Iowa is the Best Place to Open a Bar and Grill

December 2023

If you’re looking for a restauranteer’s heaven, it may be time to look in Iowa!

All Field of Dreams references aside, Iowa is the prime location for new restaurants in 2024 and beyond. An exceptionally business-friendly climate, economic advantages, and the inherent suitability of the Midwest combine to make Iowa a destination for investors looking to open a bar and grill.

Iowa is Open for Business

Iowa is an incredibly friendly state to businessowners. Iowa ranks highly in business-friendliness lists every year, and the state itself says “Iowa benefit[s] from a business-friendly state government, technology transfer from world-renowned research universities, a skilled and productive labor pool and a centralized geographical location.”

Iowa Stands Up for the Restaurant Industry

This business-friendly climate is the result of dedicated work by lawmakers and industry leaders, who advocate for Iowa’s restaurant industry and the thousands of Iowans it employs. The Iowa Restaurant Association is just one such group, providing support for restaurant owners and advocating for legislation that makes opening a restaurant in Iowa easier than ever.

Bar and Grill-Friendly Legislation in Iowa

Iowa has seen a slew of restaurant-friendly legislation in the past few years. Restaurants are protected from third-party delivery services scraping menus and branding, requiring an agreement between restaurants and delivery services to use restaurant’s branding. The legislation also ensures food is kept at a safe temperature, and delivered in a smoke-free, pet-free vehicle to maintain restaurants’ high standards.

Outdated liquor license standards have been relaxed, lowering fees, making it easier to restock, and easing staffing issues. The COVID-era allowance of cocktails to go has also been enshrined in law, allowing carryout orders to include mixed drinks. For a bar and grill franchise like Barrel House, these welcome changes have been a big relief!

Barrel House is an Iowa Restaurant Expert

Opening a restaurant in Iowa is even easier with Barrel House – after all, this is where we started! The first Barrel House bar and grill location in Davenport, Iowa quickly became a community staple, spreading throughout the region and expanding across the river into Illinois and beyond. This means our team isn’t just familiar with the general process of setting up a new business here. We know exactly what it takes for a restaurant to survive and thrive in the great state of Iowa – and we’ll pass that knowledge on to our franchisees during the hands-on training and ongoing support that we pride ourselves in.

Iowa Lowers the Cost of Opening a Bar and Grill

Two people go over the finances for their Iowa bar and grillIowa’s cost of living and doing business are simply lower than just about anywhere else. It has the second-lowest cost of doing business in the country – that’s a tough statistic to argue with!

Building a Restaurant for Less in Iowa

There are a lot of factors that help Iowa’s business costs stay so competitive. Some make it easier to open a bar and grill in Iowa than just about anywhere else. For example, construction costs are 15% lower than the national average, which is a huge advantage for our franchisees.

Local property tax incentives can vary by the area where your Barrel House location opens, but the state of Iowa provides generous incentives for businesses – cutting the cost of your initial investment and allowing you to spend on building a restaurant that lasts.

Lower Costs for More Longevity

Other savings make it easier to keep the doors open and the lights on well beyond the grand opening. Iowa’s cost of electricity is 30% below the national average. While food costs continue to rise, Iowa’s remain the sixth-lowest in the country. And Iowa businesses, on average, save 15% over the national average on the cost of employees’ health insurance.

The overall cost of doing business in Iowa isn’t just an advantage in starting a business – the savings stack up over the years, making this tough industry more hospitable in Iowa than just about anywhere else.

Iowa’s Low Cost of Living Helps with Restaurant Staffing

It’s no secret that one of the restaurant industry’s greatest challenges is retaining well-trained staff. But Iowa has a few advantages for workers that make it easier for Iowa restaurant owners to retain and reward great workers – for less.

The value of a dollar in Iowa is the 10th highest in the nation, and median house cost is the 9th lowest. $100 goes further in Iowa than in Midwest neighbors like Illinois, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Put simply, every dollar you pay employees in Iowa goes further than it would elsewhere – up to 30% further than it would in New York, for example!

Iowa’s minimum wage laws also allow you to staff your restaurant competitively. With untipped wages at the federal minimum, tipped wages at $4.35, and the option to pay a lower ‘training wage’ for the first 90 days of employment, employee wages are lower in Iowa to reflect that lower cost of living – and anything you provide over that minimum goes further as a result.

Midwest is Best (for Restaurant Owners)

The phrase “Midwest is Best” gets a lot of play in these parts, but anyone who’s spent time here knows it’s true!

Open a Bar and Grill with Comfort Food in Iowa

Fried portabella mushrooms with dipping sauce - Iowa Bar and GrillBarrel House’s menu of upscale comfort food and great drinks is a perfect fit for Iowa. After all, it’s Iowa’s tastes that helped us refine our business model in the first place! And comfort food has been a huge trend in the restaurant industry lately, making it an even better fit for a new restaurant in Iowa.

Iowans’ love of comfort food is the stuff of legends, just as you’d expect for a state whose fair boasts a cow made of butter every year. Barrel House’s menu is perfectly suited for Midwest diners, making this the ideal location to open your franchise.

The Midwest Appreciates a Good Beer

As a bar and grill franchise, Barrel House is right at home in the Midwest. The region drinks the most beer per capita, making it the perfect locale for a new watering hole. Iowa just missed the top ten list for consumption of beer per capita, coming in at 11th, but don’t let that fool you – Iowans are right at home in a bar.

Iowa’s craft beer industry is booming, with double-digit growth year over year, making up over $1 billion in economic impact in 2021 alone. There are 115 breweries in Iowa and growing, all creating new and exciting craft beers to satisfy Iowa’s aficionados.

This is great news for Iowa bars and grills like Barrel House. Our unique franchise approach means we help each new location integrate into its community – including a rotating selection of locally-produced craft beers. This means a new Barrel House location in Iowa can benefit from the meteoric rise in craft beer popularity by supplying local favorites to diners – a win for the restaurants and breweries alike.

Midwest Nice is Real

The concept of “midwest niceness” is often a joke, but it’s real. It’s tough to measure ‘niceness,’ but no matter how you cut it – by volunteer hours, friendliness, or likelihood to greet folks in an elevator or apologize when cutting by in a grocery store aisle – the Midwest is just full of nice people.

Admittedly, it’s harder to measure the impact of nice guests on a restaurant’s bottom line, operating costs, or staff retention. But as native Iowans, we can say from experience that it helps with everything from connecting in your business’s community to negotiating with suppliers. Never underestimate the value of that quality of life increase!

Midwest’s niceness informed our signature We CARE™ culture, a reflection of our Iowa diners’ considerate, hardworking values that forms the bedrock of Barrel House’s service training.

The Bottom Line: Opening a Bar and Grill in Iowa

Between its business-friendly climate, low costs, and Midwest advantages, Iowa is the best state to open a new bar and grill by far. As experts in Iowa restauranteering, the Barrel House franchise team is ready to provide the insider knowledge and comprehensive procedures that will help your new Barrel House location thrive in Iowa.

To learn more about Iowa restaurant opportunities, reach out to our franchise team today!