Starting your own mobile bar business can be a great way to put your bartending skills to good use and invest your resources in something lucrative. If you don’t have any bartending experience, don’t worry – this is still a viable business idea as long as you hire someone competent enough to serve your customers.
Most of the initial setup is pretty easy, including finding a suitable vehicle. If you don’t want to go through the trouble of converting a regular van to a bar, you can probably find a used one without too much trouble. Other than that, your success will mostly be tied to your ability to market yourself well enough and to identify viable routes to cover through the week.
Can You Make Money with Your Own Mobile Bar Business?
Mobile bars have been around for a while now, and the business model is very popular in some parts of the country. Other places remain relatively underserved, making this a viable business idea if you live in one of those areas (or are willing to relocate). They are a unique spin on food trucks, with their own set of advantages and pain points.
You have to be prepared to do a lot of work initially. Once you’ve established yourself on the market and have a regular flow of customers, things will be much easier. But your first few weeks will likely involve a lot of effort on your part and not much in the way of profit.
Don’t worry though – it gets better! As long as you treat this like the business it is (as opposed to approaching it with the mindset of making some easy cash serving drinks), you have a lot of growth potential and it won’t take long until you start seeing the success you deserve.
How Much Can You Earn with a Mobile Bar?
Your first year may not be that lucrative, depending on how you set things up and how you promote yourself. You can expect to earn around $20,000 at the lower end of the spectrum, going up to around $45,000 for a more successful first-year venue.
After you’ve expanded a bit and have a steady stream of customers waiting for you at your regular spots, you can expect to go up to $70,000 – $80,000, in some cases even more. One of the great things about this business model is that it’s not difficult to scale up once you’ve seen some initial success. You can easily turn this into a franchise and have multiple mobile bars serving different areas simultaneously.
Typical Costs of a Mobile Bar Business
You’ll need some initial capital to start your mobile business, and you’ll also have various ongoing costs to consider. As long as you plan ahead properly and don’t waste too much money on questionable investments at the beginning, you should be able to keep your costs relatively low.
Van or Trailer
The most important part of a mobile bar business is the vehicle itself. You have two options here: buy a regular trailer or van and convert it yourself (or pay someone else to do the work for you), or purchase a used one that’s already been converted.
All things considered, the second option is going to work better in most cases. Used mobile bars can be bought for as little as $3,000 – $5,000 and they often need almost no additional work to get them going. That said, if you have a more unique business idea that requires special features, you will probably want to go with converting a vehicle from scratch. The price can vary significantly – you can expect to pay between $1,000 to $5,000 for the trailer itself, and then add another $1,000 – $3,000 for the conversion, including materials and labor.
You can’t run a bar without an alcohol license. Alcohol laws vary from state to state. The price for a license is also different in each state, but it almost always falls within the $300 – $5,000 range. Idaho is a notable exception with a price of just $100. Nevada and Pennsylvania have some additional special rules you have to observe.
In Nevada, you can only obtain an alcohol license if you run a restaurant capable of seating at least 30 people, which is obviously not applicable to a mobile bar. In Pennsylvania, the only way to get an alcohol license is to purchase an existing one – no new licenses are being issued at the time. This can make it a very prohibitive state for starting a new business unless you already have a transfer deal lined up.
Keep in mind that those fees are annual, not just a one-time payment!
You’ll obviously also have to purchase drinks. The good news is that you can expect a pretty good return on your investment. Alcohol has one of the highest markups among goods sold in restaurants and similar venues, so as long as you can afford to stock up your inventory once, you should be able to keep the ball rolling without too much effort.
While it’s possible to run this type of business on your own, having an assistant will be of great help, especially in the beginning. That’s even more valid if you don’t have any bartending experience, in which case you’ll want to hire a bartender to take over that part of the job.
You can expect to pay them between $15 to $60 an hour, depending on their experience and the types of drinks you want to serve. Alternatively, you can hire a driver to take you from place to place while you work in the back.
You’ll need some place to store your trailer while you’re not working, and a separate location to store your alcohol in. You can keep your alcohol in the trailer itself, but that’s not recommended for various reasons, mainly safety and potential theft. Commercial parking costs around $10 – $20 per day, with the rate going up in more popular locations close to the main parts of the town.
A good bar should accept credit cards (even though cash will bring you the most tips). You will need to sign up with a credit card processor and expect to pay a fee between 1.3% to 3.5% for each transaction. PayPal is not an option, as they prohibit the sale of alcohol through their platform.
Accounting & Legal
Running a mobile bar is busy work and it will leave you with no energy to do your bookkeeping yourself. This means that you should hire an accountant if you don’t want to burn yourself out in your first month. You’ll also need legal protection as this is a business full of potential liability traps. In both cases, you can expect to pay between $150 and $400 an hour.
Diversifying Your Mobile Bar Business with Special Offers
Simply driving your bar around town from one point to another can be lucrative on its own, but events are where the real money is. You should try to diversify your operations as early as possible if you want to increase your profits in the beginning.
Many bars have recurring weekly promotions, and nothing’s stopping you from setting up something similar for your mobile bar as well. Discounts on a given day, happy hours, promotions targeted at specific groups – the list goes on. There’s no shortage of opportunities here and it’s entirely up to you how you’re going to structure that.
Targeting Annual Events
Annual events are another great opportunity to make some extra cash, especially holidays like Christmas and Halloween. If you live in a college town, try to orient yourself around class schedules and have an active presence after exam periods and around graduation ceremonies.
The latter can be a particularly lucrative opportunity as those events often see lots of people coming in from out of town. If you can arrange for a spot close to your local campus at the right time, you can easily earn several weeks’ worth of money in just one day.
Another great way to utilize a mobile bar is to offer on-demand party services. You have a great advantage over traditional bars here, as you’re bringing the alcohol to the party instead of the other way around. This will open up a large number of opportunities for you, and you’ll be able to serve people in different locations without any hassle.
Keep in mind that serving parties can be a bigger challenge than working with regular customers, as you’ll usually be faced with higher expectations from your customers. If you can pull it off though, this can easily become a regular gig that brings in a lot of extra money. Once you get the hang of working at these events, you’ll be able to streamline your process and you won’t have to put in that much extra effort.
How to Promote Your Mobile Bar Business
Promotion is going to be a major challenge if you’re working in an area with lots of competition. Even if there are few other mobile bars around you, you should still anticipate some initial difficulty in getting your foot in the door. Once word has started to spread, people will start coming regularly.
Social media is fantastic for promoting a mobile bar business. You can easily find various groups on Facebook and similar platforms where you can promote your services or even establish a regular presence. Setting up your own Facebook page is crucial, as it will provide you with additional exposure while allowing you to connect to your customers more directly. It will come in handy for answering quick questions, such as someone asking where your bar is on any given day when they’re in a hurry.
Try platforms like Google Ads and other targeted advertising options. They allow you to filter your audience very precisely, targeting specific segments that are most likely to be interested in what you have to offer.
Facebook is particularly good for that. You can not only target basic details like age groups, but narrow down your preferences to things like:
- fans of a specific sports team
- students attending your local college
- fans of bands that are coming to your town for a concert
If you set up some ads related to specific events, you should have no trouble finding enough guests when you want to make an appearance at those events.
Your Own Website
Last but definitely not least, you should have your own website up and running as quickly as possible. Having a Facebook page is good, but taking things to the next level and running your own website will present you with a much wider range of opportunities. You can have QR code menus – or even functionality to pre-order through your website – and occasionally post useful articles to drive additional traffic.
Setting up a website for a mobile bar is easier than you might think. You don’t need any web development experience when you have platforms like WordPress which handle all the complex tasks for you. All you have to do is get a WordPress installation running, customize it with an appropriate theme and the right plugins, and start populating it with content.
If you want fancy features like ordering through your website as we described above, this might take some additional work. But don’t worry, you can always find qualified developers on the freelance market who can tackle those problems without any issues.