How to Open a Coffee Shop: 12 Important Steps

how to open a coffee shop

Starting a coffee shop is never easy. But it is manageable if you have a good idea and a clear plan. In this article, we’ll look at the steps you need to take to open a successful coffee shop.

We’ve split our list into 12 ideas. While you can tackle each step in order, it’s more likely you’ll work on multiple parts at the same time. However you choose to use it, we hope this list will give you some great ideas for how to open a successful coffee shop.

Find Your Coffee Shop Sweet Spot

For your coffee shop to be successful, you need to fill a hole in the market. Consider what your strengths are and how you can use these abilities to create a venue people will love.

Think about:

  • What is the demand for coffee shops in your area? A college town will have different needs to a business hub, which will have different needs to a small town. Look at successful coffee shops near where you plan to open to get inspired.
  • What are your skills? Are you a talented barista with in-depth knowledge of the latest trends, or does your strength lie in baking? Perhaps you’re a great interior designer, or you know how to create beautiful gardens. Be sure to find a way to utilize your unique skill set in your coffee shop.
  • What are the current coffee industry trends and how can you take advantage of them? Could you be the first shop in your area to sell cold brew or nitro coffee? Maybe your customers would like coffee ice pops or takeout cans? To stay ahead of the trend curve, search for popular coffee shops around the world and find out what new products they are offering. Instagram is a great source of information.

coffee shop sweet spot diagram

For your coffee shop to have the best chance of success, it should fit into the center of the Venn diagram above.

Decide How to Proceed

Next you need to make difficult decisions about how to get your business up and running. This means taking steps to decide where it will be located, what you will offer on the menu, whether you will run the business or hire someone else, and how you will attract customers.

Financial matters are also critical. Consider how much money you have and whether you need to access external capital. Think about how much it will cost to rent a unit, promote your coffee shop, deal with renovations, buy equipment, and make hires.

It isn’t essential that you decide everything at once. But by the time you seriously get around to starting your business, these are things you need to know.

Create a Mission and a Vision Statement

A mission statement and a vision statement are important documents that help you define your coffee shop.

Mission Statement

Your mission statement is typically a short affirmation that defines your purpose. The statement should be specific, even if you have big goals. When writing yours, be sure it genuinely aligns with what you want to achieve.

Let’s look at the mission statements of some famous coffee shops:

Starbucks: To inspire and nurture the human spirit—one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time.

starbucks mission statement

Pret: To serve freshly made food and good organic coffee, while also trying to do the right thing.

Despite coming from global brands, both these statements are local and they keep the company’s attention on what is most important—the product and the customer.

Vision Statement

A vision statement describes your coffee shop’s objectives at the highest level. It’s what your coffee shop will end up as if everything goes to plan.

The statement is your company’s guiding light and it helps ensure every business decision you make pushes you toward your overarching goal. It also ensures everyone, from staff to management, is on the same page with what they are trying to achieve.

Let’s look at the mission statements of a few successful coffee shops:

Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf: To be “Simply the Best” roaster and global retailer of specialty coffee and tea.

Dunkin’ Donuts: To be always the desired place for great coffee beverages and delicious complimentary donuts & bakery products to enjoy with family and friends.

dunkin donuts vision statement

Your vision statement should be aspirational while being directly applicable to your business.

If you have no intention of expanding globally, there’s no point talking about being the best global retailer of coffee. Instead, think about how you can make the statement relevant to your actual goals.

Write a Business Plan

While you are planning your coffee shop, it’s important to write a business plan. This will help define your journey to success and highlight any potential pitfalls before you start.

The sections in your business plan will depend on your exact needs, but most will contain the following information.

  1. Executive summary: A summary of your business, including why it will be successful.
  2. Company overview: Practical details about your business, including owners, location, and costs.
  3. Market and customer analysis: Details about the local and national market. Include information on competitors.
  4. Sales and marketing plan: Practical details about your products and how you will handle sales. Also include what you will do to promote your business.
  5. Operating plan: Information about how you will run your business, e.g. opening hours, staff, suppliers, opening and closing procedures.
  6. Management team: Who will run the coffee shop and why are they well placed to make it a success.
  7. Financial plan: Include operating costs, startup costs, expected sales, revenue, cash flow, etc.

A business plan is often a formal document used for funding and loans. However, even if you don’t plan to access external capital it’s still a good idea to create a business plan to help you create a clearly defined strategy.

If you want to learn more, our coffee shop business plan article includes everything you need to know, including an example coffee shop business plan you can use as a template.

Choose a Location

Assuming you already have a good idea of the area you want to base your coffee shop in, you now need to finalize a location. There are several things to consider:

  1. Is the size of the coffee shop suitable for your expected demand? If your coffee shop is too small, you will limit the revenue you can generate, if it’s too big, it risks looking empty, and rent may cost more than is necessary.
  2. How much footfall does the location receive? If you are situated in a busy location with lots of people walking past, you won’t have to do much marketing to get customers. On the other hand, even a great coffee shop in a quiet location will struggle to attract attention.
  3. Can you afford it? Rent is typically the third biggest expense for hospitality businesses after employees and supplies and should amount to around 10% of revenues. Look at your business plan and financial projections to see what you can afford.
  4. How much work will you need to do? If you’re moving into a space previously owned by another coffee shop, restaurant, or bar, you may not need to do much to get up and running. Other venues will need significantly more work done before they are ready. This can be expensive, so be sure to take these start-up costs into consideration.
  5. What’s the competition like? Before you make a final decision, look at other businesses in the area. Having other coffee shops nearby can be a good sign as it suggests the area can sustain them. The downside is that there may not be enough interest to keep your shop in business.

Decide on Your Menu

Next, you need to decide on your menu. You should already have a good idea about the type of food and drink you will serve from the work you did in earlier sections.

When creating your menu, be aware that a small offering is easier to manage than a large one. If you plan to run the coffee shop on your own or with minimal help, keeping your menu options to a minimum will simplify operations.

That doesn’t mean you can’t experiment or do things to stand out. Consider having a base menu full of coffee shop essentials, plus a small selection of signature extras that you know will bring attention.

Also, think about ingredients and the time it takes to prepare each item. It’s easy to offer a full suite of espresso-based drinks as these are little more than slight variations on shots and steamed milk.

However, things get more complicated when you add drinks with other ingredients and flavors, or drinks that take time to make—like hand-drip coffee.

The same factors apply to food. It’s far easier to offer a selection of cakes, cookies, or even sandwiches that you can prepare in advance than it is to offer a menu full of freshly prepared meals.

Idle Hands in Manchester is a good example of an independent coffee shop with a simple yet varied menu.

The coffee shop offers espresso-based drinks from a rotating choice of coffee roasters, as well as filter coffees. The food menu is made up of an ever-changing selection of pies and a manageable lunch and brunch selection.

The menu consists of sandwiches during the week when customers are likely to be rushed, and light meals at the weekend when they have the time to sit down.

coffee shop menu

Look for Suppliers

Now you have a good idea of the type of food and drinks you will offer, make a note of the ingredients you need so you can start to look for suppliers.

Your coffee supplier is perhaps the most important decision to get right.

When choosing a roaster, you need to find one that is suitable for what you plan to sell, can provide the amount of coffee you need, and is within your budget.

While the quality of the coffee is important, it’s also important that the supplier consistently delivers your coffee on time. While a local specialty roaster may produce excellent coffee, they may not be able to keep up with demand for a larger coffee shop.

When choosing a supplier, always start with a few different options. You can then ask for samples. This will allow you to test the quality of the product, as well as give you a taste of how their delivery systems work.

Casa Espresso has an excellent guide that details all the steps you need to go through when choosing a supplier, which also recommends asking for testimonials from existing customers.

Some coffee suppliers allow you to create individual blends of coffee beans and white label this coffee as your own. This is a good idea if you want to offer a product that is unique to your business.

Finally, consider what other items you’ll need. Things like paper cups, straws, napkins, and milk are essential to your business but can easily slip under the radar.

Buy (or Lease) Equipment

Coffee shop equipment can be costly, with commercial espresso machines often running into the thousands of dollars. This is before you take into account the cost of fridges, cooking or baking equipment, grinders, and more.

commercial espresso machine
There are several ways you can get equipment.

If you have access to cash, you can buy your own. Consider looking on second-hand marketplaces for used equipment if you want to save money.

Another option is to lease the equipment. This is a good way to get everything you need with relatively little up-front cost.

When you lease a machine, the company that provides the equipment will typically service it for you. This can be a huge benefit as espresso machines are costly and time-consuming to look after.

Sometimes your coffee supplier will offer to lease equipment to you. This can simplify the process of finding equipment and may come with other benefits, such as free delivery on your coffee.

Consider Your Interior

Your coffee shop’s interior is a critical part of the experience. Consider the practical aspects of the interior, as well as how the space creates an atmosphere that will attract customers.

Practicalities include:

  • How many tables can you fit in? Is there enough room to reach your sales targets?
  • How much space do you need behind the bar, or in the kitchens?
  • Do you need a dedicated pickup spot for orders, or will you bring drinks to customers?

Once you’ve worked out these basics, you can think more about the ambiance and atmosphere. Consider your ideal customer and what they will want from the space.

If you are trying to attract office workers, you’ll need plug sockets and tables where people can pull out a laptop. Or if you want a welcoming place to relax, consider comfy chairs and sofas. If you plan to sell food, make sure the tables are suitable for dining.

Interior design is a huge topic and we can’t go over every aspect of it in this article. Perhaps the best option is to consult a professional interior designer to help you create a space you and your customers will enjoy.

This guide from Comelite Architecture, Structure, and Interior Design has lots of great design ideas for coffee shops.

Hire the Right People

Hiring is a crucial part of running your coffee shop. On a basic level you’ll need a manager who will run the coffee shop and a barista to make the drinks.

Small coffee shops may get away with having one person—often the owner—fulfil both roles. However, most coffee shops will benefit from making some hires. Depending on the size of your location and your planned offerings, you may also need chefs, pastry chefs, servers, dish washers, cleaners, shift supervisors, and more.

When hiring, it’s important to take your time with the process. Make a list of all the roles you need to fill and think about the ideal requirements. As well as technical skills, consider both culture fit and personality; the latter is especially important in the hospitality industry.

Always hold interviews to make sure you’re hiring the right people. While it can be tempting to rush through the process (especially if the person has a good CV and plenty of experience) taking a bit more time during the hiring process to really get to know the candidate can stop you making costly mistakes.

For more information about coffee shop hiring, HowtoStartanLLC has an in-depth guide.

Start Marketing Early

You should begin marketing your coffee shop as soon as you’ve finalized the important details. A good pre-launch strategy can be the difference between your business taking off instantly and a slow, uncertain beginning.

Ideally, you will start marketing months before your coffee shop opens. There are plenty of things you can do to prepare for success.

As soon as you begin working on your venue you will have eyes on your business. Consider putting up posters with your coffee shop name in the window. Use these signs to direct people toward your social media profiles.

On your profiles, share teaser photos and information about your brand. Add anyone in your network who may want to visit your coffee shop and encourage them to invite friends to follow your page.

You can also work on your digital assets. Build a website with information such as your menu, directions, and an About page. Website builders like Wix or Squarespace make building your own site easy and affordable.

You should also consider building an app. AppInstitute makes it easy for coffee shops to create branded mobile apps with features such as mobile order-ahead, coupons, and rewards schemes. These options are similar to the ones offered by larger companies like Starbucks.

Click here for more information about creating an app for your coffee shop.

Another easy win when you’re getting closer to opening time is to fill out your Google My Business profile.

This will help you show up in Google Search and Google Maps results when people look for coffee shops in your area. The profile will include information like opening hours, images, reviews, and directions.

coffee shop google maps

If you need more information about marketing your coffee shop, check out our article on the top ten coffee shop marketing ideas.

Launch Your Business

Now it’s time to launch your business! Before the big day ensure you have everything in place and spend some time training your staff on what is expected. First impressions count, so give yourself plenty of time to get ready.

Consider having a soft opening where you invite friends and family to make sure everything works as expected. Gain feedback from them so you can make adjustments if there are things people really do or don’t like.

Coffee shops benefit greatly from repeat customers, so from day one you should ensure you are building relationships with customers. Focus on offering the best possible experience so that people will return again and again.

Opening a coffee shop is an exciting time, although one that can be stressful as you juggle multiple roles. Hopefully the tips in this article will help you define some of the most important aspects of your business plan, as well as inspiring you on your journey to launching a successful coffee shop.

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