start an activity bar

How to Start An Successful Activity Bar in the UK

Kurt GraverBusiness Start-up Advice, Business Start-up Guides

The UK social activity bar market consists of establishments that combine traditional bar and pub elements with various recreational activities, such as pool tables, dartboards, arcade games, and other entertainment options. These establishments cater to a wide demographic, attracting patrons looking for a casual night out, group gatherings, and corporate events. The market has seen an increasing number of new entrants, offering innovative and immersive experiences to differentiate themselves from competitors.

The social activity bar market in the UK has experienced steady growth in recent years. In 2022, the market was valued at approximately £1.2 billion, with an estimated compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.5% between 2018 and 2022. This growth is primarily attributed to the increased demand for experiential entertainment and a renewed focus on social activities following the easing of COVID-19 restrictions.

Research and choose your niche

Before you start, it’s essential to research the market and identify your target audience. Look for gaps in the market or underserved areas where you can introduce a new, exciting activity bar concept. Consider what activities are popular in your area or demographic, and decide if you want to focus on a specific theme or offer various entertainment options.

The location of your activity bar can significantly impact its success. Choose an area with high foot traffic, good visibility, and easy accessibility. Be sure to consider the demographics of the area and the proximity to competitors. Remember to have sufficient space for your chosen activities and a bar, seating, and storage areas.

An activity bar’s success is often determined by more than just its entertainment options. Ensuring a fantastic customer experience requires attention to food and drink and integrating new technology. In this section, we’ll discuss creating a memorable and innovative food and drink menu and incorporating the latest technology to enhance your customers’ experience.

Food and Drink Options

  1. Rather than offering an extensive menu, focus on a carefully curated selection of dishes that complement your activity bar’s theme and atmosphere. Choose items that are easy to prepare, serve, and consume while patrons enjoy the various activities. This approach will simplify your kitchen operations and reduce waste.
  2. Develop signature dishes that set your activity bar apart from competitors. For example, if your establishment has a retro arcade theme, offer nostalgic treats like gourmet hot dogs or inventive milkshakes. If your bar is centred around sports, serve elevated versions of classic pub fare like gourmet burgers or artisanal pizza.
  3. Encourage a social atmosphere by offering shareable plates like tapas-style dishes or appetisers platters. This approach not only fosters conversation and interaction among patrons but also allows customers to sample a variety of flavours and textures.
  4. Incorporate locally sourced ingredients into your menu whenever possible. This will showcase regional flavours, support local suppliers, and reduce your establishment’s carbon footprint.
  5. Craft a drinks menu that complements your food offerings and enhances the overall experience. To cater to diverse preferences, offer a range of beverages, including craft beers, signature cocktails, and non-alcoholic options. Consider collaborating with local breweries or distilleries to provide unique, locally produced beverages.

New Technology

  1. Implement digital ordering and payment systems to streamline your service and reduce wait times. This technology allows customers to order food and drinks from tablets or smartphones, enabling your staff to focus on providing excellent service.
  2. Install interactive touchscreens at tables or activity stations to provide information about your activities, promotions, and events. These screens can also display leaderboards, offer tutorials, or facilitate multiplayer gaming experiences.
  3. Incorporate virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR) experiences into your activity bar to offer cutting-edge entertainment options. VR gaming stations, for example, can provide an immersive experience that sets your establishment apart from traditional activity bars.
  4. Use technology to encourage engagement and build a strong online presence. Install photo booths with custom filters or create unique branded hashtags to encourage customers to share their experiences at your activity bar on social media platforms.
  5. Integrate smart lighting and sound systems to create a dynamic atmosphere easily customised for different events or times of the day. For instance, use colour-changing LED lights to transform the space and create different moods, or invest in a high-quality sound system to provide an immersive audio experience.

Secure necessary licences and permits

You’ll need various licences and permits to operate an activity bar in the UK. These may include an alcohol licence, entertainment licence, and planning permission for any structural alterations to the building. Consult with your local authority to comply with all relevant regulations and health and safety requirements.

Your activity bar’s interior design and atmosphere play a significant role in attracting and retaining customers. Work with an interior designer or architect to create a visually appealing and functional space that reflects your chosen theme and activities. Invest in high-quality equipment and furnishings to ensure your patrons a comfortable and enjoyable experience.

Funding Your Activity Bar

Starting an activity bar requires a significant financial investment to cover location, renovations, equipment, inventory, and initial operating expenses. Acquiring the necessary funds can be challenging, but several options are available to aspiring entrepreneurs. This guide will explore various funding sources to help you bring your activity bar concept to life.

Personal savings and assets

Personal savings or liquidating assets can be the simplest way to finance your activity bar. This approach lets you control your business fully, avoiding interest payments or sharing profits. However, it’s essential to carefully assess the risks involved and ensure you have a solid financial backup plan in case the business faces difficulties.

Friends and family

Borrowing from friends or family members can be another option to fund your activity bar. If you choose this route, ensure you have a formal loan agreement to prevent misunderstandings and maintain healthy relationships. Be honest about the risks involved and ensure your loved ones understand the nature of the investment.

Bank loans

Traditional bank loans are a common source of funding for small businesses. You’ll need a well-developed business plan, a good credit score, and collateral to qualify for a loan. Banks typically offer lower interest rates than alternative lenders, but the application process can be more time-consuming and stringent.

Startup Loans

In the UK, the Start-Up Loans Scheme, a subsidiary of the British Business Bank, offers government-backed loans for new businesses. These loans typically have lower interest rates and longer repayment than traditional bank loans. You’ll need a solid business plan and a good credit history to qualify.


Online crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter, Indiegogo, or Crowdcube allow entrepreneurs to raise funds from many people in exchange for rewards, equity, or debt. This approach helps you secure financing, validates your concept, and builds a customer base. To succeed with crowdfunding, you’ll need a compelling pitch, attractive rewards, and a robust marketing strategy.

Angel investors

Angel investors provide capital to start-ups in exchange for equity or convertible debt. They often have experience in your industry and can offer valuable guidance and mentorship. You’ll need a solid business plan, a strong management team, and a clear path to profitability to attract angel investors.

Venture capital

In exchange for equity, venture capital firms invest in early-stage companies with high growth potential. This option is typically more suitable for businesses with a proven track record and a scalable concept. Securing venture capital can be highly competitive, and you may need to relinquish some control over your business.

Grants and competitions

Look for grants or business competitions that fund start-ups in your industry or region. Government agencies, non-profit organisations, or corporations may sponsor these opportunities. Winning a grant or competition can provide much-needed capital and credibility, but the application process can be time consuming and competitive.

Develop a Marketing Strategy

Effective marketing is key to attracting customers and building a reputation for your activity bar. Use online and offline marketing strategies, such as social media, targeted advertising, local partnerships, and event promotions. Consider hosting a grand opening event to generate buzz and showcase your unique offerings.

Hire and Train Staff

Your staff will be the face of your activity bar, so hiring friendly, experienced, and knowledgeable employees is crucial. Invest in training and development to ensure they are well-versed in your activities, safety procedures, and customer service standards. A well-trained staff will help create a positive atmosphere and encourage repeat business.


In summary, the UK social activity bar market has evolved into a diverse and competitive landscape, with establishments offering a unique blend of traditional bar experiences and engaging recreational activities. As the sector continues to grow, the importance of innovation and immersive experiences cannot be overstated. New entrants and established venues must remain agile and adaptive to consumer demands and emerging trends, ensuring they offer a memorable experience that appeals to a wide range of patrons, from casual visitors to group events and corporate gatherings.

The key to success in this market lies in understanding your target audience and offering tailored entertainment options that resonate with their preferences. Combining this with high-quality food and drinks, exceptional service, and a welcoming atmosphere will help create a loyal customer base and drive repeat business. Furthermore, embracing new technologies and exploring the possibilities of virtual and augmented reality can help elevate the customer experience and set your establishment apart from competitors.

As the UK social activity bar market continues to flourish, opportunities abound for entrepreneurs and existing operators to capitalise on this growth. By staying ahead of industry trends, fostering a culture of innovation, and delivering an exceptional customer experience, your activity bar can thrive and become a staple destination for entertainment-seekers across the UK.

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