How to start a cafe

Updated December 15, 2016

Running your own cafe can be a fun and rewarding way to make a living. Yet starting a cafe from the ground up can be quite challenging, particularly if you have never begun a business from scratch. However, with some patience and perseverance, you can make your dream of owning your own cafe a reality.

Develop a business plan. Your business plan will serve as a road map for starting your cafe, and as such, should touch upon all the different factors that you will need to have in place. Start by writing a mission statement---this is essentially your ending destination. Then map your route there by stating how much starting capital you have and how much you need; how you plan to get any needed financing; what you expect your overhead and operating expenses to be; whether you will need to hire employees, and if so how many; what will make your cafe different from competitors in the area; what clientele you plan to target; and how you will advertise your business.

Secure a location for your cafe. Make sure to find a place in a neighbourhood or area that will attract the kind of customers you want visiting your cafe. When searching for a location for your business, keep in mind what your budget for rent or lease is so you don't end up with a location you can't afford. Spaces that have served as cafes or restaurants before may be best, because they probably already have the kitchen set-up you need.

Purchase all the equipment needed. This includes tables and chairs, bars tools, mugs and dishes and coffee and espresso machines. Set everything you've purchased up in your new space.

Get all the necessary permits. Each state, county and even city has different requirements for food businesses, so call appropriate officials in your locality to find out what permits you need and how to get them. You will also need a tax license. Your city or town hall clerk will be able to provide you instructions on how to get one or direct you to the granting authority.

Create a menu. Aim for dishes that can be served up quickly, since people who stop in at cafes often want a quick bite. If you are computer savvy, you can create your menu entirely on your own. Otherwise, you may have to visit a print shop and get professional design help.

Hire employees if necessary. If you don't have another job and your cafe will primarily be open during business hours, consider hiring just one other person to begin with. This will help keep costs low until you begin turning a profit and can afford to hire more help.

Schedule a health inspection. You will need to pass a health inspection before opening, since your cafe will serve food and drink. Once you pass the inspection, post the certificate awarded to you in a prominent area of your cafe.

Set a grand opening date and advertise it. You may wish to create flyers to distribute around town, take out ads in the local newspapers, and even purchase radio spots to advertise your new cafe. Make sure your advertisements are clear as to why your cafe is so special and why people should want to check it out. Offer specials so that people are more willing to try it.

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About the Author

Cynthia Gomez has been writing and editing professionally for more than a decade. She is currently an editor at a major publishing company, where she works on various trade journals. Gomez also spent many years working as a newspaper reporter. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Northeastern University.