If there are two things that get you really fired up, it’s great food and great people. Where they come together in perfect union is in your café, the one you’ve been dreaming of opening up. It’s where you get to design the best experience a customer has ever had, and you get to do it day after day. More than serving what is sure to be the best food and coffee in town, it’s all about making people happy that gets you out of bed in the morning.
Yet there’s a lot of work to be done before that dream turns into a reality. Don’t let it put you off, it’s simply a case of taking things step by step and before you know it, you’ll be standing behind the counter of one the happiest places in town. And it’ll be yours.
Let’s take a look at the kinds of things you should think about when opening a new business, particularly when opening a new café. We’ll go through a number of concepts and we’ll start at the start, with a business plan.
Sorry, but there’s no such thing. Even when you do read about an overnight success, it is something they’ve actually been working at for months, if not years. That’s why a business plan is vital — it helps you focus on what you want to achieve, and gives you a road map that shows you how to get there. It is a comprehensive document that identifies your goals, any hurdles, any competition and the cash you’ll need to establish your business and help it evolve. Good planning turns a cherished dream into an overnight success!
Start up Costs
Starting a café is not for the faint-hearted. It can be an expensive proposition and there are many, many things to consider when setting your budget: leases, licences, fit out costs, equipment, furniture, signage, marketing — it’s a long list. You’ll need to plan for every little expense in the start-up phase, but also in the medium term before your business is fully established. Cash flow is king, and working out how you’ll sustain ongoing cash flow must be at the heart of your business plan.
There’s no question that we all love coffee and a vibrant café culture. The right location is a vital part of that so you need to think carefully about the kind of café you want to run, the kind of people you want to attract and best place to do that. Weekend Brunchers have very different needs to Daytime Mums or Early Morning Commuters; different locations attract different people. By exploring new areas you could unlock potential that café owners in safe and established neighbourhoods can only dream of.
No doubt you’ve thought about the menu, in fact, it was probably the first thing you thought about. But let’s think about it again — is it still right for your location, for those who’ll come to your café? More importantly, can you still afford those point-of-difference flourishes like saffron garnish at $3500kg? Accurately calculating your menu costs is a core step when designing a menu that will be profitable as well as adaptable. What was essential in the dreamer stage might not be so essential now we’re at the pointy, practical end. Although that’s an extreme example, it underlines the importance of matching the menu, the budget and customer expectation.
To buy or to build
Buying an existing café is attractive; it is ready to go, comes with goodwill and means you can be in business much quicker than if you start from scratch. It may be cheaper too. However there’s always a reason that someone is selling — perhaps they want to cash out and lie in the sun. That suggests a healthy business. But what if they’re hiding something? Perhaps patronage is falling and the council have plans for the neighbourhood. Whether you’re buying or building, always do your homework, then do it again. You won’t get a second chance.
Don’t try this alone
As we said, starting a new café is not for the faint-hearted, so don’t think you can do this all by yourself. To make a success of it you’ll need support from those around you, whether that’s financial, emotional or physical. Once you’re set up, there will be a lot to do: ordering, preparation, cleaning and book-keeping as well as running the café itself. Who will take your place when you’re down at the shops, have an emergency or simply need a day off? And we all need one of those from time to time.
Finally, invest in yourself. If you’ve never worked in a café, now is the perfect time to do so, just for a while. Armed with invaluable insight, you’ll see how others do it and how you can do it better. After all, you’re planning to give your own customers the best experience they’ve ever had, in the happiest place in town.