How to Open a Cafe: The Ultimate 15 Step Guide

How to Open a Cafe: The Ultimate 15 Step Guide - Chef Works

Author: Kit Kilroy   Date Posted: 4 February 2021 

If it’s been a lifelong dream of yours to open a cafe, you’re not alone. With the booming restaurant and cafe culture of Australia, this might be the perfect time to dip your toes into the hospitality industry. And knowing how to open a cafe isn't always intuitive. Whether you’ve worked in cafes since you were young, or are just now giving it a go, there are a few things you’ll need to iron out before you can open the doors of your new venue.

There’s no denying that it can be extremely overwhelming when you first begin to go through the process, so we’ve compiled a step-by-step list to give you a little guidance along the way. Follow this 15-step process to make your dream cafe a reality.

  • 1.Do Your Homework
  • 2.Create a Business Plan
  • 3.Get Funding
  • 4.Find a Venue
  • 5.Design Your Cafe
  • 6.Install Equipment
  • 7.Hire a Head Chef
  • 8.Create Menu
  • 9. Obtain All Licenses and Permits
  • 10. Set up POS systems
  • 11. Create front and back of house procedure plans
  • 12. Hire Staff
  • 13. Train staff
  • 14. Start Marketing
  • 15. Opening Day
Hands Holding Coffee in Disposable Cups
Step One:Do Your Homework

Start by doing a bit of research. Look into the stories behind popular cafes around you, and don’t be afraid to ask other cafe owners for advice. Study different cafe menus to see what people are looking for in terms of food and drinks, and begin making a list of potential menu items.

Looking at how other businesses got their start can be a great source of inspiration. Here are a few of many cafe success stories to keep you motivated when you’re first starting.

  • Campo’s Coffee
  • Industry Beans
  • Coffee Anthology

In addition to learning a bit about the industry, you should know a little bit about the figures. Sure coffee shops are popular right now, but they also cost a lot. This reality means small profit margins most of the time, making it a sometimes stressful business to run. Before jumping in, you want to have a solid understanding of just how much it costs to open a cafe. This video will help you calculate your startup costs, so you know how much you’ll be investing before you leap.

You should also start considering the location, as prices vary dramatically around Australia. You never know if you’ll find a hidden gem in a city laneway, or a small rural town. Look into potential properties around you and get a grasp of which neighbourhoods might make the best home for your business.

You might also be interested in our article on how to name a cafe in 4 steps.

Step Two: Create a Business Plan
Step Two:Create a Business Plan

Every business needs a business plan, so take your time to make it a good one. There are plenty of templates online, and Entrepreneur has a great article which talks you through the steps.

Having a well-founded plan will not only help guide your cafe as it grows, but it will also help you find investors who might believe in your vision. As they say, failing to plan is planning to fail; so take your time to work out all the details during this step.

At its core, every business plan should include:

  • An Executive Summary
  • Business Overview
  • Operations Plan
  • Market Analysis
  • Products and Services
  • Sales and Marketing
  • Competitive Analysis
  • Management Team
  • Financial Plan
  • Projections
Cafe Seating
Step Three: Get Funding

To open your cafe, you’re going to need some financial backing. Whether that means the savings you’ve been building up specifically, a small business bank loan or looking for outside investors, it’s time to consider money.

Figure out different ways to make this dream a reality: It might mean taking out a loan, running a Kickstarter campaign or applying for small business grants. If you don’t want to take out a loan, you might consider seeking funding from:

  • Angel investors
  • Crowdfunding
  • Self-funding
  • Start small: first open a pop-up restaurant or food truck.

It’s easy to become obsessed with money when your business first launches. But don’t let it take you off-course. Whatever you do, make sure you stay loyal to your vision. It’s easy to get hung up on the bottom line, but always remember why you started in the first place. This kind of authenticity is palpable to customers.

Check 5 operating expenses of a coffee shop that you might have overlooked here.

Happy Hour Sign
Step Four: Find a Venue

Now things are starting to get real. Start scouring commercial real estate websites and setting up inspections to view potential locations. Make sure that the spaces you are looking at are well-equipped to handle both your equipment and customers. If you’re opening a takeaway coffee shop, kitchen space isn’t essential. If you’re aiming for a sit-in restaurant cafe, a kitchen space will be a must.

Helpful Websites for Finding Commercial Real Estate:

  • Commercial Real Estate
  • Commercial View
Step Five:Design Your Cafe
Step Five: Design Your Cafe

Arguably as important as the food you’ll be serving is the decor of your cafe. Tap into what your customers want from a cafe, and play that up. If your target customers like wholesome, natural food, try to reflect that in the cafe’s design.

Keep layout in mind, and think about how staff and guests alike will be moving through the space. If you lack a design eye, don’t back away from paying someone with expertise to help. Nailing the look and layout will elevate your cafe that extra level.

There are several free programs and apps online, like SmartDraw, which will help you create a visual mock-up of how you want your cafe to look.

If you want some detailed advice, read our article on How to Design a Cafe in 7 Key Steps.

Cafe Scales
Finding inspiration
Step Six:Equipment

You can't have a café without all the bells and whistles, and that's where equipment comes in. Once you've got the design figured out, it's time to install, both back and front-of-house. When doing so, make sure to keep in mind regulations relating to Food Premises and Equipment.

Ensure that you have a knowledgeable team doing the installation.

You will also need to get uniforms for all of your employees. The uniforms for baristas will finish off your cafe's look and affect the general atmosphere. It is crucial to find the right design, material, and colour to match your business's concept.

You can check the range of Chef Works Café Aprons and Shirts on our website.

Equipment You Will Need When Opening a Cafe:

  • Uniforms
  • Cool Makers
  • Coffee Grinders
  • Espresso Machines
  • Oven
  • Stoves
  • Water Filtration System
  • Cool Rooms and Freezers
  • Under Counter Refrigeration
  • Prep Benches
  • Display Cases
  • Commercial Blenders
  • Hot Water Dispenser
  • Sinks
  • Dishwashers
  • Scales
  • Timers
  • Organisers and Containers
Cafe Staff
Step Seven: Hire a Head Chef

Unless you have the culinary expertise yourself, now is the time to hire a head chef. Hopefully, you already have an idea about what kind of food you would like to serve, so start interviewing people with experience cooking at venues similar to what you’re aspiring to create.

During the process, it’s essential not only to make sure that they can cook well but also think about the team dynamic. Remember that the head chef will be working with everyone from the kitchen staff, to waiters, and try to think of the position as a managerial one.

You can create listings on sites like SEEK, Scout and Indeed or go by word-of-mouth until you find the perfect person to fill the role.

Large Cafe Menu
Step Eight: Create Menu

Now that you have your head chef to consult with, it’s time to create your cafe’s menu. Remember what your central vision is, always keeping in mind that idea that you want to live up to your guests’ expectations.

Figure out which types of food will work best, not only for your vision but also for your wallet. Keep in mind that offering specific options can blow out your budget. Similarly, remember that perishable foods will go off quickly, so try and envision menu options that can use similar types of ingredients to minimise waste and costs.

As far as the visual design of your menu goes, using a graphic design tool such as Canva or Photoshop is excellent for creating a professional look. If you need guidance, there are videos on YouTube that can walk you through it step-by-step. There’s always the option to outsource this task to someone with design experience if your budget allows.

A few things to consider when designing your menu:

  • How many dishes to offer
  • The size of dishes to offer
  • How do you want guests to experience the food (shared plates vs individual dishes)
  • How many courses you want each table to have
  • Whether you’ll be serving alcohol alongside food
  • How often you’ll change the menu
  • What types of ingredients you can afford
  • Perishability of ingredients

If you would like to know more, you can read our article on how to design a restaurant menu.

Step Nine: Obtain All Obtain All Licenses and Permits
Step Nine: Obtain All Obtain All Licenses and Permits
Step Nine: Obtain All Obtain All Licenses and Permits

When you open a cafe, you’re going to need to obtain multiple licences and permits before you can legally operate. Depending on which state you’re opening your cafe in, the requirements will vary slightly, but here are different types of licenses you might need to obtain:

  • Business Name Registration
  • Complying Development Certificate
  • On-Premises License (If you plan to serve alcohol)
  • Food Authority Licenses

This guide will help you figure out precisely what you need since it varies from business to business. Additionally, each state provides information about food licenses and permits on the state website, so ensure you comply with your state’s regulations.

Closeup of coffee beans
Step Ten: Set Up POS Systems

Set Up POS Systems

Before you can make any sales, you’re going to need to set up a Point-of-Sales (POS) system.

Having a POS will allow you to sell your food to your customers, create a docket system so the floor and kitchen can communicate. In a venue like a cafe, you want to make sure you have a POS system that allows you to easily updated menu options and split bills. A few great options for taking orders and making sales are:

  • IMPOS: designed to meet several hospitality needs, including features specifically for cafes
  • Abacus: Suited for hospitality, opportunity to have photos on menu items, ability to track customer order history as well as employee timesheets
  • Kounta: Easy-to-use intuitive system, easily integrates with other technology, flexible workflows for any restaurant style
Outdoor Seating Yellow
Step Eleven: Create front and back of house procedure plans

To ensure your cafe runs smoothly, you should have a comprehensive procedure plan laid out. Though it might sound overkill, this plan should outline what to do in every imaginable circumstance. From necessary procedures to one-off occurrences, having a plan in place will help your staff (and yourself) keep true to the cafe’s brand image, acting accordingly in every situation possible. A few things to include in our procedure plan:

  • How to open each section (kitchen, floor, coffee, juice, cash register)
  • Uniform and dress code
  • Personal hygiene and presentation
  • Meeting and greeting
  • A sequence of service (what you do from the moment a customer walks in, to the moment they pay the bill)
  • Tidy rules (when to fill up water, how to keep the station clean)
  • How to take orders, including asking for dietary requirements
  • Walking guests through the menu
  • Communication between kitchen and floor staff
  • Hierarchy of staff
  • Who to report to, when
  • Taking payments
  • Splitting bills procedure (whether or not you do it)
  • Takeaway procedure
  • Closing duties
  • Cleaning and housekeeping
  • Reporting issues
  • Scheduling, clocking on/off, timesheets
  • Payment and allowance rates
Cafe Waitress
Pouring Coffee out of a Pot
Step Twelve: Hire Staff

Now that you’ve got the foundations of your cafe secure, it’s time to hire the people that will make it happen. Start by looking for managers and work your way down from there. Depending on how you envision the structure of your cafe to look, hiring can be conducted by managers or yourself.

Opening a venue is hard work, so make sure your core team is made up of people who genuinely have a passion for your business and want to see it thrive. Hiring managerial staff with extensive experience will be extremely helpful to you. They will know how other venues run and will be able to apply their knowledge in your place. These skills will be essential, especially if you have little or no experience in the hospitality industry.

If you know people in the cafe industry, you can start asking around to see if they know anyone who is looking for a job. Otherwise, you can always post listings online and conduct interviews to find the perfect team to open your cafe. SEEK, Scout and Indeed are all great resources for finding staff. Just make sure you meet candidates in-person to ensure they have a genuine interest and fit in your venue well.

Pastry Icing sugar
Step Thirteen: Train Staff

Now that you have your staff, you need to train them before you can open your doors. While you don’t need to personally train each person who steps into your venue, you should make sure everyone is on-board. If you have a bigger place, you can always outsource training to a manager, but you should be a part of creating the training process.

When your staff members first start the job, it’s not a bad idea to give them an employee manual, including a copy of procedure plans you’ve laid out. There are many different ways to go about training, and it should be a multi-part exercise.

A few useful ways of training staff include:

  • Online via virtual classes, videos and quizzes
  • In all-staff meetings
  • In one-on-one meetings
  • Train specific skills in person, for example, barista skills would be better learned this way
  • Have new staff shadow more experienced staff for the first few shifts
  • Training on-the-job, pair a new staff member with someone more experienced to teach them as they go
Cafe Artwork
Step Fourteen: Start Marketing

You might not think this needs to happen before your cafe opens, but marketing before opening day is the perfect way to give your venue that little extra boost when it’s first starting. Of course, your coffee shop or cafe will organically grow and change once open, but marketing first will get those initial customers in the door.

If you already have social media accounts up and running, potential customers will be able to get information about your venue from day one. Make sure to post photos of menu items, as well as the basics: opening hours, location, contact info, etc.

It might seem odd to market for something that isn’t available to the public yet, but if you build up a virtual community in the days leading up to the opening, you can have a fan-base already wanting to visit by the time it opens.

Here are a few marketing ideas you can start with before opening day:

  • Create social media pages
  • Create a website
  • Start posting about menu items
  • Offer promotions (e.g. free coffee on opening day if they show that they’re following)
  • Hype up the cafe, you can show progress pictures of the fit-out coming together or introduce new staff as you hire
  • Host a launch party
  • Get in touch with PR agents for publicity
  • Do as many interviews/ guest articles you as you can for other publications and blogs
Step Fifteen: Opening Day
Step Fifteen: Opening Day
Step Fifteen: Opening Day

Now that you’ve put in all the work, it’s time for opening day!

You might want to consider having a soft launch to test your menu on friends and family first, or an opening party to welcome members of the community into their new favourite local spot. Be proud of all the work you’ve put in, and take a moment to pause and celebrate this new exciting chapter of your career.

Sure, opening day is exciting, but it’s only just the beginning. Take stock after your first day on the books, and reconsider what did and didn’t go well. Perhaps you will need to tweak a few menu items or hold a staff training day to ensure everyone’s service is spot-on. Whatever you do, stay excited about what is to come: It’s going to be a great adventure!

If you are still unsure what food you would like to add to your menu, you can read our blog about the most popular cafe foods of 2020.

At Chef Works, we are driven by those who are inspired by all things culinary. Fueled by the belief that every culinary professional deserves the right apparel and tools to enhance the work they do. We understand that the recipe for excellence goes far beyond simple ingredients.

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