April 4, 2017

How to Open a Specialty Coffee Shop, From Concept to Launch


Dreaming of starting your own specialty coffee shop? Or have you already started planning, with long lists of things you need to check, get, or avoid?

Opening a café is one of the most exciting things you can do, but it isn’t easy. I know, I’ve done it. However, with lots of passion and persistence, it is doable.

I’ve made a list of all the things you’ll need to consider, from opening to launch. Read on, because nothing is impossible.

Spanish Version: Cómo Abrir una Tienda de Café de Especialidad: Desde el  Concepto al Lanzamiento

specialty coffee shop

There’s a lot of hard work behind a beautiful coffee shop. Credit: Tyler James Wendling

1. What Is Your Concept?

This part is essential: it will be the heart of your business plan. What kind of coffee house do you want to be? What values do you want to embody, and what atmosphere do you want to create? What do you want your café to look like in a few years’ time?

You might want to open an “old school” coffee shop with traditional methods, or a café that’s dedicated to espresso-based coffees, or a modern place experimenting with new tech. You’ll also need to think about who your customers will be (office workers, millennials, seniors, all of the above?). And once you know that, ask yourself how you want your customers to see you – and why they should go to you instead of your competition.

Another key question is the type of coffee you’ll offer. If you’re in a producing country, will you use a national bean? If you’re going to import beans, do you know how you’ll do that? From where? And how often? Do you want to work towards direct trade and in-house roasting, or do you want to reach out to roasters and importers instead?

This question is the core of your business, and it’s easy to think you already know the answers. But slowing down and really considering these points in depth will be beneficial later on.


The coffee you offer should reflect your core brand concept. Credit: Emilio Patino

2. Location

Your concept – and, in particular, the people you want to reach – should determine your location. For example, if you’re targeting younger generations, look for places near universities or trendy areas. If you want your clientele to be office workers, on the other hand, look at the business district.

But it’s also more complex than that. Perhaps you want to focus on take-away coffee. In that case, you might want to avoid the university quarter. Students will look for a place they can sit down and study.

What’s more, think about the practical questions: how expensive is real estate in the area? Are you going to rent or buy? Is there good access for deliveries?

La Fontaine de Belleville

Who’s your target audience?  Credit: La Fontaine de Belleville

3. Fit Out & Equipment

There’s a huge amount of equipment you’ll need to buy, and narrowing down what equipment you want isn’t easy. Again, think about your concept. Do you want a classic Italian machine? Do you want to break paradigms with an American machine? Do you need volumetric operations?  

Go to coffee expos to find out what new equipment is on the market, but I recommend buying from local distributors. They can show you the equipment and you can take your time deciding. You need to be confident in your purchase: this is an investment for a work tool, and you don’t want to have to replace it in a year or so. Don’t forget to consider maintenance plans and repairs, too.

How much do you want to spend on furniture and remodeling? To a certain degree, it will depend on your café space and how many customers you can expect.  Remember, less is more: don’t saturate your coffee shop with places to sit if your customers will all want coffee to go.

Don’t forget to check the measurements of your equipment carefully before you begin, so that you don’t have to pay to make changes. Oh, and remember that remodeling isn’t quick. Make sure you build enough time into your business plan.

And one last thing: make sure to take out expenses and investments protection.

coffee shop

Consider the coffee shop you want to build. Credit: Edson García

SEE ALSO: 5 Tips for Hiring The Perfect Barista

4. Menu, Staff, & Day-to-Day Management

Now that you’ve finished deciding what kind of space you’ll have, it’s time to think about the day-to-day management of it.

First of all, your menu: are you going to make traditional drinks? Or do you want to be more innovative? What about food? Who will be your supplier, and how often do you want deliveries? Create your recipes and work out their costs. Then put a market price on your menu, make your sales projections, and see what profit margins you have. Can you work with those? If not, start reconsidering your menu and suppliers – where you can make changes?

Think technology: look for a good accounting program that will also help you to take care of your inventory, and point-of-sale software that will meet your needs.

Speaking of point of sale, who’s going to be behind the bar? Will it be you alone, at first, or are you going to form a team? Who will do the interviews? What will you look for?

No doubt you’ve heard the phrase that skills can be learned but attitude is harder to change. There’s a lot of truth in this – but are you ready to train staff? If yes, make a training guide so you know what and how you’ll teach them. If not, get a reliable and professional trainer to work with.

coffee shop menu

How much training will your staff need to make your menu? Credit: Quentin

5. Profits & Advertising

Profits: the one thing we rely on. Train your staff, make sure your suppliers are prompt, and have all the numbers done before you start operations.

You should also start advertising before you open. You don’t need to spend a lot, but make sure you have an active social media presence and also reach out to local bloggers and journalists. A couple of weeks before the launch date, start posting every day to build excitement.

You’ll also want to hold a launch party. Invite local influencers with active social media accounts: if they have fun and like your coffee, all their followers will know. But don’t forget to consider the expenses, too: are you planning to offer free drinks at this event?

Once you’ve launched, use daily goals to stay on track and see regular improvement. Keep them specific – things like: “team, today we’re going to sell X drinks” or “today, we need to exceed X consumed foods”. Make sure your objectives remain manageable, though: your aim isn’t to become pushy, but rather to help your business grow steadily.


Which will you see more profits from: the hot chocolate or the croissant? Credit: Gaby Casablancas

Feeling daunted by the amount of work? Don’t be. Every step takes you closer to realising your dream. This world needs more entrepreneurs, and we need more passionate people to share their love of specialty coffee with the world. So start planning, and get ready for your own coffee adventure.

Perfect Daily Grind

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