The UK is steadily moving towards the kind of café culture that France and Italy are famous for. Most high streets have a branch of Costa or Starbucks, but there are also a good number of independent and boutique cafés offering customers a cosy place to sit and read, or work on their laptops.
If you’re thinking of becoming part of the café culture and opening a business of your own, there are 10 things you need to think about before making the commitment.
1. It takes time to set everything up
Even if the café you’ve bought is in great condition, you can’t start trading immediately. Why? Because the person selling the business is leaving and that might be because customers were unhappy with the service, the coffee, the food, or just the look and feel of the place. You need to find out what the problem was and deal with it. Your approach needs to be different from the previous owner, and you’ll probably have to make some changes to entice customers back to your new-look café.
Because of refurbishments and the installation of equipment, the average time it takes to open a café is between three to six months from when you start renting the space. (It’s a good idea to try to negotiate a rent discount for this time.) Delivery times of a new espresso machine are around 4 weeks, cups and saucers 5 weeks, a customised counter top and tables and chairs 8 weeks and outdoor seating approval up to 12 weeks.
2. Your business plan
Your business plan in which you estimate the café’s monthly turnover, cost of materials, staff costs, and so on, is key to your success. (Tip: Increase your costs by 20%, and, if on-paper, you still come out ahead, there’s a good chance you’ll succeed.) Always confront your business plans realistically. If your bills exceed your estimates, then do something about it right away.
3. Shop design and research
Apart from the design and the interior décor, you’ll have to research new food recipes so that your café offers something different and unique. Customers are very discerning these days and know exactly what they want. Mediocre service, food and drink is not an option.
4. It’s a hands-on business
Unless you intend to hire someone to run the café, you’re going to have to do everything yourself, which can be a daunting task. If you do hire staff, you’ll need to train them properly and monitor their work ethic and customer service skills. (You’ll also need to be trained in the art of coffee-making and become a skilled barista – but maybe that’s the fun bit!)
5. Paperwork and administration
There’s a lot of boring but necessary paperwork to complete – setting up the payroll, calculating payroll taxes, complying with food hygiene regulations, filing the day-to-day accounts, and preparing the work roster for your staff. Check out cloud based services and software to help you. For instance, Planday software simplifies the staff roster process.
6. Liaising with suppliers
Try to develop a good rapport with your suppliers. They’re your support team, and it’s important that they always deliver your food ingredients, coffee beans and so on, on time – the last thing you need is to run out of some ingredients and disappoint your customers.
7. All day every day
Be warned, running a cafe is not easy. You need to be there every day from opening time to closing, and this means you won’t have much free time for yourself or your family. And until you have staff who are fully trained and who you can trust, you won’t be able to take a day off or go on holiday.
8. Staff … keeping them on board
Being a chef or serving coffee and food to customers is not the most glamourous of jobs. Realistically speaking, it doesn’t pay well either. Very few people are happy working in the food and beverage industry, but for you to succeed you need to try to find good dependable staff. In this industry, many jobs are part-time and people come and go, so it’s important to retain good staff, especially if you’ve spent time training them.
9. Motivating staff
An equally challenging task is keeping your staff motivated. If you think just because you’re the boss, the staff will do everything you say, watch out, because they won’t! However, when they’re unhappy, they will look to you, their café guru, to motivate them. Good luck with that!
10. Handling customers with aplomb
Unlike a lot of other businesses, you will be dealing with customers face to face, and they can be very demanding and difficult at times. But no matter what, try to be helpful, positive and friendly … and keep smiling!