Bricks, lies and measuring tape: How to open a bar, part two

Andy Mil

28 April 2016

In the first instalment of this series, Cocktail Trading Co's Andy Mil explained where to begin finding a venue, so you can build your own bar. 

Planning and financials
So you’ve found a venue. At this stage the estate agent will probably ask for an architectural plan to outline what you are planning to do to the property.

If you’re using an architectural company, they will be able to produce a first draft floor plan highlighting all utilities, exit routes, fixed and moveable furniture, etc. That, alongside an interior–design mood board, will generally suffice. However, sometimes a landlord might request a full builders’ plan, which, I can assure you, take a lot of work to produce.

Architects are expensive – if you require any structural work, make sure the architect is RIBA–certified. Architects will generally be 5–11% of the overall refurbishment cost. For the opening of CTC Brick Lane, we produced the interior design and full builders’ plans in–house using a free 3D–modelling software called SketchUp. When we took the venue, it was in a ‘shell state’, meaning that it was literally four concrete walls with mains power and a water supply. Not even a fuse board. So every plug, screw and dimension had to be dictated into a builders’ plan. Builders will follow a plan to a T, so ‘measure, check, double check and check again’.

Below is a breakdown of designated areas that must be depicted in a builders’ plan. What needs to be present on a plan depends on the state a venue is handed over in – is it already trading and just needs a cosmetic refurbishment, or is it in a shell state and needs a full utility and cosmetic fit–out?

Start by producing a floor plan/venue layout, stating where you’re going to put the bar, seating, toilets, back of house, etc. When producing a venue layout, always remember there is a finite amount of stuff a bar needs and everything needs a home. So plan it NOW, not later. We call it working the course – you have to visualise every scenario, from back–of–house, to working the floor and tending the bar. Remember, no detail is too small. Now that you have a floor plan, you can start planning everything else.

The longest part of any building works is the first fix. Running all the cables and pipes take a very long time.

  1. Electrics: Put all your heavy electrical supplies on their own circuit. Ice machines, Epos, sound system, fridges, plug areas, lighting areas, emergency and fire-exit lighting, intruder alarms, HVAC, boilers, pumps and macerators. The last thing you want is to have fuses blowing every five minutes because you didn’t want to spend the cash. Every detail of the electrics must be planned, from every plug to every light fitting.When planning the electrical layout, you’ll need to provide the electrician with every single power requirement, from all your fridges to the light bulbs you’ll be using. This is so they can assign the correct fuse to the circuit to stop any of them blowing. Knowing all the power requirements is also very useful for forecasting your electrical bills. For example, I know a Hoshizaki IM–240 ice machine costs 42p a day to run. With this info you can make sure your electricity company isn’t ripping you off with estimated bills.Electrics are one of the most expensive parts of any refurbishment. To put it in perspective, we spent £150,000 refurbishing CTC Brick Lane and £16,000 of that was on electrics.
  2. Plumbing: All your water requirements must be highlighted and planned. If you’re in a basement, you may have to pump waste up to drain level. When it comes to pumps, don’t be cheap. I highly recommend getting a dual pump and macerator. This means if one pump breaks the other can still run, and if there’s a power cut, you can store waste in the macerator until the power is restored. Let’s face it – we’ve all worked in a bar with bad plumbing.
  3. HVAC (heating, ventilation, air–conditioning): HVAC is very expensive but very important, and ventilation is the most important part. Air ventilation must be circular, and can either be natural (such as a chimney) or it will have to be constructed into the venue design with the use of a heat exchanger. Good ventilation will stop windows steaming up or moisture building up on the ceiling from the air exhaled; ceiling condensation is one of the main causes of bar flies and mould. Air–conditioning units can be hidden along with your heat exchangers, or the cheaper and more common option is a ceiling– or wall–mounted air–con cassette.
  4. CCTV, fire alarms and break points, emergency lighting and exit signs, intruder alarm and door bell: I like to call these compliance works; you can plan these yourself and give them to a sparky to run the first and second fix. Or you can hire a company to do the lot. As with everything, prices vary…
  5. Audio: Where is your sound system going to go and where are the speakers going to be fitted? Make sure you plan where your sub is going to be concealed and find out if the speakers you’re going to use need direct power or can run from an amp. It’s also vital to make sure the directional sound is not obstructed by anything, such as structural pillars, for example.
  6. Phone and data: Data cabling is the stuff your internet uses, and the most common cable used for data is Cat5. Data is also what most PDQs and Epos systems use, so make sure you account for all of them. It’s often good to allow for two modes of connectivity when it comes to a PDQ machine. Use data cabling to run into your internet router, but I would recommend having at least one PDQ that goes directly into the phone line in case your internet cuts out (and it will, eventually).
  7. Joinery specifications: Joinery covers anything that has to be constructed, such as the bar. Make sure any critical measurements are adhered to. We’ve had it loads of times – the joiner misses the measurements by a few millimetres and the cumulative effect is that none of your equipment fits. Super annoying.
  8. Floor: What is the floor going to be made out of? Pretty simply, is it wood, tile, concrete or something else? Whatever it is, make sure it’s easy to clean.
  9. Ceiling: What would you like the ceiling to be? Open, so you can see all the HVAC ducting, or completely covered up with the use of a suspended ceiling? Where possible, always use hospital–grade antibacterial paint on ceilings to prevent mold build–up.
  10. Studwork: This refers to walls that are not structural. Most studwork is done using a 70mm aluminium frame, which will end up with 12mm plaster and then the finishings on top, so make sure you account for the thickness of any studwork when planning things such as toilet cubicles. Studwork is also massively important for pest control, as most pests will live within the studwork. After all, it’s warm, safe and easy to gnaw into. We pest–prevented all the walls in CTC with a 150mm copper mesh on the internal skirting of the studwork. This mesh was then held in place with expanding foam and the walls sealed with poison inside, meaning that rodents couldn’t gnaw in, and even if they did get in, it would be very hard to get around.
  11. Finishings: This refers to the final non–contents items. You must plan everything, from what colour you want the walls to be to what sort of tiles you’d like in the toilets, and what shade you’d like the bar top to be stained.
  12. Cosmetics: Cosmetics are all the little details, such as cushions, light fittings, rugs and artwork. These are the things that are most often missed when you use an external architect as they don’t incorporate your personality into the design. The cosmetic touches should really capture what your venue is about.
  13. Bar and kitchen: You’ll need all your bar and kitchen requirements when you do you floor plan, so that you can allow for things like drainage for ice wells and plugs for ovens, etc.

Budget backwards: Always start with the toilets, then the back of house, then the front of house. The reason simply being that when your budget gets tight (and it will), the first place you’ll start to cut corners will be the back of house and the toilets. You may say to yourself that you’ll fix them up good and proper in a few months, when cash flow has improved, but trust me, you won’t. You’ll just be a venue with rubbish toilets, and you’d be surprised how much that can affect things.

Sometimes it can seem a little daunting planning an entire refurbishment, so break it down into sections – frontage, seating areas, back–of–house, toilets, etc, and put the relevant points on each of the above plans.

One very important thing to take into account when buying or selling any property, whether it’s freehold or leasehold, is that you’ll have to pay stamp duty when you purchase it and capital gains tax when you sell it. This can be a killer. So make sure you find out the rate and threshold for the property you’re purchasing and forecast accordingly.

Tune in next week for the third and final part of this series, where Mil covers everything you need to know about builders, and covers some important considerations venue operations

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