How to start a mobile bar business

How to start a mobile bar

From my experience at both indoor and outdoor events many lend themselves perfectly to having mobile bars serving at them. The expectation now, when going to an event, often is that there will be a range of food and drinks on hand to buy.

Mobile bars are perfect for ad-hoc events or venues where there are limited existing facilities to serve drinks.  

There are a number of things you will need to start a mobile bar business. These include:

  • A solid business plan
  • A truck/stall/mobile bar 
  • Glassware
  • Cold storage
  • Licensing arrangements
  • Stock

Licencing is the key legality you need to adhere to when starting and managing your own mobile bar business. It can often feel confusing. Therefore, in this post, I will go into what licences you need and any key things to note.

*Just to flag, this post is aimed at the UK market and based on British legislation and licencing only. If you are based outside of the UK, please consult local guidance in your region.


What do I include in my mobile bar business plan?

Any business owner, irrelevant of the business type, will advise you the best place to begin when starting a mobile bar business is with your business plan. 

This will help you to really think about what your business means, does and how it will operate logistically and financially before you dive in and waste precious time and money.

A business plan also will be requested by any investors or banks who you are trying to get to input money. They want to be able to see that it is a viable business before they invest in it.

So where do you start with the business plan? There are plenty of templates out there online that you can use as a structure for ideas. To help you out, I have listed out a few headers and sub-headings for you to think about when writing your business plan. 

Do not feel you have to structure it all in the same order. Do what works for you!

Mobile Bar Business Plan Checklist

  • Business overview
  • Executive summary
    • What you are/sector/purpose
    • Aim of starting the business e.g. to make profit, follow passion/skills etc.
  • What are the products or services I plan to offer
  • Vision/mission statement 
  • Business structure
    • Roles and responsibilities
  • SWOT analysis
  • My Strengths
  • My Weaknesses
  • External Opportunities
  • External Threats
  • Market analysis
  • Market trends (backed up by research)
  • Suggested target Market
  • Competitive advantages to stand out in the current market. What makes your mobile bar different.
  • Financial Plan
  • Sources of income
  • Sales forecast
  • Sales strategy
  • Pricing strategy
  • Payment options
  • Start-up costs
  • Business forecast
  • Where do you see the business in 6, 12 months, 2, 4 years etc.
  • Expansion/reinvestment plans

How do I set up a mobile bar business?

Once you have your business plan mapped out you are in a great position to start setting up your mobile bar business. 

So where do you start? There isn’t really a right or wrong place to start as it depends on the individual and what skills/resources you have available. I have, however, broken down the set-up process in some bullet points to help keep you on track:

Mobile Bar Business Registration

There are a few key things to register and apply for when starting up your business:

  1. Register your Business (Partnership, limited company, or sole trader)
  2. Register with the council (as a new business you need to do this locally to where you run).
  3. Register with HMRC (Either as a limited company or a self-employed basis)
  4. Public Liability Event Insurance (cover for any claims against the business)
  5. Insurance (to cover your assets/set up if it were stolen or damaged)

Small Business Banking

It’s advisable to keep both your personal and the business finances separate. The best way to ensure this is to set up separate accounts for business and personal.

  • This protects your own assets in the event of issues with the business.
  • It makes tax filing and accounting easier
  • A business credit card will help you spread expenses rather than having to pay everything all at once (especially if you have to do all your spending pre-event and may only get 50% payment until event completion).
  • Having a credit card builds you business’s credit rating which works favourably when getting loans or investments.
  • Keep note/receipts of all expenses as some of these can be deducted when filing tax. It also helps when cost tracking. 

For my event business, I’ve been using a Monzo business bank account for the last four years. I found it super easy to set up and there were minimal credit checks, unlikely the major high street banks. I’ve no complaints and would highly recommend them. You can sign up here, this isn’t an affiliate link. I just find the service super easy to use!

Insurance for a mobile bar

In the UK, there are generally THREE types you would want to consider for a mobile bar

  • Employers Liability, this covers any staff or volunteers who work for you and is a legal requirement in the UK.

  • Public Liability cover against accidents or damages caused in the public domain (non-staff). This protects your business from claims made by members of the public.

  • Equipment Insurance. Worth looking at to protect any loss through accident or theft that could impact your business. 

Check out this full article we wrote on event insurance, but that can be mainly for organiser of events.

If you are simply running the mobile bar as a small business, I’ve used Hiscox Insurance in the past. You can get an free online quote on there website here.

This is an affiliate link, so if you do go ahead with purchasing the insurance with them, Eventunity receives a small referral fee that helps keep the lights on round here! It won’t mean you pay a higher amount.


What license do you need for a mobile bar business?

Your first starting point is getting yourself a Personal License. These can be obtained in the UK and require you to pass an exam by an accredited board to receive your licence. The exam is in place to ensure licence holders are aware of both the licencing law as well as the social responsibilities that go hand in hand with selling alcohol to people.

So what does this cost?

Where do I take the test?

  • The GOV.UK website shows a list of accredited training providers where you can sign up for one to suit you.

How do I obtain my Personal licence once I pass?

  • Once you pass you will need to send a copy of your certificate as well as an up to date basic disclosure check (around £25) to confirm you have no criminal record
  • You then need to send these to your local authority (where you live) along with a passport style photo and £37
  • You will then get your licence card which you should have on you when selling/serving alcohol.

How do I apply for a temporary event notice (TEN)?

  • Once you have your licence you can fill in an online form out on the GOV.UK website to obtain your TEN (temporary event notice). 
  • You will then need to send your £21 fee and a copy of the TEN to the local licencing authority.
  • As well you need to send a copy to:
    • The local police
    • Local environmental health officer

You can find their details on your local authority’s website.

Top things to know about the TEN:

  • As a personal licence holder you can apply for up to 50 TENs a year (at £21 per TEN)
  • There must be at least 24hrs between TENs at the same location
  • Each event notice can last up to 168hrs (7 days)
  • Each location can have 12 TENs a year
  • Any one event can have up to 500 at all times on site (including staff)

What mobile bar equipment do I need?

Aside from your main bar asset/set up (whether that be a horsebox, airstream, gazebo and table or truck) it’s easy to forget the minor details. Below is a checklist of things that come in useful.

  • Bottle openers & corkscrews (easy to put one down or misplace so have a few)
  • Chopping boards and knives
  • Cocktail shakers
  • Stirring spoons
  • Glassware (a range of shapes and sizes)
  • Napkins
  • Cloths for cleaning spillages
  • Lights (if its an evening or dark a day)
  • Extension cables for power
  • Waste and recycling bins (make sure these are hidden as are unsightly)
  • Ice, ice buckets and tongs
  • Jugs and strainer
  • Straws or garnish/drink décor
  • Trays
  • Payment system/till*
  • Pen & paper to take orders if needed
  • Notes of drinks and how to make them
  • Menus/signs
  • Fridges or buckets to chill drinks with ice

You can buy most of the equipment you need from a professional catering company like Nisbets

There are also a few extra things to consider when designing your bar set up:

  • A place to store clean glasses
  • Area to put dirty glasses
  • Glass washer(s)
  • General bar decoration e.g. lights, prints etc.

*Payment Machine

You will almost certainly need the ability to take payment by contactless or card. Most people (especially since the Coronavirus pandemic) will expect this. Luckily, this has become much easier in recent years and you can invest in a system for less than £30. Systems such as Zettle and Sumup in the UK use a small bluetooth contactless device that connects to an app on your phone or tablet. You will have to pay a small commission on money taken, but it’s likely customers will expect this service.


Marketing and promoting your mobile bar business

If you are looking to set up a serious business rather than just a hobby, having a website and presence on social media channels will really help take your business to the next level. Having online presence gives your business legitimacy, helps people to find you and acts as a good segway to direct potential customers too.

To make a start it would be advantageous to have the following:

  • Website for your events
    • Website hosting, I use Siteground, who have been amazing for this webiste but Bluehost are also recommended for ease of use.
    • With a content plan (images of work, contact details, upcoming events etc.)
  • Instagram 
  • Facebook
  • Get yourself on preferred events suppliers e.g. event/wedding planners (networking will really help with this).

A top tip is to make sure you regularly update and post content. There is nothing worse than when, as a consumer, you go on an Instagram or Facebook page giving minimal information on and where nothing has been posted in months. 

One other top tip is to get some professional photos (or take some good quality ones on your phone) with your bar dressed and with a nice background. When we have nothing else to judge but an image aesthetic is everything!

So how do you promote your mobile bar?

  • As mentioned above, online presence is key! More and more use just search engines and social media to find people/businesses.
  • Networking! It’s a free and easy marketing tool. Get to know party planners and venues. It may even lead to a partnership!
  • Local print/flyers in an area to promote your business
  • Word of mouth. Doing a great job can get you far. Although it can take time this can cause a great snowball effect when word gets around.
  • Look online for Facebook groups that allow traders and organisers to connect.

Who is the target market

As a start-up business having a well-defined target market is key in order to help compete with larger and more established businesses. This is where having a niche (whether that’s brand, name, drinks etc.) will be the thing that helps you stand out here.

So where do you start?

  • Check out for competition
    • Who are their customers?
    • What do they do well and what are they missing?
  • Do an overview of your service/product
    • What are the benefits of your business to them?
    • Next identify the people who have a need for these benefits 
  • Break it down to target audience specifics:
    • Age
    • Gender
    • Location
    • Income
    • Occupation
    • Marital/family status
    • Ethnic background/culture
  • You can then delve deeper on the target audience psychographics e.g.
    • Values & attitudes
    • Lifestyle
    • Interests/hobbies

Once you have collated this information on your target it’s key to then ask yourself the following questions in order to help make sure you are targeting the right people:

  • Can they afford what I am offering?
  • Will they benefit from what I am offering?
  • Are they easily accessible/reachable?
  • Do I know what drives my target audience?
  • Are there enough people who fit my criteria?

Top tip: 

  • Remember you can have more than one target market, but make sure you don’t try and target all!
  • An online search, face to face research and other print/media are great ways to help you research your target audience.

Staffing your mobile bar

When you start off it is likely that you will be a jack of all trades and likely responsible for the setup, running and take down of the bar. You need to be prepared to roll up your sleeves and get hands on with everything. If you are new to bartending, it’s well worth going on a course to help increase your skills and therefore product.

Once your business is more established you will need to consider building a team. As a general rule of thumb, it would be advantageous to work to the following:

  • 1 bartender for every 75 guests (when only serving beer and wine)
  • 1 bartender for every 50 guests (for a full bar)
  • It’s worth considering an extra member of staff if you have a complex menu e.g. cocktails.

How much do mobile bars make?

Firstly, mobile businesses selling drinks, as opposed to food, are often on to a higher profit margin, with less waste (due to a less perishable product), little preparation time involved and your immunity to seasonality (you can sell alcohol all year around, summer, Christmas is also a bumper time). On top of that, typically if you are savvy, you are looking at 50-70% profit margin per unit.

As with most events there is no one specific answer on how much a mobile bar makes as the cost will depend on the type of setup you have and the audience you serve, more on this below.

However, on average, with good planning and some tips and tricks, you will be looking at a profit typically in the higher hundreds or low thousands. In the below I have set out some examples to help you cost up and calculate how much you could make at a festival with a mobile bar for example.

A few quick sums will help you to have a clearer picture of how much money will be going out, how much resource you might need, how much money you could make and how much you will need to break even.

It can feel like plucking figures from air at times when you are starting off, as often experience is what guides you here. Below I have broken down a simple way for working out skeleton profitability.

*please note this is an example using experience and will vary depending on the event you go to and your bar set up.

Out costsPrice (£)
Site Fee5,000
Organisers % cut (say 20%) earnings9,000
Staff cost (4 staff on 10hr shifts for 4 days)1,500
Stock costs2000
Amenities500
Fuel & travel500
TOTAL18,500

Equally as important is working out your projected sales:

A great starting point is by compiling these details:

  • How many hours you want to serve each day?
  • How much are you charging per item?
  • How many staff do you plan to take?

So, what other factors affect profit? What other things should I consider? 

When it comes down to how much mobile bars actually make it’s totally dependent on a series of factors. Depending what you are serving (the more unique the better off), along with a few other key factors, will ultimately determine your success. Below there are some things to consider to help increase your chances of profit.

Site location:

  • Being in a busy area is always desirable, but more expensive, as you will have a high footfall passing the stand. 
  • Make sure you aren’t in a dead end or by the toilets – often people won’t walk past in volume or tend to dwell in these areas for long.

Target Audience:

  • Are you providing a product that the festival goers will want?
  • Research your audience and cater to their budget, tastes and needs.

Weather: Be reactive to this uncontrollable factor.

  • Offer something useful e.g. if it’s raining buy drinks from us and get a free branded poncho (easy to buy and store if the weather breaks!).

Up your truck look/design:

  • Colour, props and fun décor can really help you to stand out and look the part. If you are at an event with competition having something like a great design can help draw them in and give them focus over others.
  • Staff uniform is a key part of the design. Make these comfortable, clean looking but with a fun element, again to match the bar theme. You will be surprised how much we make decisions based just on looks. 

Develop your truck’s brand/reputation:

  • Smile! It is true when they say people buy people! Some small talk, happy faces and upbeat energy can go a long way bringing people back and leaving lasting positive memories – after all you never know who you are serving (someone might ask you to another event or festival).
  • Utilise your marketing opportunity. Stamp or print your logo and social media accounts on your cups etc. If you want to go one step further perhaps offer a competition or incentive if they follow your social channels. E.g. follow us and get 10% off.

A few tips to help you stand out at events where there is competition:

Don’t hide your prices away! Make them really easy and clear to read. If hidden, an instant assumption is you’re too expensive and puts people off. 

Take lots of change! If you sell anything e.g. £5.50 take lots of 50p’s! There is nothing worse than scrabbling for change during a big influx of orders.

Take card payments. So many people hate carrying cash. They are cost effective, easy and a safe way to charge people. Less cash on site also makes it safer for you! Check out this article we wrote on Bluetooth card machines.

Samples. Everyone loves a freebie! This is a great marketing technique, encouraging people to come back or try something off the menu next time they fancy a drink.

Mobile Bar Drinks Pricing

So how much can I charge?

It goes without saying, you need to price each drink/drinks package so you at least break even.

There are a couple of ways to approach costing:

  • Charge per drink like a standard bar
    • Make sure you do your research for what your competition does (you don’t want to overprice yourself nor undercut yourself too much)
  • Charge as a drinks package e.g. £30 per head for 4 drinks etc.

Mobile bar ideas

One of the advantages of having a mobile bar means that you can move to where the events are and are not fixed in one area. Another great thing is that you need less equipment to run and have everything compactly at your fingertips!

There are a range of different approaches you can take when setting up, styling and serving from your bar. Trends change quickly so one advantage of a mobile bar is that you can usually quite easily, and cost effectively, change your bar to meet demand, keep up with trends and stay ahead of the curve.

To give you some inspiration on ways to serve from your bar I have listed a few things that prove popular:

  • Beer bar (independent brewers)
  • Cocktail & Mocktails
  • Gin bar
  • Pimms bar
  • Prosecco/bubbly bar
  • Wine bar
  • Cider bar

On top of deciding what you choose to stock and sell, there are also a range of different and innovative ways you can create and repurpose everyday items into your bar. Below are some good examples of different types of mobile bars, although the world is your oyster when it comes to set up, style and bar unit.

Bar on a bike 

The Cargo Bike Company created the below cocktail bar. A simple, head turning spin on a classic.

Drinks bar bike - The Cargo Bike Company
Source: https://www.cargobike.co.uk/product/cocktail-bar-bike/

Some advantages of this bar

  • Easy to move around (can quite literally pedal to the people)
  • Small and compact to store
  • Eye catching 
  • Small site space (so cost effective if you go to an event)

Some downfalls

  • Limited storage for ingredients
  • Can get lost in the background at some events
  • Limited area to chill drinks

Horsebox 

Source: https://www.blinkersmobilebar.co.uk/

Blinkers Horsebox Bar (in picture) shows a unit that has everything at your fingertips. Easy to move to events on the back of a car as well as a quirky yet attractive addition to the aesthetics of an event.

Some advantages of this bar

  • Easy to move around 
  • Compact, which cuts down set up time

Some downfalls

  • Require vehicle to tow it to events
  • Can be restrictive in space

Bus

The Bus Bar Company’s fun, unique and quintessentially British bar that has the advantage of both indoor and outdoor serving space to suit all weathers!

Some advantages of this bar

  • Easy to move around/drive
  • Compact, which cuts down set up time
  • Striking and a good decorative for the event

Some downfalls

  • Size can make it hard to park/get into some event sites
  • Site space is expensive for something this size if you go to paid for events

These can be set up and designed to suit what drinks you are serving and who you are serving. Colour, decoration and set up can easily be changed as demands dictate.

Free standing bar

Some advantages of this bar

  • Can fit around space you have available
  • Can be easily transported
  • Small and compact to store

Some downfalls

  • Limited storage for ingredients
  • Can get lost in the background at some events
  • Limited area to chill drinks
  • Having lots of things next to the bar, e.g. bins, spare stock etc., can look messy

As you can see there are a range of ways you can design and set up a mobile bar. There is no right or wrong way as long as it’s safe and functional for your needs. 

I hope that this post has helped you in the initial steps of setting up a mobile bar and wish you the best of luck with your project and business!

Mark Norman

Mark has over 20 years of experience in the events industry from working in live music venues through to major outdoor events like the Olympic Torch Relay and the Tour de France. He now works as a feelancer, consultant and Senior Lecturer in Events Management.

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