How To Open a Successful Café: A Step By Step Guide

13 Steps for Opening a Successful Café

The small-town café is a gathering place for people from all walks of life. It’s not uncommon to see students there working on school projects in one corner while a business meeting takes place in another.

This type of business has strong income potential, too. In 2022, the coffee shop and cafe market was worth $48.4 billion with an average growth of 2.8% per year between 2017 and 2022. This high growth potential means opening a café could be a smart small business move. But to do this well, you need to take the right actions. To help set you up for a successful launch, below is our step-by-step guide to opening a coffee shop or café.

1) Conduct Research on the Café/Coffee Market

The National Coffee Association reports that 62% of Americans drink coffee every single day. Further, the average U.S. coffee drinker consumes over three cups per day. Those numbers add up to a lot of coffee, so it’s not surprising that coffee shops are springing up on every corner!

Before you open your café, you need to do some research. All business owners should determine if there is demand in their local market for their product or service, and this goes for café or coffee shop owners as well. Find out how many other coffee shops are in the area you want to open your storefront. If there are several, consider a unique offering to help your business stand out from the competition.

Helpful Tip

Remember that there is a difference between independent and franchise coffee shops. If your area has a lot of franchises, there may still be a lucrative market for independent cafes offering high-quality, gourmet drinks and snacks.

2) Decide on a Concept and Define Your Goals

Once you have your basic market research done, you must think about the concept. Your cafe business should have a unifying theme or concept that helps it stand out, and this often starts with identifying your target demographic. Create a coffee shop or café concept that appeals to the people you’re most likely to reach — whether that’s students, business professionals, or families. You may even want your concept to tap into local demand for organic, healthy foods, or maybe you want to have a boutique café to appeal to the upper crust of your community.

Defining your goal is more specific than just stating that you want to start a successful business. You need a more specific, defined goal, such as, “I want to launch a hipster coffee shop to meet the needs of the local student population and to create a community gathering space.” Take time to think through your goal, because it will drive the rest of your planning as you build your coffee shop.

Helpful Tip

During this concept-building phase is when you also decide whether you will offer food and sit-down service, or simply offer grab-and-go style drink options. Try to make your choices complement one another — for example, a fancy, elite concept may work better with food and sit-down service than a grab-and-go counter.

3) Create an In-Depth Business Plan

You will need money for your startup costs and initial cash flow as you open your business, and that money will require investors or a small business loan. Potential investors will want to see a well-thought-out business plan that illustrates that your new business has a foundation for success.

Helpful Tip

If you’re unsure what to include in your business plan, here are some must-have elements:

  • Executive summary

  • Overview and description of the company

  • Market analysis

  • Business offerings

  • Management plan and ownership structure

  • Marketing and advertising strategy

  • Financial projections

Make sure each section has data and proof behind it to make your coffee shop business plan impressive to potential investors. You should plan several paragraphs or even a few pages for each section to give your potential investors a clear idea of your vision.

4) Obtain All Required Licenses and Permits To Start a Café

Because cafes sell beverages and often food, you will need the necessary permits and licenses. Start seeking these permits as soon as you have the necessary details in place so they will be ready by the time you want to open. It can take a little while to get the permit paperwork processed, so don’t put off this part of the process until the last minute.

Specific requirements for your state may vary, so talk to a commercial real estate or business attorney to see what is necessary for your business. In most states, you’ll generally need at least the following permits and licenses:

  • Business license

  • Seller's permit

  • Food service license

  • Resale permit

  • Building health permit

  • Certificate of occupancy for your building

  • Sign permit

  • Tax ID number (EIN)

Helpful Tip

Research your local state and city requirements and give yourself several months of cushion to ensure you get your licenses before your opening day.

5) Select a Location

The location of your coffee shop is almost as important as the quality of the coffee beans you choose. Coffee shop owners should look for locations that have plenty of foot traffic so people will see your business and want to stop in to try your drinks and food.

Your new café location also needs the right layout for your ideal floor plan. Consider whether you want to build your own coffee shop, or if you want to renovate an existing café to meet your new concept and idea. No matter which option you choose, keep in mind that your location should be ADA compliant.

Make sure that your space is zoned for commercial and restaurant use, has ample room to create a kitchen, has all plumbing, electric, and gas lines already installed, and has space for customers to enjoy their drinks and snacks. If you plan to roast your own coffee beans in house, make sure there is enough room for your coffee equipment.

Helpful Tip

When you find the right location, consider hiring a real estate attorney to help you negotiate the purchase or lease terms so you can be certain it’s done correctly.

6) Find the Best Possible Bean Supplier

Your new coffee shop needs quality beans to be the foundation of each cup of coffee you sell. Take time to find a bean roaster or supplier with exceptional products. You’ll also need to offer specialty coffees if you plan to compete against well-known names like Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts, and the right beans are the basis for these popular drinks.

Helpful Tip

Take some time to sample a variety of beans from different suppliers to find one that fits your theme and satisfies your target market.

7) Invest in Top-of-the-Line Commercial Equipment

Owning your own café or coffee shop means investing in good equipment. The right equipment will be commercial-grade to make hundreds of cups of coffee each day. Commercial equipment can be expensive, but be aware that this is not somewhere to cut corners: Low-quality equipment will hurt your bottom line in the long run.

Your equipment list will include:

  • Coffee brewers

  • Espresso machine

  • Coffee grinder

  • Hot water dispenser

  • Frothing pitchers

  • Frothing thermometers

  • Display case for baked goods

  • Refrigerator

  • Three-compartment sink

  • Ice machine

  • Coffee mugs, tea cups, espresso cups

Helpful Tip

For big-ticket items, you might be able to find used options to get you started. Then you can upgrade once you have a successful business going.

8) Consider a Self-Ordering Kiosk

You will need a way for your customers to order their food, and this may extend beyond a cash register. Self-ordering kiosks can allow people to order their own coffee drinks, sending the order to your prep team faster and more effectively. You can increase your profit margins by reducing the number of employees taking orders at the register. You can also invest in a mobile POS system, like Square, to make it easier to take orders.

Helpful Tip

Consider the INFI self-service kiosk as an excellent POS option for your new coffee shop to increase your average ticket sales by 20% and boost your peak-hour capacity by 30%.

9) Create a Compelling Atmosphere and Simple Layout for Your Staff

A coffee shop needs to be appealing and enticing to potential customers. Spend some time decorating, keeping everything in line with your theme. Consider adding free Wi-Fi or investing in comfortable seating and lighting. This makes your space more welcoming for people who want to use your shop as a working, studying, or hanging out space.

As you decorate, make sure the layout is simple for your staff. Give them a clear path through the areas where they will be working. Try to strike a balance between a clutter-free work area and an appealing and charming service area.

Helpful Tip

Choose a color palette and stick with it as you decorate. This is an easy, fuss-free way to keep your shop looking cohesive and professional.

10) Build an Enticing Café Menu

A cute coffee shop will only be successful if it has tasty drinks and snacks, so build a menu that will draw people in. Consider giving your specialty drinks names that line up with your store’s concept, and design a menu board that lines up with the theme as well.

Helpful Tip

Remember that some people don’t like coffee. Consider adding some teas or fruit-based drinks (like smoothies) to your menu to appeal to more potential customers.

11) Hire the Right Staff

You are getting closer to your opening day, but before you can open you must hire and train your team members. At the very least, you’ll need baristas to take orders and whip up drinks. However, depending on the concept and layout of your café, you may also want to hire servers, hosts, and some back-of-house team members like dishwashers.

Hire staff members with high energy levels who can focus on your guests’ needs. Attention to detail and cleanliness are also helpful qualities to look for in new team members. Once you hire, give them the training they need to do their jobs well. Remember, you have the potential to train your team members from start to finish, so spend some time to get it right.

Helpful Tip

Consider hiring people who complement your theme well. For example, if you are creating a coffee shop with a modern vibe, you’ll want hip, trendy employees.

12) Create a Marketing Plan

One last step before you open is creating your marketing plan. You need to get the word out about your coffee shop or café. Use social media, radio, billboards, flyers, etc. to get the word out about your grand opening. Plan a big celebration for opening day with some incentives — like a free cup of coffee for the first few people who come through the door, or a loyalty program that encourages them to visit again. Remember, you need to generate excitement about your coffee shop before it opens.

Once you open, continue your marketing plan. The best way to grow is via word of mouth, so encourage your happy customers to post on social media or invite their friends to your location. Stay active on your own social media pages, posting regular pictures of happy customers and tasty food or beverages. Offer occasional promotions that encourage people to visit after the newness of your business wears off.

Helpful Tip

Social media marketing is one of the best ways to get out the word about a new business, so don’t be afraid to spend some time and money on this type of marketing.

13) Open Your Brand New Café!

Now that you have the perfect location, ideal menu, great staff, and a solid marketing plan, you’re ready to open. Hang up some business signage and get ready to open your doors, because now the fun begins. Remember, you have to build some hype about your grand opening, so have some fun with it. The more people who come through your doors during the first few weeks, the better your chances for lasting success.

A grand opening celebration is always a good idea, but you can also opt for a soft opening. A soft opening is not announced, but rather you bring in private guests to sample what you have to offer. This gives you a chance to get some photographs for social media and start building your word-of-mouth marketing before you officially open to the public.

Helpful Tip

During your new coffee shop’s soft opening, make it a point to meet with your guests to talk about your products. This builds interest in your products, adds a personal touch, and allows you to get a pulse on what the community likes (so you can make last-minute adjustments to your menu if needed).

Optimize Your Café Ordering System With INFI

Café ordering systems can be a vital part of setting up a successful café. Give your customers a way to order exactly what they want via touchscreen, and open your business up to serve more patrons during your busiest times.

Considering self-service options for your new coffee shop? Use this checklist to ensure your self-service kiosk system has everything it needs to serve you and your customers well. Then, check out INFI’s self-ordering kiosk system to see how it can benefit your coffee shop and support a successful opening and future growth. Schedule a demo with INFI today.

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