Opening a Rooftop Bar: The Ins and Outs of Expanding Up

While a patio bar or dining area can drive revenue and draw diners to your restaurant, sometimes—especially in urban settings—there's simply no space for expansion. If you're set on growing your service area, but you have no horizontal space at your disposal, you should consider opening a rooftop bar. This is a more complicated process than simply setting out chairs on a sidewalk patio, so make sure you understand what you're getting into. Here's what you should keep in mind.

Knowing the Physical Challenges

You may think of your building's rooftop as an untapped, potentially profitable space, but first and foremost, it's a physical structure with sharply defined limitations you'll need to address. Here are some physical challenges to be aware of:

Bearing the Load

In most cases, a roof is designed to only hold up under its own weight, and that of the building's heating and ventilation systems. Before you can think seriously about adding a bar to your roof and setting up tables, you'll need to reinforce the roof to support the additional weight of those fixtures, as well as the weight of your staff and diners.

Physical Access

Providing access to the roof can also be problematic. You may need to extend existing stairways and elevators, or install new ones, to allow easy access for guests and service staff.

Managing Your Climate

Your rooftop only generates revenue when it's open, so carefully plan how you'll use it. An enclosed or semi-enclosed space keeps out rain, snow, and frigid winds, and can make your rooftop an attractive option for most of the year. On the other hand, this addition will drive up your construction costs (and heating can be a significant factor in the colder months). While opting for an open space is less costly, it's also potentially less rewarding.

Getting the Permissions

Aside from the physical issues involved in opening a rooftop bar, there are many administrative and regulatory factors as well. Here are a few things to know:

Leasing vs. Owning

Unless you own your building, you'll need to negotiate with your landlord before you start planning. This includes getting permission to carry out the construction, and renegotiating your lease to reflect the changes in your space. You might even be able to work out a cost-sharing agreement to help with the expense of the upgrades, which can benefit your landlord directly.

Permits and Inspections

You'll typically need to get one or more permits before you can move forward with construction. Specialized installations, such as gas, elevators, or kitchen equipment, may require separate permits and inspections before your new space can be opened to the public.

Your Liquor License

Depending on your jurisdiction, you might need to purchase an additional or upgraded liquor license for the rooftop bar. If you don't currently have a liquor license, but plan to add one in conjunction with the rooftop bar, be aware that this is a major process in itself.

Visualizing the Space

A final set of decisions revolves around how you'll design and use the area on your rooftop. These decisions can be affected by both your physical location and your regulatory environment, so be prepared to work through the planning stages. Here are some things to consider when designing your new rooftop space:

Accentuate the Positive

Does your roof overlook any scenic vistas or points of interest? Are there any striking architectural features about your building (or those nearby), or funky old-school signage? You can use these positives to make your rooftop space stand out and feel inviting.

Define Your Usage

Your rooftop can function as an extra dining room, a roomier bar, a dance-centric club, or as a space for events that are too large to fit indoors. Your intended use will dictate some of your construction decisions, and it may also have an impact on the approval process. You can expect more pushback from residential neighbors if your plans include a hefty sound system.

Define Your Demographic and Style

Your outdoor space can either complement or extend your brand, depending on how you use it. If your restaurant's theme is casual elegance, for example, you could opt for a lighter, airier version of the same style to reinforce your appeal. You could also try creating a brighter, more casual theme to help draw in a younger demographic. Be sure to consider your market and existing clientele when deciding on an approach.

If you're thinking about opening a rooftop bar, take all of these considerations seriously. With the right planning and execution, your business could benefit greatly from this new space.

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