Thinking about opening a coffee shop? Good for you! Being a cafe owner is one of the hardest and most rewarding jobs you can have: You get to meet new people, serve them delicious things that they love, and feel a sense of pride at creating a space that reflects your talents, passions, and personality. What could be better?
While drawing up a business plan, dreaming up a drink menu, and mentally picking out dishes are all the fun parts, though, beware some common pitfalls. Here are five of the mistakes that can trip up a brand-new coffee business. Avoid them, and you're on your way to caffeinated contentment.
(And hey, let me know when your grinders are up and running: I want to be the first person to order an espresso!)
Don't Procrastinate: Choose a Coffee Source
Picking the right coffee partner is a serious commitment—especially if coffee is the focus of your establishment. Why wait until the last minute to make what is potentially the most important connection your business will have for its entire lifespan? Get to know several different roasters and their product; ask what kinds of services, education, resources, discounts, shipping policies, support, and technical assistance they offer, and ask their advice as you start to build your vision of The World's Best Coffee Shop.
If you're the independent type, maybe all you need is a source of high-quality beans and a mostly hands-off relationship with the folks who provide them to you. Another cafe owner might need help with training, support, and maintenance: Decide what type of interactions you'd like to have with your coffee roasters, introduce yourself and get to know as many as you can, and pick the one that seems like the best possible fit—at least a month before you ring up your first coffee sale.
Most of us wouldn't move in with someone after the third date, right? The same applies here: Hold off on the U-Haul until you feel like you are ready to get into this crazy mess together.
Don't Forget to Study Up!
You wouldn't start culinary school two weeks before opening a restaurant, would you? Anyone considering their own cafe should spend a considerable amount of time learning as much as they possibly can—not only about how to make coffee, but also how to taste it. Visiting as many coffee shops as possible and sipping different types of drinks at each can give you a good sense of the variety of flavor, quality, and styles available in the coffee world at large.
Additionally, it helps to do at least some boning up on what coffee is and where it comes from. Your customers might have questions about a bean's origins or how it was grown, and they will (and should!) turn to you as an "expert." Arm yourself with knowledge before you start arming strangers with caffeine.
Do Hire People with Pleasant Personalities
Becoming an expert barista isn't easy; it comes with time, enthusiasm, patience, and practice. But it can be taught, can be learned, and can be nurtured—unlike some badass barista's terrible attitude. You know, the one his or her boss puts up with just because the drinks taste or look pretty good?
As a customer, I know I'd almost always rather a coffee be handed to me with a friendly smile than a holier-than-thou scowl—regardless of how good that coffee might taste. And as an employer, I know that I can always teach and encourage someone to improve their skills on the espresso bar: It's much harder to change someone's miserable personality just to squeeze a few decent lattes out of them.
Keep the Menu Simple
One of the most common missteps that new cafe owners make is trying to anticipate and meet the every whim of every potential customer who might stumble across the threshold. This not only tends to lead to unwieldy and confusing menus, but also a spread-thin staff, and a dozen items that hardly anybody every orders—except when you try to get rid of them, which inevitably invites a hundred complaints about how this or that regular suddenly can't get their favorite drink. Why offer a hundred mediocre items when you can knock everybody's socks off with a cool dozen?
Open with a limited menu of high-quality basic offerings, and add any extras as realistic demand presents itself. For instance, if you're not sure you'll sell many decaf cappuccinos, start your first two or three weeks without decaf espresso and see how many folks ask for it. Are there enough requests to justify the expense and addition? Then go for it. If not, you can feel confident in keeping things tight to preserve quality (and your own sanity).
Skip the Punny Name
Do not call your coffee shop something with a pun in it. Ever. Please. I'm serious. The world absolutely does not need another Daily Grind. Nor does it need anything cutesy like Common Grounds, Bean Town, Brewed Awakening, or "Java" anything. Cafe names like these are a dime a dozen, and you want to stand out from the crowd.
Also, don't feel like you have to use a coffee-related term or phrase in your name, but do select something that captures the environment you're creating, the neighborhood around the shop, or your personality. If you take your coffee seriously, folks will recognize it, hear about it, and hopefully seek it out whether or not there's a "Cuppa Joe" flag flying outside.
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