How to open a bar with the right partners

03 June 2024

Failures can be #teachablemoments. But in the high stakes gambit of opening your own bar, they can also be painful, costly – and someone else’s fault. From Monica Berg to Simone Caporale, we ask leaders in the hospitality industry how they choose, and avoid, partners for success.

Nico de Soto is synonymous with successful bar openings around the world, his latest being Wacky Wombat in a lusciously plush London basement. But it’s the one that got away that still lives rent free in his mind.
A talented chef friend convinced him to partner on a restaurant-cum-cocktail lounge in Miami’s Design District. There were warning signs from the beginning, and within a short year it was over, shuttered during the pandemic.
Where did it go wrong? “They never really listened to me on what was the concept,” de Soto revealed during a candid SIP Fails interview. “It was a bit my fault because I didn’t follow my gut, and protect myself with contracts, and that kind of stuff to have an easy way out. You live and learn.”

The famous gut instinct
Trust your gut. It’s a common refrain from learned bar entrepreneurs, including Monica Berg. When we asked her secret for choosing business partners, her response was reflexive: “Go with your gut instinct”. Hers was clearly correct when she partnered with Alex Kratena to co-found Tayer + Elementary (#2 WBB, 2022).

Elsewhere in London, Chris Tanner opened Dram in 2023, a Soho whisky bar with café, shop, private dining room and more. His two partners are friends now but were colleagues several years first.
The vibe he describes is like a ‘brotherhood’.  “If we disagree, we disagree fairly, we just tell each other what’s up. It's nice being three of us because you can get outvoted by two. You just have to learn to shut up and deal with it.”
“What's super important is that we all listen to each other and we all respect what each other brings to the table because we've all got three very different skill sets.”

Complement your competencies
In another new whisky bar, on the other side of the world, Cara Devine in Melbourne agrees. The bar manager, YouTuber and woman voted Victorian Bar Personality of the Year 2023, welcomed first guests to Goodwater in December, a venue launched with several friends – she was even bridesmaid at one of their weddings.
Each partner is a local legend of hospitality with something special to offer. For Nathaniel White, a former bourbon brand ambassador, it’s his encyclopaedic knowledge and vast personal collection of vintage American whiskeys, while for Devine, her law background has been more than handy.
“We were all keen to make sure that we have a proper partnership agreement, proper out clauses, that everything's nailed in so that if anything does go awry, then everyone's properly covered. Obviously, the hope is always that nothing will go awry!”
Clearly defining roles is important for another reason: it makes processes flow. “Everyone having an opinion on every tiny little detail can slow things down, a lot,” Devine says. “Just choose your battles. Whereas I may not like the decision about the choice of one glass, it's not going to make or break the whole business.”
And what about having a mix of personalities too? If Devine is not averse to diversity – “personalities are good, I think some people can balance each other” – for Chris Tanner at Dram, personality is the number one hiring concern.

 “If they’ve got the right attitude and personality, we can show them how we want things to be done, what our expectations are,” he says. “With the right mentality they can thrive and pass that on to guests.”

Personality, right or wrong
Is there a ‘right’ personality? For those newer to restaurant or hospitality jobs, Tanner likes to see hunger and a desire to learn and be part of something.
On the flipside, for the sake of workplace wellness and stress he avoids traits some refer to as ‘energy vampires’ – people who deplete energy without replenishing it. “I think everything should be an exchange,” Tanner says. “It should be an exchange of ideas, an exchange of creativity, an exchange of skills.”
We’ll leave the last word to Simone Caporale, who we meet shortly after his Barcelona bar SIPS (ed’s note: sadly no relation to this platform) was named number 1 at the World’s 50 Best Bars, making him the only bartender to have won the coveted prize five times.
Surely Caporale would have some sage advice on what to look for in partners when opening a bar? 
He considers the question for a good 10 seconds, then says: “I don’t want to open any more bars so I’m not looking for any more partners!”

Sorry folks – but hopefully the other tips above will help.

Please enjoy our brands responsibly. Do not share this website with anyone under legal drinking age.

Welcome to SIP

Log in to enjoy full access to the SIP platform:

Welcome to SIP

SIP platform is dedicated to the hospitality professionals and is available in multiple countries. Please note the content deployed on SIP is adapted to the selected country. Please select your country:

Forgot your password?

Enter the email address associated with your account and we will email you a link to reset password.

Check your email

If we recognize your account, a link to reset your password has been sent to your email address. If you haven’t received it, please check in your spam folder and add to whitelist.

Create an account

Please provide your details to register.

You must be of legal drinking age to join.
Birthdates are not shared with others.
Your password must include at least one symbol and number and have at least 8 characters.

Check your email

A link to activate your account has been sent to your email address. If you haven’t received it, please check your spam folder and add it to whitelist.