How to create and operate a successful café

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There are a lot of people out there who dream of opening a café. But it’s a challenging industry, with long hours, loads of competition, and small margins. If you do want to do this, there are a few things you need to give yourself a better chance of making it work.

A combination of a lot of planning, a lot of thought and heaps of hard work will result in success. But if you don’t do the ground work, then be prepared for failure.

Before you start: Research

If you haven’t run a café before, then you need to understand the hospitality industry. In the UK, the coffee shop industry has been mushrooming- at x8 the rate of the British economy. While there are Starbucks and other mainstays of the industry, there are plenty of smaller cafes carving out their own niche.

You need to figure out what your brand is. What do you specialise in? Is it a certain dish, drink, or something else? Your interior fit-out needs to be on-brand too. If your food is modern and slick, then your interiors probably won’t be some cosy cottage-style rustic feel.

Think about what makes you different. If you copy a competitor, you are competing for that same market. You are limiting yourself. So you need to do something unique. Some businesses provide board games for their patrons. Some turn their premises into a cat playground. Some focus on vegan-friendly or ethnic foods.

Decide the logistics. Will you offer table service, or counter only? What are your opening hours, and how will you staff it if it’s open for more than eight hours a day? Who is supplying your food/ drinks and will you need to be at the café at 5am to receive the delivery?

Do you have a market? It can be tempting to think that your café is so amazing that people will just show up, but that’s not how it happens. Make sure you do market research to see if that location or style of food is going to be patronised. Who is your target market? Is it the lunch crowd in a business area, or Mums in a residential area?

Consider costs. It’s well worth paying hospo professionals, such as architects and interior designers who understand the industry. How are the tables going to be laid out? Is there room around them for service? How does music sound when it’s played in the space, do you need muffling to control echoes? Where is the kitchen and front desk located? All these things, pros will know. Once you’ve got them on board, they can estimate costs. Things like a POS system are much needed, and it all costs money. Not to mention the kitchen fit-out—microwaves, fridges and blenders all cost money.

Hiring staff is incredibly important. World-wide, there’s a shortage of trained, qualified staff. Hospitality requires a certain type of person, and if you’re planning a certain feel in your café, the people running it have to fit in. You need to have hiring processes, contracts, the ability to create rosters and payroll software ready to go. If you intend to be running front of house, unless you’ve worked in the industry before, it’s probably wise to do some training yourself.

Café regulations vary depending on what you’re doing, but they are strict. If you serve alcohol, you must have a trained duty manager rostered on at all times as part of your compliance with your alcohol licence. You’ll need to be registered to serve food which means your kitchen needs to be certified. This means things like dishwashers are industrial standard and you understand local laws around food preparation. You’re going to need insurance (visit State NZ for more info). If you want to play music in your shop, if it’s radio or your own playlists, you need to pay for an entertainment licence.

The final thing to think about is advertising. You don’t just open the doors and welcome in the perfect amount of people. You need to advertise to let people know you exist. Your target market will give you guidelines about how you’ll advertise. If you are targeting a geographical area, then maybe a flier drop works. If you are wanting office workers to buy their lunch from you, maybe a promotion using a buy-one, get one free deal. Or do you use social media? Can you put beautiful photos on Instagram to lure in the Millennials?

Whatever you do, know that running a café is hard work. For the uninitiated, setting up a new hospo venture is overwhelming and the number of things to consider is huge. So, take your time and make sure you do market research first, as that will drive a lot of other decisions.