Opening a cafe | The ultimate checklist for success


6 min read

Lachlan Ross | December 7, 2021

So, you’ve decided to open a cafe or coffee shop – congratulations! Opening a cafe is a huge undertaking, and taking the first step can feel overwhelming. To help you approach it systematically, here’s a comprehensive checklist to get you on your way.

Read through the detail so you can tick the tasks off as you go. Best of luck!

Opening a cafe checklist

  1. Get your ducks in a row – business planning, research & finances
  2. Choose the perfect location
  3. Apply for licences, permits and insurance
  4. Establish your cafe brand
  5. Develop your menu
  6. Create your cafe marketing plan
  7. Select your vendors and start buying
  8. Get your team in place
  9. Open your cafe!

1. Get your ducks in a row – business planning, research & finances

Opening a cafe is an exciting yet stressful time. Being well prepared can make it a much smoother (even enjoyable!) experience. You’ll be investing a lot of time and money, so it’s worth spending time planning to give your café the best chance of success.

Make sure owning a café is right for you

First things first…are you cut out for this? Take our quiz to see if you’ve got the right skills and personality traits. 

  1. Are you a people person? 
  2. Do you handle stress well? 
  3. Can you multi-task? 
  4. Are you creative?
  5. Are you a good delegator (and not a control freak)? 
  6. Do you have good financial management skills? 
  7. Do you have hospitality industry experience? 
  8. Are you a good planner?
  9. Can you solve problems on your feet?
  10. Are you obsessed with good coffee?

If you answered yes to most of these questions, it looks like you’re a good fit for running your own café. And you can always hire people to fill in the skills gaps when recruiting your team.

Brainstorm cafe concepts

Now’s the time to cultivate your vision. Don’t try to be everything to everyone. Choose a well-defined theme to build an appealing identity. Ask yourself:

  1. What will make your coffee shop unique? 
  2. How will you be better than the competition?
  3. Are you offering something people in the area want?
  4. What kind of food will you offer? 
  5. What kind of atmosphere are you looking to create?

Do market research

Understanding the market is critical when deciding if your café concept is right. Try these research strategies:

  1. Do a Google search to see who the competition is and check their Google and Trip Advisor reviews to see what customers think of them
  2. Use Google’s free keyword planner to check the demand for specific café styles in different areas
  3. Visit cafés in the area (and drink lots of coffee) to check out the competition. Talk to people and ask them what’s missing in the neighborhood

Write a business plan

A cafe business plan is your road map. It helps you envision every aspect of your business and make sure you’ve considered everything. It describes your proposed café concept, details the market and showcases expected financials. It’s both the most challenging and important part of opening a café.

Get funding

Now that you’ve chosen a concept and have a business plan that charts the road to success, it’s time to face facts – opening a café is not cheap. You might be lucky enough to have the necessary funds, but if not, there are plenty of café funding options available.

Opening a cafe | The ultimate checklist for success

2. Choose the perfect location

Your café’s location is critical to its success. Location drives foot traffic and determines the demographics of your potential customers. Thoroughly research different areas to check there’s a match with your coffee shop concept. 

Do your research

  1. Who are your customers? Sophisticated city workers? Casual family types? Health-focused hipsters?
  2. Who are the competitors? Joining a bustling café precinct can be good, or adding a café where there are no others can work too
  3. What else is in the area and how can you capitalize on the surroundings?
  4. Is there public transport, good road access and plenty of parking?
  5. How busy is the area? Are other businesses well patronized?
  6. Are there population growth figures available from the local municipality?

Lease or buy premises

Once you’ve decided on your location, you’ll need to decide whether to lease or buy. 

  1. Inspect lots of options to learn about pricing and availability
  2. A busy location in a wealthy suburb will cost more, but the returns can be significant. Consider the passing traffic, and install bright signage to grab their attention and boost sales
  3. Negotiate hard so you get the best deal
  4. Before you sign anything, seek financial and legal advice
  5. Just remember, if the lease or sale price looks too good to be true, it probably is

3. Apply for licenses, permits and insurance

You must follow all the rules and regulations in the hospitality industry. Do your research to ensure you don’t miss anything as laws vary across municipalities, states and countries. Some applications take a long time, so make your applications well ahead of your planned opening day. Here’s a list to get you started: 

  • Licenses: business, food service, liquor license, music
  • Permits: food handlers, signage permits
  • Insurances: public liability, property, workers compensation

4. Establish your cafe brand

Café branding goes far deeper than choosing a name and designing a logo. It’s about carefully curating an image for your café that differentiates you from your competition and connects with your customers. Good branding gets you noticed, builds loyalty and increases sales.

Document your unique brand position

With your vision, mission and target audience in mind, clearly define what it is that you’ll do better than anyone else. Think about the personality you want for your brand and how you want people to feel about it.

Choose a cafe name

Naming your new cafe or coffee shop can be tricky. Do some brainstorming or get help from a branding agency if you have the budget. Ideally, choose something that has a connection with your café concept, is easy to spell and say, and stands out from the competition. Make sure the website url is available and that you don’t use an existing trademark. Pick something that will stand the test of time.

Develop your visual identity

It’s time to get creative and design your logo, fonts and color scheme. Depending on your budget, choose a low-cost option through sites like Fiverr, or seek support from a brand design agency.

Design the interior and exterior

Work with engineers, architects and interior designers to design the interior and exterior of your café. You’ll need to submit drawings to your local authority for approval.

Install signs so people know you’ll be opening soon

As soon as you can, put up signage. Digital café signage works best because the eye-catching graphics and animations grab the attention of passers-by. You can update your messaging remotely in minutes and display a countdown to opening day to build excitement for your launch.

5. Develop your menu

An enticing menu is the most important asset for any café. Now that you’ve nailed your brand, you can move on to creating your menu. 

Put together your menu items

You’ll have a basic idea of the food you want to offer, now is the time to work through the detail. Your menu should reflect your café theme. Limit your options to about 10-12 standouts that will impress your target customer. It’ll simplify their decision and streamline your operations. Work with potential food vendors to work out a food cost formula so you can price profitably.

Design your menus

You’ll need to consider color, fonts and engaging descriptions. Technology like online ordering and digital signage makes paper menus a thing of the past. Cafés that use digital signage report their daily sales increased by 30%. Anyone in the business can easily create digital menu boards using drag and drop signage templates. You can update instantly as availability changes. Display mouth-watering imagery to entice customers to your more profitable lines. 

Opening a cafe

6. Create your cafe marketing plan

Your cafe marketing plan details your target audience and how you’ll reach them. It helps you be more organized and successful with your marketing strategies. Set a budget and plan for:

  • Advertising: online, social media and newspaper advertising
  • Promotions: schedule happy hour specials, 2 for 1 deals and loyalty discounts
  • Events: schedule the grand opening event, kids eat free Fridays and live music

Make sure you take advantage of the power of digital marketing. 

  • Website: A website that shows your menu, opening hours and reviews at a minimum is essential. A whopping 93% of customers look at a menu online before dining out. There are DIY options for website building, or you can outsource
  • Social media: Customers expect to communicate with you via social media and it’s a great way to reach more customers. Target the platforms your customers use, and if you’re not sure, set up Instagram and Facebook at a minimum. Images and videos work best for engagement. Ask your customers to follow your page to access exclusive updates and discounts.
  • Reviews: a massive 94% of people read online reviews before dining out. Set up your accounts on Google My Business, TripAdvisor and Yelp so that you can keep track and respond to reviews

7. Select your vendors and start buying

You need a lot of equipment for opening a café. A coffeemaker, grinder, blender, food, furniture, cookware…the list goes on. Not to mention cleaners, security, and whatever else your café needs. You’ll need to choose all your vendors carefully. Interview them as if you were hiring a staff member and generate some healthy competition for your custom. Choose your coffee supplier carefully – your reputation will live or die on the quality of your beans.

It’s worth exploring and investing in cafe technology. Innovative solutions like reservation software, POS, digital signage, online ordering and food delivery platforms have transformed the restaurant business for the better. They streamline operations, enhance the customer experience and boost profits.

8. Get your team in place

Successful cafés need to find and keep the best staff. Attitude is more important than experience. Having skills in customer service, food preparation and cash handling is a bonus, but these skills can be taught. Look for staff that connect to the café’s culture and are passionate about coffee, reliable, punctual and great team players.

Advertise and hire staff

Advertise everywhere. Digital channels like job websites and social media platforms will give you a big pool of applicants but don’t forget to use offline techniques. Job ads on your exterior digital signage could find great candidates who would value the chance to work locally.

Train your team

You’ll need to train your team to ensure they are safe at work and comply with all relevant food and beverage handling protocols. Check with local authorities for mandatory training requirements.

You’ll also need to make sure they know the ropes for cleaning, payments and customer service. Plan a training session at the café to bring their learning to life. You can demonstrate your expected behaviors and use your digital signage to deliver engaging training that enhances culture.

9. Open your cafe!

After months (or years!) of planning, the time for opening a cafe of your own is finally here. 

Have a soft launch

A trial run with friends and family is a great way to give your staff some practice and iron out any kinks before opening to the public. 

Have the grand opening

With a successful soft launch behind you, your team knows the drill and your venue looks impeccable. It’s time for the grand opening. 

Promote your opening day heavily on your window signage and social media channels. Offer discounts and specials and invite prominent local influencers for a complimentary meal in return for some love on their social media channels. 

Good luck with everything

Opening a cafe isn’t easy, but it’ll be a labor of love and hugely fulfilling. Follow these steps to establish a thriving business, provide for your family and establish a career that allows you to immerse yourself in your passion for food every day. 

Lachlan Ross

Lachlan Ross

I’m a SAAS-focused marketer with 10+ years of experience who likes to think I’ve got a way with words - thanks for stopping by and checking out this blog.

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