opening a coffee shop plan

Cafes are attractive to everyone from students to office workers to artists. While Starbucks may get all the attention, any mom-and-pop breakfast and lunch joint can compete with the right location, coffee, food, service and ambiance.

To become a go-to spot and make money, a plan to get those elements right can be totally undone without quality accounting and a good cafe POS system. However, something as simple as a cafe checklist can go a long way.

Here is your 10-Step Checklist for Opening a Cafe to get you started.

1. Make a Business Plan

Like any business venture, you need to start with a written plan. Whether it’s to woo investors or just to help you prioritize and determine what you’re going to do, a business plan is crucial to the success of any commercial venture. (Even if real life inevitably ends up very differently.)

2. Select a Location

Storefronts in busy downtown areas have higher rents for a reason: Higher foot traffic equals higher turnover. Other factors to consider include whether a location is central and close to other restaurants and shops, if the space has the right electrical and plumbing infrastructure, and how affordable the rent is relative to these other factors.

3. Focus on Coffee and Tea

Coffee and tea are the lifeblood of any cafe and Americans are increasingly discerning, so it’s important to establish a robust supply chain. Decide on the different varieties of coffee and tea you’ll sell to ensure your cafe stands out. High-quality tea and coffee beans cost more, but may draw tea and coffee enthusiasts from further afield.

4. Don’t Forget the Rest of the Menu

Cafes typically offer light meal options, such as soups, salads, sandwiches, bagels, and sweet baked goods. Keep it simple, get feedback on all items before you open, and make sure your menu evokes your unique brand and culture.

5. Obtain All Permits and Licenses

Along with local permits, which are usually fairly straightforward to obtain, a cafe requires state food and beverage licenses. State licenses can be considerably more difficult to obtain in some states than others, so start the application process as soon as you’ve registered your business.

6. Purchase Equipment

Some of the hardware you’ll need includes:

  • Cafe POS system and a cash register
  • Espresso machines
  • French presses
  • Drip coffee makers
  • Industrial coffee grinders
  • Refrigerators and freezers
  • Ovens/toasters/other cooking devices
  • Industrial blenders
  • Security system
  • Storage and shelving systems

All this can be expensive, so it pays to track down secondhand options when possible.

7. Hire Employees

A reliable person with an outgoing personality and a positive, can-do attitude is more important than experience. Coffee-making skills can be taught—a bad attitude or taciturn personality is much harder to modify. That said, a knowledge of, and passion for coffee is a big plus. Restaurant-specific job boards and referrals are good places to find baristas and cooks.

upserve coffee shop

8. Choose a Smart Cafe POS System

Quality cafe POS systems are reliable, can handle internet outages, and enable fast, efficient checkouts. The best include comprehensive data-driven insights for a bird’s-eye view of how to improve your business operations.

Thinking about opening a new restaurant? Congratulations!

Download our How to Start a Restaurant Guide to learn everything you need to get up and running, from writing your business plan to training your staff for success.

Download The Guide

9. Establish a Marketing Plan

Your marketing program should begin before the cafe opens its doors. Consider advertising your grand opening in local newspapers and magazines, issuing a press release announcing your opening date, offering buy-one-get-one-free coupons and free samples, starting a loyalty program you can run through the POS system, approaching local food bloggers and Instagram influencers, creating a social media marketing program, and hanging appropriate signage.

10. Seek Expert Advice

When all else fails (or, more accurately, whenever you get the chance), the best thing you can do is ask questions and get answers from the people who have opened their very own coffee shop before. These cafe industry veterans gave us their best advice on how to open a cafe. Here’s what they had to say:

Fahmi Elabed owns Piccolo Trattoria and Piccolo Pronto in Philadelphia. He says it’s important to have a staff that works together, first and foremost.

“Have FOH and BOH work as a team,” he says. “Make sure you have a restaurant mission and a culture so you can create raving fans!”

“And listen to customers, especially those that point out something wrong.”

Billy Brophy agrees and adds that it’s important to have a restaurant mission statement for your cafe. Once you write that down, you have your guiding vision. “Every decision from there should be filtered through [the mission statement]. Then, plan how the business will help you live the lifestyle you want to have, who your target customers are and how it will differentiate itself from the competition.”

Daniel Steyskal notes how important it is to listen to your customers. “Do your research, does the area want this style cafe? And listen to customers, especially those that point out something wrong.”

“Too many owners surround themselves with people saying everything is great,” he says, and as a result, they may fail to see how the cafe isn’t performing.

Hank Dreyer has been in the restaurant industry for over 35 years and owned quite a few spots himself. He says it’s more important than anything to have an exit strategy. “You must have something in place to exit the business. Are you going to one day simply close the doors?”

Probably not, he says. “Have a goal to retire or sell. If you put in 400K and someone offered you 1.4 to sell and you walk with a million, is that enough? Have those questions answered prior to opening those doors.” That’s the kind of goal you’ll want to work for, he says.

“Hire personalities,” says Rocco John Giuliano, a restaurateur with over 20 years of experience. “Infectious personalities! Smiles are the most important part of your staff’s uniform.”

If you’re still wondering how to open a cafe, we’ll leave you with this final piece of advice from Steyskal, “Put salt in the coffee,” he says, “[it’s the] dirty secret every major coffee place uses.”

Check out Upserve’s guide to starting a restaurant!

Written by   |  
Mitchell Hall is a writer and editor living in Boston, MA. Originally from New Zealand, growing up he spent nearly ten years greedily imbibing the spirit of hospitality as a kitchenhand, waiter, and barman.