Kava Bar 101

First off, the simple action of serving Kava does not make a real Kava Bar. To be a real Kava Bar not only do you need to serve Kava but you will also need to create the social ambiance. A true Kava Bar is a place where everyone can experience the magic of Kava together.

A few existing business types work better than others for adding a Kava Bar to, or transforming into a Kava Bar. Some are listed below in (typical) ease of transition:

  • A small restaurant, coffee and/or tea shop, smoothie, or ice cream business is perhaps the easiest to transform.  The major undertaking with these business types will usually be changing the décor to reflect a South Pacific ambiance. Expanding the bar seating area if a good amount does not already exist and perhaps a name change if you want a dramatic break from your previous business persona.  Typically these businesses’ existing state and local licenses will adequately cover Kava Bar operations.
  • An alcohol bar that is not doing well or wants to change for some other reason will typically require the least physical change to the establishment’s structure, the main alteration would be decorations and training of staff. Additionally, the business’s liquor license can be sold for a substantial amount of capital some portion of which can be used in remodeling expenses. If this type of business was not serving food, a restaurant of coffee shop license may be required by local authorities.
  • Other businesses that may not have the appropriate local licenses and food facilities but may already have the deco and ambiance, such as book store, vape shop, or hookah bar would need to add appropriate staff hand washing sinks and a serving area if not already extant, and a coffee/smoothie shop type license. Add “Kava Bar” to the business name and you’re on your way.


  You should always check with your local municipality, county/parish, and state to determine your exact permitting requirements. While most places in the U.S. are similar, every place differs slightly in the details. 

For those that are starting a business de novo, you have a few options. For example, you can start with and empty space and build your Kava Bar from scratch. The advantage is that you can build it the way you want to build it but the costs for carpenters, plumbers, electricians, and building permits can add up fast.

Perhaps the simpler strategy is to look at vacant properties that were formerly restaurants, coffee shops, or bars. Most of these will already have the kitchen/food/drink handling facilities that you’ll need and they will almost certainly be in areas already zoned for restaurant/coffee shop operations under which Kava Bars typically fall.

Below are the suggested minimum requirements for a successful Kava Bar.

  • A bar with a 3-compartment sink and a hand wash sink. If you have a kitchen with a 3-compartment sink this may suffice for the entire establishment but be sure to check your local codes to be sure. However, each serving area will require its own hand washing sink regardless.
  • An indoor or outdoor seating area, preferably both. Outdoor seating is typically preferred by Kava Bar customers in areas of mild climate, so don’t neglect it.
  • Obtain a license for coffee shop or smoothie bar. Unless you plan on serving food prepared on premises you typically will not need a restaurant license. Restaurant licenses are usually far more complicated and expensive than coffee and/or smoothie licenses and they require a full kitchen
  • An occupational license and a fire inspection is required in most areas. As noted above, always check with your local municipality, county/parish, and state for exact permitting and inspection requirements.

Below are the most important points to remember for a successful Kava Bar:

  • You can sell many kinds of non-alcoholic drinks but do not lose your focus. Keep Kava your premier drink, otherwise why open a Kava Bar? Some Kava Bars want to offer beer, wine, or even liquor but a real Kava Bar is alcohol free and a true alternative to regular bars.
  • Create and maintain a welcoming, inclusive, ambiance. This is the most important aspect of a real Kava Bar! Try to make all of your customers feel like your Kava Bar is a home away from home.  A true Kava Bar is a place where people from all walks of life can come together and enjoy themselves.
  • Attentive, patient, and well spoken wait staff is imperative. It takes time and energy to explain Kava to a customer who may have never even heard of it before.  Kava Bars are unlike anything else, the owner/manager and the staff must have a firm understanding of the Kava and the history surrounding it.
  • You are of course free to make your own rules, thus far there are no regulations as to the age that people may drink Kava. That being said we highly recommend that you only serve Kava to patrons 18 years of age and older unless a parent or legal guardian is present and gives permission.
  • Always remember that a Kava Bar should be family and pet friendly.
  • Keep the ambiance mellow with low lighting, soft music, perhaps a small open fire, (if surroundings permit.) You want to provide an environment that helps your customers relax and enjoy the Kava’s effect.
  • Your customers should love to linger for hours in your Kava Bar because it is a relaxed and friendly environment. Offer a variety of games that encourage people to interact. A Kava Bar should be a place for people to connect with each other, to form that extended family or tribe that is so often missing in modern life. It is a tribe that you and your customers create and it will be the client base that keeps your business afloat through thick and thin.
  • Your Kava Bar should be open every day. Most Kava Bars operate from noon to midnight Sunday through Wednesday and then from noon to 2:00 a.m. Thursday through Saturday. According to your own judgment you might be closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Days.
  • Organize events once or twice a month such as live music, comedy, or any manner of social or cultural event that you feel matches your client base.
  • Weekly you should schedule things such as lady’s nights, open mike nights, or acoustic jam sessions. Try to get a feel for the sorts of things that are popular with your client base and surrounding neighborhoods.
  • Social media is everywhere and everything these days. Stay connected to your customers through Twitter, Facebook, Google+, etc.. Offer specials to customers that “like” or “follow” your page/site.
  • Word of mouth advertising is the very best strategy for the Kava Bar. Radio and newspaper adds are not cost effective because at this time advertising a Kava Bar is difficult via normal media a routes. One day, perhaps very soon, Kava will enter the main stream consciousness but until then your best advertising is targeted advertising.
  • Offer more than one kind of Kava on your menu as well as a variety of teas, fruit juices, and smoothies. Prepackaged food is simplest and you do not require a restaurant license to serve it.

Like any other business location is extremely important for the successful Kava Bar. You shouldn’t locate your Kava Bar right next to a bar serving alcohol. A place that has good accessibility but is slightly off the beaten path often works best. The demographics of the surrounding area are very important. Near universities is good and places where the median age skews towards people in their twenties and thirties will do well. Younger people tend to accept new things more readily but do not discount the possibility of older customers.

Finally, visit as many Kava Bars as you can and spend an evening observing both staff and customers and remember your observations. Their are many Kava Bars in existence that are doing a very good job. Don’t be afraid of competition, more Kava Bars often means more customers overall.