If you want to start a successful mobile bar business here is what you need to know…..
Events and festivals are everywhere these days and you can get pretty much any sort of street food from around the world. There is also a big demand for mobile bars, which is now much a part of the event as the food trucks, food stalls and bands.
So you may be wondering…. “How to start a mobile alcohol truck?” Well, the basics you will need to start a mobile bar are, a truck or mobile bar, cold storage, glassware, a Temporary Events Notice, a Personal Alcohol License and a good drinks list.
However, things can get a bit confusing when it comes to alcohol licenses. In this article, I will, therefore, explain in more detail, the steps you need to take to start a mobile bar business.
Just like any type of mobile food or catering business, you will need to decide what you intend to sell your alcohol from. Will it be a mobile alcohol truck, a trailer, a horsebox or a mobile bar under a pop-up gazebo?
Mobile Alcohol truck
- Looks more professional and visually appealing
- Easy to set up (you just roll up and start serving)
- Can be expensive to buy
- Space can be limited
- Secure off-road storage is needed
- Is significantly cheaper to buy
- Can offer more space
- Easy to store when flat-packed
- Not as professional as a mobile alcohol truck
- Takes time to set -up
If you go for the mobile bar option then you will need transport to move your equipment to and from events.
Starting out you can either hire a van to avoid the upfront costs of buying a van outright or get a second-hand one for around $2000 – $4000.
You can probably get away with a small to a medium van at the beginning, but as your equipment list grows so will your logistical needs.
If you have the money to get a brand-new van, you might as well for the mobile alcohol truck.
You will also need a gazebo if you go for the mobile bar option (some event organisers do provide them). They come in a number of different sizes, 2.5m x 2.5m /3m x 3 m/4 m x 8m.
I would suggest the 3m x 3m industrial-grade gazebo as this is the average size pitch for events. The pitch fee at festivals and markets is also dependent on the size of your stall.
I’ve written an in-depth review of the 6 best gazebos for market stalls
you might find useful. All of the gazebos I talk about there are suitable for mobile alcohol bars.
Whether you choose a mobile truck or bar you are going to need storage for all your equipment and/or truck. This could be a garage at home, one that you rent, or secure off-road parking for your alcohol truck.
So you have chosen your set-up, now you have to decide where you want to sell alcohol from your mobile bar. There are quite a number of events you can do this.
- Weekend Markets
- Corporate functions
- Product launches
- Christmas parties
You need to keep your alcohol cold. This is particularly important when you are trading over the summer on hot days and when you anticipate busy periods and will need surplus stock. There is nothing worse than running out when people are still thirsty!
Portable cool boxes for cold storage are handy and come in a variety of sizes, from around 30 liters up to cool chests of 120 liters. A mid-sized cool box is probably suitable at the beginning.
You can also go with fridges if you have your own generator or there is power onsite.
Here is a review I did of some of the best cool boxes suitable for mobile alcohol bars.
If you intend to sell drinks such as Cocktails or Prosecco, you are going to need some eye-catching glassware.
And depending on the type of event, you will have to consider whether to use glass or plastic. For example, a wedding or corporate event has different dynamics from a festival or an outdoor market.
You need running warm water and a separate area for handwashing and utensils by law in the UK (check your local laws if outside the UK).
You can get mobile hand washing units which you fill with hot water and stay warm for a period of hours.
You can also go for a pop-up sink, with an electric pump and kettle if you want something a bit more extensive.
Mobile alcohol license (UK)
A common question among people looking to start a mobile bar business is “Do I need a license for a mobile bar?”.
And the answer is a resounding yes! To sell alcohol from a mobile bar in the UK you will need a mobile alcohol license called a Temporary Events Notice (TEN).
Need to know:
- You will need a TEN for each event and can get up to 5 per year.
- You can get up to 50 TENs per year if you have a personal alcohol license.
- There must be under 500 people at each event and lasts no more than 168 hours or 7 days
- You must be over 18 to apply for a TEN
- You must contact the local authority the event is being held to apply for a TEN
How to get a Personal Alcohol License.
To get a personal alcohol license you will need to do the following:
- Must be aged 18 years or over
- Hold a relevant licensing qualification – for example, a BIIAB or CIEH Level 2 Award or a similar accredited qualification.
Here is a link to the GOV.UK website of the list of Accredited qualification providers: personal license to sell alcohol. All of the qualification providers are accredited by the Home Office
The aim of the qualification is to ensure that license holders are aware of licensing law and the wider social responsibilities involved in the sale of alcohol.
Once you receive this qualification you can then apply for a personal alcohol license.
For more information go to the GOV.UK website.
Insurance and registration
Aside from a temporary events notice and personal alcohol license, you will also need the following:
- Public Liability insurance – This covers you for any claims against your business.
- Register with your local Council – As a new business you will have to register with your local council.
- Register with HMRC (UK)– You need to do this for tax purposes and can do so either on a self-employed basis or as a Limited company.
Mobile Liquor license (US)
Getting a mobile alcohol license in the US is a bit more complicated than in the UK and local liquor laws differ from state to state and as such you need to be compliant in each jurisdiction.
Need to know:
- In order to serve and sell alcohol, an Alcohol Beverage Control certification must be obtained. This is a course that provides training on the legislation around the sale, consumption and risks associated with alcohol.
- Each state has its own Alcohol Beverage Control board (ABC) which you will need to contact in order to understand the local state alcohol laws.
- You must be 21 or over to obtain an alcohol license.
Here is a link to the alcohol boards of each state in the US and Puerto Rico
How Much Does an Alcohol Beverage Control certification cost?
An Alcohol license can range from $300 up to $14000 depending on the state you are applying.
Mobile bar ideas
One of the benefits of starting a mobile bar or liquor truck is, that not only does it take less equipment to run your operation, but the types of alcohol and drinks you can experiment with are also pretty endless…
If you are looking to make this into a serious business then having a website and digital marketing plan will take you to the next level.
It makes you look professional, helps you connect to the public and other businesses, and can help to bring in some serious revenue.
Essential online platforms:
- Website (I use Wix)
- An Instagram page
- A Facebook page
- Event platforms
- Wedding suppliers
How much does it cost to start a mobile bar?
The cost of starting a mobile bar will differ depending on the set-up you choose.
Mobile alcohol truck/trailer/horsebox
An alcohol truck, trailer, or horsebox can range anything between $10k for a low-end smaller type van, and up to $100k for a top-end high-spec trailer.
A mobile bar under a gazebo
You can get a custom-made mobile bar, industrial gazebo, and van to transport the equipment for under $5000. This is probably the best option if start-up funds are low.
How much does an alcohol license cost?
- Temporary Events Notice = £21 per notice.
- Personal Alcohol License = £37
- BIIAB or CIEH Level 2 Award (needed before you can apply for a Personal Alcohol License) = £69- £170 for a 1-day course.
Are mobile bars profitable?
The short answer is definitely yes! Alcohol is hugely popular all year round at a range of events. And you are looking at a 50-70% profit margin per unit.
Benefits of a mobile bar business
- Alcohol lasts for a long time so unused stock going to waste (like with food) is less of an issue.
- There is very little preparation involved, (food trucks have to do a lot of prep).
- Alcohol can be sold all year round and is not affected by seasonality. Think summer festivals to Xmas parties.