The Comprehensive Guide to Bar Renovation & Design

If you’re an existing bar, nightclub or restaurant owner looking to increase your revenue or open additional locations, or if you’re a new operator considering opening a brand-new concept, Christine and Jerry Van Rooy have priceless advice for you. They shared this invaluable information during their 2017 Nightclub & Bar Show workshop in Las Vegas this past March. Christine and Jerry are the managing principal and design director, respectively, for VANROOY Design, an international firm that specializes in nightclub and bar design. VANROOY is headquartered in Southern California and integrates interior architecture and industrial design. The Van Rooys have 25 years’ experience in this field, 10 working in bars and 15 designing them for independent and international clients. The firm is known for growing brands in highly competitive markets, and they create 10 new concepts per year throughout the US and Canada, on average.

Those of you looking to renovate your bar, whether it’s to transform, update or revive your space, need to have clear goals in mind beyond “it’s expected after a few years.” The Van Rooys propose four solid renovation objectives for owners and operators to consider:

  • Increase revenue by 20% or more.
  • Increase efficiency, allowing for better service and a better guest experience.
  • Expand your reach by attracting more guests.
  • Crush the competition.


The design and build process by VANROOY Designs - The Comprehensive Guide to Renovation and Design
The design and build process according to VANROOY Designs.


Start Here

Renovation being the time-intensive undertaking that it is, we won’t be able to touch on every single aspect of this sort of project. However, we can give you the pushes in the right directions that you need, along with the Van Rooy’s best advice.

Before you can figure out where you want to go with your concept, you need to define it. What makes your idea unique? Who is your target clientele, and what experience do you want to offer them? What’s your price point, and who are you competing against to attract your target clientele and make them loyal to your concept? After you’ve given these questions serious thought and come up with your answers you’ll need to do your due diligence. Define your budget and timeframe, study up on and understand local ordinances and standards, code requirements, and agency submittals, and make certain you understand lease agreements and terms.

The next step is putting together your design team. You’re going to need several people on board to execute your renovation properly. You’ll need:

  • an architect,
  • an interior designer,
  • mechanical, structural, electrical, and plumbing engineers,
  • an equipment consultant/designer,
  • a lighting designer,
  • an audio/visual specialist,
  • an acoustic specialist,
  • and a graphic designer for your logo, menu, and signage designs.


Create your Experience

There are several terms and design elements you need to truly understand when it’s time to begin creating the experience you want to offer your guests. Some of them may be familiar, but are you prepared to dive in deep to really pull all the threads of your renovation’s design tight? VANROOY Design advises that you know the following:

  • Immersion – nail the details for all the senses: sound, smell, touch, taste, sight
  • Discovery – Give guests a reason to explore your space. If they can see everything from the front door what reason do they have to stay and spend money?
  • Uniqueness – A unique space eschews the expected. Design everything from table clusters to wall angles to ceiling heights in such a way that it affects the psychology of your guests in a positive way.
  • Backdrop – Create a cool, branded focal point inside your renovated space and guests will flock to pose, snap photos, and post about your new design. Can you hear that? It’s free publicity.
  • Continuity – This means ensuring that everything with which a guest interacts speaks the same design language. This includes menus, drink names, serveware, uniforms, and your website and social media channels.
  • Seating – Compared to much of your renovation, chairs and other seating is a fairly low-cost method of freshening your concept’s appearance and feel.
  • Restroom – The Van Rooys strongly recommend that you put some thought and energy into your restroom design. Not only is this an excellent way to surprise your guests and further deliver a memorable experience, it’s a design element savvy guests will notice.


The Design Deliverables

Of course, your design shouldn’t just live in your head, nor should it live solely in the head of your designer(s). How can you all be on the same page if you can’t all see the design and agree on every element? The following will really help you and your designed understand and communicate with one another:

  • An inspiration board. Compile a collection of photos to give the designer a visual foundation for your renovation expectations. Capture the color palette, brand elements, and your aesthetic.
  • A mood board, which is defined as “an arrangement of images, materials, pieces of text, etc., intended to evoke or project a particular style or concept.”
  • FF&E, or the furniture, fixtures and equipment choices. This should be outlined in your contract, and things to take into consideration are built-in equipment that requires mechanical or electrical connections (such as drink stations), built-in equipment that doesn’t require services such as mechanical or electrical connections (shelving, for example), stand-alone furniture and equipment that requires the aforementioned services (like drip-infusion equipment), and stand-alone furniture and equipment that doesn’t require services (this would mean things like your chairs and tables).
  • A detailed drawing of the proposed floorplan.
  • Full renderings of your layout.


Bar Function & Layout

Some of the best bar design ever given has come from Tobin Ellis of Barmagic. He has made it clear time and time again that you and your bartenders need to be an integral part of the actual design of your bar. Designers and engineers are certainly important to the design process, but so are those who actually work behind the bar. Bear that in mind and bring in your bar staff when it’s time to create your bar’s layout, and make certain you, your designers and your engineers understand building codes and requirements for bars and kitchens.

This is your chance, if you didn’t have it before, to really nail your bar’s efficiency. Get your bar staff’s input when deciding on the space between the front and back of the bar. Know how many POS system locations you’ll need. The same goes for wells. Know your storage, cooling lines, and power outlet requirements. While you’re at it, decide here and now if you’re going to provide your guests with power/USB outlets (Pro tip: Your answer should be yes), and how many you want built into your bar’s layout. Design your lighting and focal point, pay special attention to your back bar as it will be a space that draws your guests’ eyes, know whether or not you’ll have televisions, and know what’s trending in bar design and layout.


Lighting, Audio & Visual

Remember when I said that the Van Rooys recommend having a lighting designer, an audio/visual specialist, and an acoustic specialist as members of your design team? This is because all of those elements make a serious and measurable impact on your guests. Color temperature (yes, you need to understand and decide on this), lighting placement, and ambient and spot lighting can increase or decrease guest energy, affect guest mood and comfort, and make or break your design.

Details such as acoustic treatment (construction materials, acoustical absorbers, diffusors, sound barriers, isolation platforms, etc.) need to be understood and planned for in your design. Sight lines for things such as screens need to be accounted for, and those screens need to be branded with your logo. When it comes to audio, do you know that more smaller speakers placed properly with equal space between them is better than just installing a few large speakers? Learn about soundstage and imaging, and select the right audio/visual and acoustic specialists.



It’s important to know that a renovation will include American with Disabilities Act requirements, and those ADA requirements may affect your budget by tacking on an additional 20 percent. You also need to become familiar with all sorts of building codes, such as the International Building Code (IBC) and California Building Code (CBC). There are health and safety codes to know, conditional use permits to understand (be aware that a public hearing process is used to decide approval for such permits), and planning department approvals you’ll be seeking for exterior finishes and colors, patio designs, doors, and windows.


A Realistic Budget

The key word here is “realistic.” Creating your budget does no good if it isn’t a realistic representation of what you’re going to spend. It also does no good if your designer and/or builder doesn’t understand that it’s their responsibility to adhere to your budget. Trust me when I warn you that many designers and builders seem to view your budget as a starting point or rough outline. Stay on top of everyone you’re working with and make sure they’re sticking to your budget and timeframe. You’ve gone to all the trouble of saving your money, taking out a loan or loans, coming up with a design, and setting a timeframe and deadline. Do you know what it will do to your business to come in over budget and past deadline?

The Van Rooys advise the following when creating your budget:

  1. Base your budget on an ROI study. Complete the study before discussing the scope of your design, and understand your cost per square foot, which can be affected by location, labor costs, and the scope. Know that, generally speaking, dining outlays cost between $150 and $300 per square feet, and a new kitchen will run you between $300 and $500 per square foot. Using an existing kitchen space will reduce your construction costs dramatically, but you’ll need to budget for refurbishing items like range hoods and ducting in order to comply with building codes.
  2. Come up with your design development budget, which is the breakdown of your overall project budget into line item categories. Design your project elements based on allotted line item costs.
  3. Create your construction budget. This budget will consist of soft costs (architectural and structural), hard costs (demolition, framing, electrical, plumbing, etc.) and FF&E (seating, lighting, equipment, etc.). per the Van Rooys, during this phase you’ll need to make sure you adjust the line items from step two as needed while keeping the overall budget intact without changing the bottom line.
  4. Calculate what funds you’ll need to stay healthy during opening, and also calculate what you’ll need for a 6-month cushion after opening.
  5. Assume that 20% of your budget will go towards unforeseen issues and plan accordingly.

The key to making a renovation as painless as possible is planning. However, your plan must be realistic, comprehensive, and include the right team. The Van Rooy’s advice can also be applied to a new bar, nightclub or restaurant buildout. We can’t wait to see all of your designs, so share them with us through social media!