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Mobile bartenders travel to various event locations, setting up wherever the event coordinator or customer needs them. Some bartending services provide everything—including alcohol, signature drinks, glassware, and staff—while others require the client to provide the alcohol and wine.
Who is this business right for?
Entrepreneurs experienced in the restaurant and bar industry who are looking to venture out on their own are best suited for this business endeavor. Mobile bartenders often work nights and weekends. This offers a more flexible work schedule, allowing you more time to focus on building your business during the week, and also spend time with family and friends.
What happens during a typical day at a mobile bartending service?
If you have spent any time in the service industry, you know that it is unpredictable. For many, this adds another layer of excitement, guaranteeing that no two days are alike.
As the owner of a mobile bartending business, you'll be tasked with the following activities:
- Field calls and questions from current and prospective clients.
- Speak with customers prior to the event to determine their vision and preferences, check out the venue, and note any guest allergies or sensitivities.
- Shop for any items needed for scheduled events.
- Schedule and/or hire bartenders for upcoming events.
- Plan drink “menu” and come up with ideas for specialty drinks based on your client’s preferences
- Arrive several hours early to set up the bar and get any special instructions.
- Bartend event.
- Clean up after event.
- Routine maintenance and clean up of vehicles used for transporting supplies.
- Marketing, networking, and administrative duties.
- Follow up with clients to receive feedback and ensure they received satisfactory service.
Many mobile bartending service owners opt to be the face of the business, leaving the actual bartending to their employees.
What is the target market?
Preferred clients include anyone who wants to host a private or public event that will include alcoholic beverages. Fortunately, birthdays, graduations, weddings, and fundraising events happen year round, ensuring your services will always be needed.
How does a mobile bartending service make money?
Mobile bartending companies generate revenue from the services they provide. Some customers will only require bartenders, while others will need the full service—drinks, glassware, mixers, etc. Be sure to offer a variety of options for prospective clients to choose from.
What is the growth potential for a mobile bartending service?
Mobile bartending has realized significant growth in the last five years. With the industry poised for additional growth in the next decade, entrepreneurs have a good opportunity to achieve their growth goals. Many have found success offering franchise opportunities, while others are able to offer their services to multiple clients on any given night.
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful mobile bartending service?
At first glance, building a profitable mobile bartending business sounds easy—you bring the requested items to the event and provide drinks to guests. No matter how large or small, however, events rarely go off without a hitch. Whether it’s a wedding or a fundraising event, your customer is looking to help turn their vision for this special day into a reality. Thus, it’s vital that you arrive on time and that every detail has been cared for. You will often be setting up in unfamiliar territory, or with a catering crew you haven't met, so adaptability and organization are essential.
In this industry, you will also be required to socialize with guests throughout the event. Most bartenders possess strong interpersonal skills, with the ability to interact with virtually anyone. It’s critical that you are professional at all times and help out whenever necessary, even if the task doesn't fit into your job description.
If you’re knowledgeable in the art of mixology, but haven’t ever worked in this field, consider working as a bartender or bar manager for at least a year. You will learn tricks and shortcuts, basic knowledge of how to run a bar efficiently and quickly, and get accustomed to standing for 8-12 hours at a time. Additionally, The National Bartenders Association and International Bartenders Association both offer members advice and resources regarding the latest trends, marketing support to help build your business, and advice on how to dream up your next signature drink.
What are the costs involved in opening a mobile bartending service?
Once you have acquired the knowledge necessary to start your mobile bartending business, you’ll need to start building your inventory. While an office space is not required for success, there will be a great deal of equipment to store. For this reason, many business owners lease a space large enough to organize and store all supplies.
Once you have acquired your space, you can begin stocking the shelves:
- Mobile bars and tables - for outdoor events, consider investing in a mobile gazebo for shelter. Mobile bars range in price from $200 to $3,500. Consider investing in gently used items to reduce these initial costs.
- Glassware - $46 to $97 per case
- Napkins and table covers - $11 to $19 a piece
- Cocktail making equipment—shakers, strainers, muddlers, and speed pourers. Prices can range from $3 to $68.
- Reliable transportation for transporting supplies to events - for mobile marketing, invest in signage for your vehicle
- Insurance—speak with a trusted insurance professional regarding the type of coverage your business requires. Whenever alcohol is consumed, there’s a liability exposure.
- Marketing and literature—business cards and pamphlets describing your services
What are the steps to start a mobile bartending service?
Once you're ready to start your mobile bartending service, follow these steps to ensure that your business is legally compliant and avoid wasting time and money as your business grows:
- Plan your business. A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. A few important topics to consider are your initial costs, your target market, and how long it will take you to break even.
- Form a legal entity. Establishing a legal business entity prevents you from being personally liable if your mobile bartending service is sued.
- Register for taxes. You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
- Open a business bank account. A dedicated checking account for your mobile bartending service keeps your finances organized and makes your business appear more professional to your customers.
- Set up business accounting. Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.
- Obtain necessary permits and licenses. Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.
- Get business insurance. Insurance is highly recommended for all business owners. If you hire employees, workers compensation insurance may be a legal requirement in your state.
- Define your brand. Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.
- Establish a web presence. A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers. Save 15% when you create a business website with Weebly.
Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.
Where can I find a business mentor?
One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.
Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.
What are some insider tips for jump starting a mobile bartending service?
Successful bartending business owners offer the following advice:
- Always follow up with your clients to ensure they had a positive experience.
- Make sure every client signs a contract that includes their payment obligations, your cancellation policy, and a statement of your obligation and right to deny service to intoxicated guests.
- Require a deposit before investing too much in an event.
- As part of your marketing strategy, consider donating your services to a local fundraiser or donating a gift certificate to a silent auction.
- Send a handwritten note and a small thank you gift after each event to ensure your company really stands out above the rest.
How to promote & market a mobile bartending service
Given the virtual environment we live in today, it is critical that you maintain an online presence. Your website should be simple yet informative and your social media pages should share articles and tips that could help educate your customers. Contact food and spirits bloggers in your area and offer them a free tasting of your signature drinks or ask to be an occasional guest blogger.
In this industry, networking will be your most effective marketing tool. Get to know the various party planners, catering businesses, and venues that don’t supply food and drink. A partnership with just a few of them has the potential to keep you busy throughout the season. Research bridal fairs in your area and attend those as a vendor for additional exposure.
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How to keep customers coming back
To ensure repeat customers, make sure you provide a memorable experience to every guest. Every event you serve delivers you a room full of possible customers. Make sure every member of your staff is professional and friendly, as word of mouth could be your strongest marketing tool.
Partnering with a catering company or venues in your area should provide you access to as many new customers as your business can handle.
How and when to build a team
To ensure a positive experience for your customer and their guests, start out with a small staff. The general rule is that there should be one bartender for every seventy-five guests when only beer and wine is being served. For a full bar, it’s recommended that you have one bartender for every fifty guests. Check with your state regarding any age requirements for bartenders and make sure each new hire has experience mixing drinks.
State & Local Business Licensing Requirements
Businesses involved in the sale of alcoholic beverages are required to obtain a liquor license from the appropriate state or local agency.
- A comprehensive list of laws by state (including necessary licenses, zoning laws, etc), curated by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, can be found here.
If you sell food at your events, you may also need licensing from a local health department. Food establishments are randomly inspected by the local health department on a regular basis. These inspections will check for compliance with local health laws, typically related to prevention of food contamination.
Tips for faring well on a health inspections can be found here.
Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, read our article, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.
In addition, certain state and local licensing or regulatory requirements may apply.
- For more information about state licensing requirements, visit SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits
- For more information about local licensing and permitting requirements, check with your town, city or county clerk’s office, or get assistance from one of the local associations listed in US Small Business Associations directory of local business resources.
Maintain Personal Asset Protection
Don’t think that just forming an LLC, or any other type of business, will save your personal assets in case of a lawsuit or other matter by itself.
When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your LLC is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.
Two of the simplest steps that will protect your business, and yourself, are to:
Open a business bank account
- This separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
- It also makes accounting and tax filing easier.
Get a business credit card
- This helps you separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
- It also builds your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money and investment later on.
Mobile bartending businesses should consider requiring clients to sign a services agreement before starting a new project. This agreement should clarify client expectations and minimize risk of legal disputes by setting out payment terms and conditions, service level expectations, and intellectual property ownership. Here is an example of one such services agreement.
Recommended: Rocket Lawyer makes it easy to create a professional service agreement for your mobile bartending business when you sign up for their premium membership. For $39.95 per month, members receive access to hundreds of legal agreements and on call attorneys to get complimentary legal advice.
How much can you charge customers?
This depends upon how you decide to structure your business. Some companies offer a variety of packages, with a basic one starting at $250 for fifty guests, not including the cost of drinks. Some bartending services don’t supply the alcohol, while others will only supply beer and wine. Be sure you carefully map out your policies prior to meeting with your first potential customer so that all expectations are clearly defined in advance.
What are the ongoing expenses for a mobile bartending service?
Before an event, you will need to purchase alcohol, wine, mixers, and garnishes. In addition, your business will incur the following ongoing expenses:
- Payroll taxes—bartenders earn a minimum of $150/event, plus tips.
- Rent—should you decide to lease a building
- Utility costs
- Insurance—for the company vehicle and liability
How much profit can a mobile bartending service make?
While this varies, depending upon the services required of your client, a majority of mobile bartending businesses start out with an annual profit of $24,000-$41,000. After the three year mark, many have reported an annual profit of $76,000 or more.
How can you make your business more profitable?
Consider some of the below strategies for maximizing your profits:
- As part of your marketing strategy, concentrate on landing large clients who regularly host large events.
- Share your mixology knowledge by hosting classes or a blog. This could be online and/or in-person.
- Include catering snacks or food as an additional service.