have to cease operations part way through an event.

Licensing

It can be time-consuming and expensive to obtain the correct licences. Regulations regarding selling alcohol are strict in the UK. If you are found to breach any regulations, you will likely have your licence revoked.

Planning Your Mobile Bar Business

The first step when starting a mobile bar business is to create a solid business plan.

However, before creating your business plan, it is important you finalise your business idea by resolving the following considerations:

  • What drinks are you going to serve?
  • What will your price points be?
  • What types of locations and events are you going to cater for?
  • Who is your target market?
  • What will your brand identity be?
  • Will you run your business from a vehicle, a stall or a gazebo?
  • Do you have any competition selling similar products to your business that is likely to target the same events as you?
  • How often are you going to operate your business?

 

Once you have finalised these details, you can begin to create your business plan. A business plan will help you to:

  • Develop the procedures and actions you need to set up and run your mobile bar business.
  • Plan your business milestones.
  • Assess the feasibility of your business.
  • Better understand your menu and your customers.
  • Determine your financial requirements.
  • Calculate your start-up costs and running costs.
  • Estimate potential profits.
  • Reduce risk.
  • Encourage the success of your business.

 

As part of your business plan, you will need to plan your equipment requirements. This can help you to calculate your start-up costs and determine whether you can fund this yourself or if you need to apply for finance or external investment.

Once you have finalised your business plan, ensure you prepare all your paperwork and follow all legal requirements. It is recommended that you prepare your paperwork ahead of time to avoid any delays when setting up your business. Consult our list of legal requirements above.

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