The “Running A Bar In Spain” Story


I wanted to post about this as i personally have seen many Brits here struggle with what they think is a great idea to run a bar in Spain.

If its really your dream then go for it dont let anyone put you off even me BUT read this first and be prepared. Post Brexit it is even harder now to start a bar.

When i first moved here 18 years ago I worked for a company here renovating homes and bars and saw many Brits back then move here to open a bar.

My work then was to meet with them and help them renovate the bar and organise all the works from paper work to building works, mostly my work was in the hands on building.

I will give one example although there are many.

One day i had a call from a very excited British client who had just bought a bar near the beach. He wanted to meet up to chat about renovation works and was very keen to get started.

He was a British guy and wife in their 50s with son and daughter in law. The 4 of them sold a bar in London that was not doing very well and they had sold the bar that was also their home and everything to move here and start this new bar.

The bar they bought here was in a great spot, just 10 feet from the beach near the marina and had amazing beach front views and passing pedestrian traffic all day. A really great spot for a bar.

I knew this bar but it had been shut up all the time i was here.

So we met at the bar and he showed me around. The bar was a mess and the old owners had left in a hurry by the looks of it.

The new Guy had been here a week and had some plans of what they wanted and I was recommended by another British bar owner.

We started that week and as we were gutting the old tiles off the walls the new owner and son started bringing in some new equipment that they had bought that week, like cookers and fridges things like that so we could see where everything would be fitted.

First major problem.

There was only 2 power points in the kitchen. Now for any bar thats crazy as you need around 10 or more .

My local spanish electrician told me after looking at everything, that there was not enough power supply to add more sockets and we needed to call the local electric company to come upgrade the system.

We moved forward with the works but it was a week before the electric company came round to check and they told us that the main fuse board would need to be upgraded as it was very old. This meant a new cable from the street and the price for this 8,000 euros and 1 weeks work. plus a project licence that cost 4 percent of the cost of the works.

Well the new owners were shocked and said that this was not an option as they had just bought 2 new apartments that week near by to live in. One for the owner and wife and one for the son and daughter in law.

The only other option was all gas, So we arranged for all appliances to be gas even the fridge.

If the new owner had looked at the kitchen area he would have seen that there was not enough power and that the fuse board was very old. Holiday mood here was in play i think. Another reason why maybe the bar had been shut up so long.

After 1 month of very busy works we had the bar open and i asked the new owner about the Tapas he was going to serve.

NO TAPAS, he told me just nuts and crisps.

As all the other bars near by in the street were giving free tapas with every beer and wine this was a big factor as why he did not do well here.

Here in Almeria the Tapas are included in the cost of a beer or wine and most bars here offer cooked to order tapas. If you are going to pay say 2 euros for a beer at a bar then you go to the bar where you get a tapas as well, not the one where you only get a drink. The Spanish and other nationalities like free food with their drinks here.

Also he was going to be pushing British beers and the problem with that is that local San Miguel beer here is fine and cheap but imported beers are more expensive. Most people here just order a beer and dont really care what it is.

So the bar was open and i moved on. Later that week i returned to fix a new light and the owner told me that his son and daughter in law would run the bar 4 days a week and the mum and dad the rest. A great idea but there was 4 people who would be taking a wage from this bar. Also they didnt speak Spanish so needed to employ a local Spanish girl to work as waitress and do all the ordering and paper work. Yet another wage going out.

A few months later i passed the bar and saw a guy i know who worked as a waiter in Another bar in town, so i asked what he was doing here. He told me he was working there now as the owner wanted a few days a week off for the beach. So now they had 2 waiters taking a wage there.

This lasted about 6 months then the bar shut down and the family sold the apartments and moved back to uk.

Conclusion.

I have seen this here in Spain so many times. People move here thinking they will run a bar and sit on the beach enjoying the sun and the bar will run itself.

Running a bar is long hard work with unsociable hours that continue long after the customers have gone home. Its hard enough in the UK but here in Spain you need to compete with the local Spanish who have been doing it for years and speak the language.

After 18 years here i personally only know of 2 British bars here that have been doing well in that time and are still going and these both have Spanish people helping them run them. The owners of both bars work hard and are almost always in the bars.

Bars in the right place here with hard workers will and can do well but its all down to the owners to understand how hard it will be.

If you are thinking of buying a bar here are a few tips I have picked up that will help.

If it really is your dream to open a café or bar then do it BUT. Have a good look at the bar before you buy and if its empty then why have the Spanish not bought it as they like a bar that could do well. Copy what other bars in that area do like food and local drinks as if they work for others they will work for you.

If you are doing a sports bar or something different ask if there really is the market for that in that area. Also its great in hot summer months we all like a cold beer but is the bar going to earn enough in the winter months in that area. Many bars shut down here for a few months in winter as tourists die off a bit so can you make enough to cover this time. Agents and owners may tell you how great it is in that area but go ask other bars have a look at how they are doing first.

Pavement area Tax.

Here in Spain many bars have an area outside the bar to sit at tables but most times that area is council owned and you pay a tax each year for the use of that area and i have seen a few bars where the local council have taken away that permission or put up the tax rates. So the owners have no where for customers to sit out side.

Research is key as always.

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2 comments

  1. We accidentally ended up running a rural Spanish bar. It was not planned, but the opportunity presented itself when the job my husband had been offered fell through. It was the most wonderful and exhausting four years. The bar was owned by the town hall and situated by the swimming pool and sports centre, what we hadn’t known is no-one had ever managed to make it pay all year round. It had been run by town hall staff when the pool was open because no one would take it on. We, however, did manage to make it pay all year, by listening to our mainly Spanish customers and putting in things like kids corner and bouncy castle, giving them a reason to visit. We only closed because ‘the crisis’ hit all our customer, they took wage drops or lost their job and the knock-on effect was they had less to spend with us. I am very proud of what we achieved. My fingers are crossed that it will open again and stay that way because it is a fantastic bar.

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