The basics of a mobile bar business | F&B Report

OCTOBER 27, 2022

Photos courtesy of Fete Mobile Bar

You don’t need to be a fortune teller to know that the future of business looks bleak. But with all the talk revolving around survival, opportunities in the F&B industry may still abound.

Mobile bar businesses, which may require thorough evaluation post-COVID-19, is a daring way to mix things up. It’s a venture that, for all its bells and whistles, literally brings any gathering to life.

In a nutshell, the business of booze has a problem of perception—what with the effects of unrestrained consumption of the psychoactive beverage on society—but when done correctly with smart policies and moderate drinking behaviors, the rewards could keep the risks at bay.

These days, even if the pitch to start—or restart—a beverage business in the socially distant future is akin to a shot in the dark, there is still incentive for a market that has wallowed in confined spaces, periods of self-isolation and a (justified) liquor ban. Searching for a change of scene without leaving the comforts of home could be one adjustment in consumer behavior that can be expected.

It’s a telling and motivating factor for when society transitions to the next normal. So how do you build a moveable beverage business from the ground up? As someone who has been at it for almost two years now, Fête Mobile Bar founder Patrick Cuartero can help turn your beer budget into a champagne reality—without condoning excessive drinking of course.

His premium mobile bar service was established in June 2018 to cater to events at any venue across Metro Manila. He’s also spent some time sculpting a partnership with The Blue Leaf event spaces “to come up with this brand that we knew would have a greater reach,” says Cuartero.

All soft power potential and atmosphere recreation in a mobile investment, here are suggestions from Cuartero himself on where you can begin.

First off, how do you acquire an alcohol permit for an essential mobile business? Is it the same permit as any establishment serving alcohol? 

Essentially, that’s what we did.  Based on our ‘official business address.’

What’s a ballpark figure for starting this type of business?

It depends on the type of mobile bar you’re looking to build [whether] high-end or low-end [like a lot of mobile bars]. It can range from P15,000 (all in to do an event, including staffing) all the way to ours, which might be P30,000 to P40,000 per mobile bar built.  

When it comes to financial projections, what should they cover exactly?

In terms of operating expenses:

  1. Staffing for bartenders can be on call
  2. A place to store equipment and mobile bars
  3. Transportation to get to and from (but it can even be something like Lalamove)

You’ll need an initial inventory and that depends on your type of cocktails and drinks as well as the number of persons for your first event. You can probably start an inexpensive one at P3,000 to P4,000 inventory for a small event. We use premium spirits and do cocktails properly so the inventory value is a bit higher.

Lastly, you’ll need bartending equipment and an actual mobile bar. Bartending equipment can be purchased from SM and Drinkka (the Bevtools line, which most professionals use). You’ll realize economies of scale with larger events and with more events that you cater to—cost of goods decreases as you go.

What’s a ballpark figure for starting this type of business? It depends on the type of mobile bar you’re looking to build. It can range from P15,000 (all in to do an event, including staffing) all the way to P30,000 to P40,000 per mobile bar built.  

Aside from transportation, what other equipment do you need?

Mobile bar, glassware, bartending equipment (depending on your needs and menu and something to store ice with).

Where do you get alcohol? And what’s the ratio in terms of variety of alcohol types? 

We have a variety of suppliers, but mostly we get our alcohol from Drinkka. They deliver quickly and have everything we need. The alcohol types depend on your menu, but we like to have something for everyone. 

How did you approach your drinks menu? Or you can personalize it based on what the client needs?

We approach our drinks menu with the proper cocktail recipes in mind (again, the way our cocktail bars would do them), but we choose cocktails on whether or not we can serve them in volume. For example, we would not use a smoke gun or use bacon fat-washed bourbon in our cocktails. We go after the simple, classic recipes that many can enjoy. We use different types of spirits so there’s something for everyone—like rum cocktails (daiquiri) and whiskey cocktails (old fashioned). And yes, we can personalize the menu. It’s something we offer so the client feels like they’re making great choices… it’s similar to booking a catering service for meals in this regard.

How do you “keep your clients?”

Quality of product, training of bartenders, and a consultative approach.

A mobile bar brings any gathering to life
Two of their bartenders in the past have been Diageo World Class PH Bartenders of the Year

Why do you think branding is so important in this business? 

In a sea full of mobile bars, it’s imperative that we are top of mind anytime an event is being planned. Branding gives us life and gives someone something with which to associate themselves. ‘I hired some mobile bar’ is very different from “’I hired Fete, and their cocktails and service were amazing!’

Any other tips for entrepreneurs looking to start a mobile bar business? 

  1. Just start.
  2. Understand it is a very saturated market, so come up with a way to differentiate yourself.
  3. Everyone can make a cocktail but not everyone can create great experiences.
  4. Margins are thin, so be prepared to optimize everywhere you can. 
  5. Logistics shouldn’t have to be difficult if everything is packed and catalogued properly. Lalamove and Transportify will always be there to help (if in a pinch).
  6. Find a solid partner to work with.
  7. Understand your target market and address their needs aggressively.
  8. Brand your business accordingly.
  9. Keep your clients. If they have a great experience the first time, there’s no reason to sign up with anyone else.
  10. Professionalism to the client and to the client’s guests is a must.
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