How do I open a gaming bar?

“The rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience”

Words by Jimmy Dance
Does things in bars with video games

August 05, 2020

Up until March 2020 it seemed like I’d get asked a lot about opening a gaming bar. While opening somewhere for people to gather may not seem like the most sensible idea at the moment, here’s my attempt to answer the most common questions with lessons learnt the hard way over the last 10 years.

Do you need a special licence to demo games?

No…Not really but you’ll have noticed those terms and conditions that flash up at the start of games detailing how the retail copy is not for public use? So how do you get copies that are suitable? (Why did it always mention the strangely specific Oil Rigs!?)

Your best bet is to approach each company and let them know what you’re doing and prepare to be flexible. As the gaming hospitality industry continues to grow, it is more likely that someone may expect a cut of that gaming fee. 

Do you make a lot of money running a gaming bar?

No…There’s a reason 4 pubs are closing every day in the UK. It’s not because the owners got rich and retired. But, like building a village in Animal Crossing or running a theme park in Rollercoaster Tycoon, there’s more to it than just making money.

How much does it cost to open a gaming bar?

A lot. “I only need about 10k to open somewhere?” The quick answer to this is no chance, there’s been a few campaigns and plans pitched suggesting just a few thousand is needed to get something open. While you might get open for that, the key challenge is being able to stay open.

Times have changed and tenants do have a lot more leeway negotiating a lease. In general, you’ll need to pay three months rent upfront, the same again as a deposit and cover the legal fees. 

It is helpful to keep in mind that small things can make a dent. For example, speed pourers are only around £2 each, but even with our tiny bar, 30 of them are needed, meaning £60 is gone.

The first order is always the most painful as you will have needed to stock the bar with a whole lot of different things. If you look at a bar shelf and add each bottle up as £15 each, you can imagine just how much money you’ll need to stock a bar in the first place.

Other guaranteed bills will be:

  • Building Insurance – Protecting if the windows get smashed starting around £300
  • Public Liability Insurance – Covers you if someone falls over and is required by law
  • Premises Licence – Alcohol Licence which you need to sell drink, if a place doesn’t already have one, this will need to be applied for, they aren’t too expensive but it’s a yearly expense.
  • Business Rates – Council Tax but for business, you can check how much this would cost for by putting the postcode in here.
  • Utilities – Water, Electric, Internet, Waste Collection
  • Other crucial ones you can forget are the many one-off charges, the first time you stock up will be by far the most expensive as there are so many things you need to have but may not buy very often.

How much money does a gaming bar need to take to survive?

An easy way for you to judge how much you may need to take a look at the rent cost and multiply that figure by 5, that’s a good starting point for what you’ll need to sell. You can use this to help build your forecast and work backwards.

Do I need experience to open a bar?

No but it’s useful! If you haven’t jumped behind a bar before, a few hours a week serving drinks while you get your master plan together will help you test whether you really can handle it. People will ask you stupid things, some people will attempt to scam you, so getting the chance to experience all this before to start your endeavour will benefit you in the long run. It’s smarter to earn while you learn.

Can you play games all day?

Yes if you can afford staff! However, working on the floor yourself gives you a much greater advantage of learning what your customers want first hand: What are they playing? What do they order? What you had in mind starting out and what people want once you open, maybe two very different things.

Normally the three-year plan* is year 1 the business runs you, 2nd year you run the business and by year 3 it should run itself. That’s when hopefully you can kick back and work on triple prestige status on COD. *I’m in year 10 and still find reasons to have to work so don’t hold me to that…

Where do I start if I want to open a gaming bar?

Ask questions! Go and speak to people who run similar-sized businesses in the place you want to open, most people are quite friendly and would give you an honest answer. Some important questions to ask include, how long have they been there? What lessons have they learned? Try to learn about any mistakes or lessons they can pass on to help you avoid the same issues.

Prepare for lots of people to offer to save you money after the fact

I lost count of the number of times I’ve paid out for something only for someone to stroll in the next day and say they could have offered or provided the same thing for less. Sometimes people will just offer to help after the fact to feel good but you’d be amazed how many friends of friends or relatives you might have with the skills you’re looking for who will understand you’re starting out and need every penny.
Do you best to research things and once it’s done there’s no point getting down if you’ve put the coffee counter in the wrong place, make it work and change it later.

Tell people what you do! 

“Why did that website cover you?” Because back at the start, I was based all the way down in Cornwall, there wasn’t much chance of the press hopping on a train to pay a visit or stumbling across what we do. Reaching out through social media/email/phones to chat about what makes the thing you offer unique is half the battle won. Start with places you are a fan of.  For example, if you listen to a podcast, it’s more impactful to send a message that already acknowledges what they do and how it might fit what you offer.

How cheap is beer?

It normally surprises people that the cost of drink is around the same price, if not more, than a supermarket. Plenty of places raid the supermarkets at Christmas when spirits are cheap. An average branded pint (Think Brewdog/Goose Island etc) is going to cost you £1.90 on draught so when you draw up your forecasts, try and find a supplier to get accurate prices which are probably more than you think. The benefit of real suppliers (not filling your boot at Tesco) is that proper suppliers can help with incentives like fridges and ice machines provided you agree to only buy from them.

How big a venue do I need?

“They were always busy, how are they closed?” The bigger you are, the more costs you have with staff, rates and it’s harder to keep track of costs. While you may have a venue that is seemingly packed full of people, sometimes very few of these people are spending money. Also, while you may make decent amounts of money while it’s busy, you have to consider that there will always be quieter periods.

Can I call it Loading?

If you want to open your own Loading, you can get in touch about that drop an email to [email protected] and lets talk.

Do it!

I spent a total of 2 years working around the idea of Loading, finding suitable premises and preparing it for opening. Rarely, is there a right or wrong time to do it, so if you’ve read these points and think there’s nothing you haven’t already considered, go forth!

That’s about it, if you have any other questions feel free to fire an email and if by some luck my advice leads to you having a chain of gaming spaces that take over the world just remember to send me a card with some thank you money. 😀