On the Line / Patio Season / What is a Raw Bar?

What is a Raw Bar?

Learn about the history of and how to start a raw bar, as well as what kind of food and atmosphere this type of restaurant offers.

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A raw bar is a restaurant where raw oysters and seafood are sold. Learn about the history of and how to start a raw bar, as well as what kind of food and atmosphere this type of restaurant offers.

What is a Raw Bar?

A raw bar is a restaurant where raw oysters and other raw seafood are served. It is a specific type of seafood restaurant, primarily known for serving exotic, fresh seafood. Sometimes, a restaurant may have a raw bar inside it; meaning, the counter or bar in the restaurant is where the customer can order raw seafood. 

A restaurant may serve a menu of different cooked meals, but then have a raw bar where customers can get fresh oysters and other live shellfish shucked and served to order.

What is the history of Raw Bars?

Native Americans on the East and West coasts were known to consume large quantities of shellfish. In England, raw seafood was mainly consumed by wealthy people until the first oyster bar was created in the middle of the 17th century, which expanded access to such delicacies.

By the end of the 18th century, people were obsessed with eating oysters across the United States so much so that the supply was almost depleted in the Chesapeake Bay. The first raw bar opened in the United States in 1826 – the Union Oyster House in Boston, which allowed customers to watch the oyster shucking process and set a precedent for the raw bar experience.

What is typically on the menu at a Raw Bar?

The purpose of a raw bar is to serve fresh, raw, seafood delicacies. You can expect to see the following seafood items on the menu at a raw bar: raw oysters, mussels, clams, and shrimp and crab legs, usually by the bucket or in a buffet style. 

A raw bar also can offer sushi items, and different types of fish to order. Some raw bars may be a part of a larger restaurant, which would then offer a variety of cooked food dishes as well, usually fish and other meat or vegetable options.

How do you start a Raw Bar?

A raw bar would usually be considered a small restaurant concept, and to start one, you will first need to write a business plan. Other steps include finding a location, securing financing, and designing your food menu. You will also need to obtain a health department permit, a food handler’s license, and a food sales permit, among other steps.

Opening a raw bar requires keen attention to detail for following health and safety protocols. It’s very important that you follow food safety guidelines for setting up a raw bar because of the risks of consuming raw seafood. In fact, restaurants that serve raw food or have a raw bar need to follow the standards outlined by the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) which sets guidelines for food safety around the world. One of the main things you will have to consider is how you plan to maintain your seafood storage equipment at precise temperatures to avoid bacterial growth, and labeling or rotating foods to ensure older items are used in time or removed.

How much does it cost to start a Raw Bar?

The cost to open a raw bar will vary depending on your location and your access to fresh seafood. 

If you want to start a small, beachside raw bar, you might be able to afford to open a restaurant starting with an average investment of $95,000, keeping in mind that the square footage of your space will change the monthly rent costs, which average between $2,000 and $12,000. 

Since you are opening a raw bar, you’ll also need to factor in the fluctuating prices of seafood, which can add up. A single oyster can cost between $1 and $3, which can greatly impact your cost of goods.

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