Wouldn't it be great to run your own cafe? Sitting around chatting with your mates. Hosting a singer-songwriter night now and then. You could hang your friend's art on the walls and drink delicious coffee all day. Ahh, bliss. One problem, though, that notion is not really based in reality. I've essentially just described an episode of Friends.
It seems everywhere you look these days, a new cafe or coffee container is popping up. And if your passion for coffee has aroused a sense of aspiration in you too, then that's fantastic. We wouldn't be here without people like you! However, there are a few things you should consider before starting your journey. In this blog piece, I take a gentle first look approach and chat about five areas that need to be considered before your first steps. Some things to contemplate and some things to avoid. There are more than five, of course, but baby steps to begin with. Read on to find out more.
Opening a new cafe is an investment. Not just financially, but of your time, energy and emotions. So, this might seem like an obvious thing to say, but know what you're getting yourself into. Research as much as you possibly can. If you have never worked in the hospitality industry, talk to those who have. Never assume to know an industry if you've only ever spent time on one side of the counter. Because trust me, the world looks very different from the opposite side of the counter. Especially if it's your counter. Spend time in cafes. Work in cafes if possible. Take notes of what you like, and just as importantly, what you don't.
Part of understanding what it takes to run a successful cafe involves knowing the numbers. Creating a business plan might not be anyone's idea of fun, but it is hugely beneficial. Knowing how much funding you need to get started and where it's coming from is essential. Do research on suppliers and how they operate. As well as this, be aware of statutory rules and regulations that will apply to your type of operation. And make sure you do this before ordering, signing or paying for anything! You don't want to discover that the meat smoker machine you just purchased online from Tennessee is actually illegal by our HSA standards. Before you do any real investing, know your figures and establish if they make commercial sense.
Understanding the hospitality industry is a given. It's a crowded marketplace out there. You need to try and find a way to stand out. This brings me to my next point.
If your vision was lifted straight out of an episode of Friends, then OK. Just realise that you probably won't be one of the folks sitting on the couch making jokes. But having a clear vision can't be underestimated. A cafe can be many things. A place for meeting friends, family, or colleagues. A place to grab a quick bite to sit in or to go. It can be the setting for an important business meeting or even just some quiet alone time. What kind of atmosphere do you want to create? And how will you produce it? Every little detail counts here. From the light fittings to the shade of paint on walls. From the crockery on your tables, the font of your menu, to the furniture and the fit-out. It's all relevant. And it helps if you have a predefined vision. And if you don't have one, conceive one. Ask yourself, "what kind of cafe would I like to spend time in?" or, "what is lacking in this neighbourhood?". Again, researching other cafes helps. Take photos and study menus. Remember what you like and what you don't. I'm not suggesting pinching other peoples ideas, but find inspiration, make it your own and try to be unique. All these things are part of a puzzle you need to solve. Remember, though, you can't please everyone. However, most successful businesses understand who their customers are and how to cater to them.
Having a clearly defined vision will help bring consistency to your decision making at every step. It will help with choosing a name too. You can't create a sleek, vegan-friendly minimalist concept and stick Kev's Expresso Palace above the door. In fact, if you use an X when spelling espresso, then maybe just sit this whole thing out. Knowing what you want will help dictate where it goes. And that brings us to point three.
Spending time refining your vision is essential. It will help you understand who your target market is. So if you want to create a family-friendly space with a menu suitable for parents and young kids alike, then maybe sticking in the middle of an industrial estate ain't such a great idea.
Location is critical and can have a massive impact on the success or failure of your cafe. When choosing a place, it's crucial to pay close attention to some things. What is the footfall like, and how visible is the shop front? Is there parking available, or is it close to public transport? Are there many other cafes in the area? Don't forget, you'll be spending a lot of time in this place, so it helps if you like the area too!
And if you already have a location, then spend time observing the people who pass by. From students to office workers, retirees to parents with children, your demographics needs may vary wildly. Understand who they are, what they want and how this fits with your vision. Remember, though, you can't please everyone.
If you make a list of all the things you will need for the day-to-day running of a cafe, its length may surprise you. Depending on what style of cafe you want to run, you'll need coffee (obviously), milk, tea, sugar, bread, fresh produce for the kitchen, take away cups, lids, stirrers, crockery, cutlery; I could go on and on. Trying to run a shift in a cafe without one of these items will cause headaches and not be a good look to any customers. When choosing your suppliers, you're naturally going to want what's best for your pockets. Of course, the quality of product and service is crucial, but something just as important is reliability. There is no point in partnering with a supplier much cheaper than others if they don't deliver on promises. In my experience, the world of hospitality is not blessed with much storage space. Many cafes run stock on a week-to-week and sometimes a day-to-day stock supply. So making sure you have suppliers that deliver when they guarantee is essential.
Return to your list of what you need and start planning from there. Talk to other cafe owners. Find suppliers who share your business philosophy. Try to partner with one-stop-shop places (like FiXX Coffee!). Understand that something cheap on paper, maybe be expensive in the long run. This is especially true for equipment. Your espresso machine and, equally, if not more so, your grinder are essential pieces of equipment. They are the workhorses, integral to service. Fundamental and indispensable. Choose a model that best suits your needs. These are things we can help you with at FiXX. And one of the reasons why choosing the right supplier is so vital (like FiXX!).
So you've got the proper vision, location, supplier and equipment. All you need now are the right people. When it comes to this, try to remember that skills can always be learned. Attitudes, less so. Finding people and incentivising them to give you their all can be hard. And that will be down to you and the atmosphere and team culture you create. At FiXX, we are happy to offer coffee and barista training to get you started and ongoing as needed. Peoples tastes and expectations for coffee have never been so refined. And catering to these expectations requires preparation, training and knowledge. Helping staff acquire these skills is obviously beneficial, but it can also work as a great motivator.
One final point. And this is more a helpful virtue. Patience. Things won't happen overnight, nor should you expect them to. You will most likely need more money than you've budgeted for. You might also need more time. Fit-outs, delivery of goods, utilities, approval of licences, branded materials, etc. This all takes time. So exercise patience at all possible times. And while you're waiting to open, use social media. This will be your word of mouth. And it can be a great platform to grow a reputation before your first customer walks through the door.
So there you have it. I hope you've found something helpful here. The first steps you take are the beginning of the journey. The final destination may look different to how it did at the beginning of the voyage. But if you have a dream. A vision. Then, you'll never stray far from the point. And if you need help along the way, why not contact FiXX and tap into our years of experience.
Thanks for reading