Most articles on how to start a coffee shop with no experience focus on the business start-up essentials of marketing and writing a business plan. Although important, those aspects of starting a coffee shop don’t represent the reason that most new coffee shops fail. According to CoffeeBusiness.com, the majority of coffee shops fail because the owner lacks coffee industry knowledge.
1. Study the Coffee Industry
The first step in how to start a coffee shop with no experience, therefore, becomes gaining industry knowledge. Expect to devote six to 2 months of research and study to learning about the industry and operating a successful coffee shop. Start by reading relevant magazines and books, then attend workshops and seminars.
Attend industry events, such as Coffee Fest. At each annual Coffee Fest, Bellissimo Coffee Advisors offers a workshop on successfully launching a coffee business. Many coffee industry trade shows offer similar training options.
2. Visit Local Coffee Shops
Observe the operations and customers of local coffee shops. This process lets you learn what customers in your area enjoy and what they don’t. When you observe customers complaining about something in a coffee shop, you learn what not to do on your own.
While you might like visiting coffee shops throughout the country or the world, remember that what’s a hit in California may not appeal to coffee drinkers in Michigan. Building a successful coffee shop means catering to the likes and dislikes of your customer base. Once you’ve completed at least one workshop on running a coffee shop, you can begin this in-person study of local establishments.
3. Hire an Expert
Planning a new business of any kind requires industry knowledge. Accelerate your knowledge base by contracting with a coffee industry consultant. When you need to know how to start a coffee shop with no experience, it helps to employ an expert.
4. Earn Your Food Handler’s Permit
In every US state, the government sets requirements for people who work in food service. Even if your coffee shop will only serve coffee (and that’s pretty rare), you and every employee you hire will need a food handler’s permit. The training for earning this permit teaches many basics of restaurant life, so consider this an invaluable experience.
5. Take a Part-Time Job in a Coffee House
Gain first-hand experience before you invest your money in a coffee shop. Take a part-time job working for a local, independent coffee shop, unless you want to own a franchise. In that case, take a job as a barista at a local franchise. Learn from the inside how to run a coffee shop, so you can gain the experience you need to succeed.
6. Write Your Business Plan
Writing the business plan for your new eatery provides a wonderful opportunity when you need to learn how to start a coffee shop with no experience. The research you pour into this document provides you with a strong foundation for your fledgling business. One key aspect of your business plan, the budget, represents your initial financial risk and your start-up capital.
7. Build Your Budget
Learning how to start a coffee shop with no experience means setting and sticking to a budget. The type of coffee operation you found alters the start-up costs. While you don’t need to have this amount saved to begin, you will need to secure the funding via a loan or angel investor before you acquire your location and open. Let’s consider the coffee operation types and start-up cost ranges:
- Coffee shop with indoor seating costs $80,000 to $330,000
- Drive-thru coffee shop with no seating costs $80,000 to $230,000
- Drive-thru coffee shop with indoor seating costs $80,000 to $400,000
- Coffee kiosk (also called a stand or cart) costs $60,000 to $125,000
- Coffee food truck costs $50,000 to $175,000.
Once you establish your coffee shop, expansion costs less. For example, adding a brew bar costs between $1,500 and $30,000. The equipment costs little, but renovations add to the total cost.
8. Finding Your Coffee Shop Location
Choose a main thoroughfare that receives a lot of foot and vehicle traffic. Your coffee shop should allow individuals to approach as pedestrians or drive up and park. That means your location needs to provide ample parking and safe sidewalks.
Your budget decides whether you purchase the building or food truck, or you lease it. Either way, allocate 15 percent of your monthly sales for a mortgage or rent payment. You will need to estimate your first month’s sales based on the earnings of other similar coffee houses in the area.
Finding an appropriate building takes time and effort. When you do locate one, it may require renovation before you can move in and open your shop. Let’s consider what types of renovations your coffee shop location might need before you can open.
9. Design Your Eatery’s Interior and Workflow
Designing the coffee house’s layout and workflow go hand-in-hand. Your customers need an efficient space in which to order and pick up their drinks; your baristas need a comfortable, orderly space in which to prepare drinks. The latter task includes five steps:
- Taking coffee orders
- Brewing coffee
- Bean grinding
- Steaming milk
- Frothing milk.
Design the coffee shop layout to provide a great workflow and customer flow.
The coffee shop layout creates the customer’s first impression. Keep music levels quiet and create both conversation areas and study areas. It works best to place these areas at opposite ends of the café. Decorate to build an ambiance that will attract customers and keep them coming back.
10. Obtain the Necessary Permits and Licenses
Before you dive into renovations, obtain your business-related licenses. Many of these require you to have a physical location before applying for them. That means you buy or rent the space, and then apply for the licenses. In some cases, such as the Building Health Permit, you need to complete the renovations and have all equipment in place, plus the utilities turned on before you can apply.
Other licenses, such as your general business license, only require a physical address, application, and fee. Contact your local Chamber of Commerce to learn which licenses and permits your coffee shop business will need. The following list includes the typical needs:
- FEIN (Federal Employee Identification Number) from the Internal Revenue Service
- Local and state business license
- “Doing Business As” license (DBA) from your state or municipality
- State building health permit
- Retail food service license
- State resale license for sales tax
- Signage permit
- Commercial insurance package
- State food handler’s permit.
If you plan to host live musical performances, your establishment will also require a live entertainment license. Obtain the essentials of these permits and licenses before sinking funding into renovations.
11. Remodel Your Space
At this point, you hire your second consultant, a coffee bar and restaurant contractor who helps you renovate the café space you chose. Knowing when to ask for help forms a cornerstone of how to start a coffee shop with no experience. Let an expert contractor who specializes in eateries conduct the renovation, while you decide the décor. These experienced contractors can help with window replacements, kitchen layout, seating configurations, lighting needs, and much more.
Add Security Features
Before you get too far along in your renovations, add security features that protect your investment in your new coffee shop. Change the locks on the doors and upgrade any window locks. Install an alarm system that automatically contacts the police or fire departments in case of a break-in or fire. Local fire alarm specialists and security companies can assist you in this endeavor.
12. Install New Windows
Although you’ll hire an experienced general contractor (GC) to manage the overall renovations, the GC will hire specialists to handle the installation of various components. A glazier will install the commercial glass panes of your front windows and any drive-thru windows. Most coffee shops feature floor-to-ceiling windows in front to entice pedestrians into the eatery.
The ideal location may not already feature this type of window. That means the GC will re-frame the front wall of the shop and the glazier will place the window glass. If you can find an appropriate location that already has restaurant windows, snap it up.
13. Add Cabinets
Your coffee shop-to-be will need custom cabinet installation unless it is already served as a restaurant. The GC will probably suggest cabinets for the kitchen area, every storage room, and the dining area. Health codes prohibit the storage of food products in the same area as cleaning supplies, so your coffee shop needs separate storage for each. In many buildings, each rental space includes a utility closet, but few come with an area for food storage.
You will need your GC to construct a closet or storage cabinet area for your coffee and food storage. Finding a space that already served as an eatery can save you a lot of renovation money since it will already feature appropriate cabinets.
14. Purchase Equipment
Outfitting your coffee house with the essentials of doing business requires time, research, and money. Among the kitchen equipment required, you’ll need commercial-grade:
- Coffee machines
- Espresso machines
- Coffee grinders
- Milk frothers
- Water filtration system
- Ice machine
- Refrigeration and freezers
- Hot food equipment
- Food display cases
- Food assembly countertops
- Coffee assembly countertops.
That takes care of your kitchen equipment, but you will also need utensils, coffee mugs, take-out coffee containers, and food containers if you plan to serve food. Also, purchase coffee preparation supplies, such as stirrers, cup lids, napkins, and the presentation bins that hold them.
15. Purchasing Restaurant Furnishings
When you start learning how to start a coffee shop with no experience, you discover that cafes require commercial furnishings, too. Restaurant supply stores carry booths, tables, and chairs manufactured for use in a restaurant setting. These heavy-duty furnishings typically use fire-proof designs.
To save money, consider purchasing used furnishings, then re-upholstering them to suit your décor. You can save thousands of dollars by doing this, plus you can ensure that the upholstery perfectly matches your interior. Look for indoor and outdoor seating because, during nice weather, many customers enjoy sitting outside.
16. Purchase a Sign
Matching your signage to your branding materials forms another lesson in how to start a coffee shop with no experience. While you need to hire a custom signage company to create your business’s outdoor sign, you’ll need it to match your logo, menu artwork, indoor signage, etc. For creating your menus and other marketing collateral, such as business cards, letterhead, and related items, hire a marketing firm that specializes in creative development. Create these items regardless of whether you decide to create branded promotional items, too.
17. Rent a Dumpster
Once you’ve installed your outdoor sign, you need to lease another item for the exterior of your coffee shop. Outside of the rear door of your establishment, just off the kitchen, you will need a dumpster that complies with the city’s health codes. Turn to a dependable dumpster rental service for this. Find this service by searching the Better Business Bureau (BBB) for local providers.
18. Get Technology Solutions
You might not think of a coffee shop as needing small business IT services, but most cafes use a computerized point-of-sale (POS) system. That means the POS can crash, so your coffee house needs a computer tech to repair the system. These IT service businesses also offer training on POS equipment and essential computer programs, such as Excel and QuickBooks.
19. Choose Your Coffee and Food Suppliers
To operate a successful coffee shop, you will need a coffee supplier that provides the highest quality coffee possible. Customers love a great-tasting cup of Joe, so they keep returning. Look for a supplier that can fulfill all of your coffee needs and food items, too.
Research food suppliers to learn which high-quality options you can use as a stand-by supplier. Sometimes, supply chains break down, so your company needs to identify and create accounts with backup suppliers, too. This method ensures that you can always provide your customers with tasty coffee and food.
20. Keep Your Kitchen Clean
After putting in all of that work, you still need to prepare your kitchen further. Hire a grease trap pumping service to clean the lines before you open. Depending on how much business you do, your kitchen will need to undergo this grease trap cleaning every few months. Your state and local health code set minimum requirements, but you will need to clean it more often if your shop does a lot of business.
21. Create a Marketing Strategy
The final tip on how to start a coffee shop with no experience relates to marketing your coffee house. To become successful, you will need to combine traditional advertising, such as newspaper and magazine ads with digital advertising and marketing. Create a website that uses SEO copy, then advertise it using a pay per click management service. Pay-per-click ads (PPC ads) help you build traction while your SEO website helps you raise your organic search engine results placement (SERP).
Use social media, such as X, Instagram, and Facebook to advertise your product and location. Social media provides you with a way to interact with potential customers and returning customers that you can reference later, print out, and share online with others.
Take part in local community events like youth baseball tournaments. These Little League events offer sponsorship opportunities that get your business’s name in front of many local residents and the visiting team. Offer a small discount for each run scored as an added incentive.
22. Design Merchandise
At community events and industry trade shows, distribute a company branded promotional item. Pens, pencils, buttons, etc. offer a low-cost incentive that most businesses can afford to give away. Order branded t-shirts or coffee mugs from the same company to sell in your coffee shop.
23. Host an Open House or Grand Opening Party
After you’ve finished all the hard work to open the doors to your new coffee shop, throw a party to commemorate opening day. Offer drink specials and merchandise discounts, and greet every customer. Entice people inside by offering samples outside of your eatery.
You Can Open a Successful Coffee Shop Without Industry Experience
Many restaurants do fail, but some succeed. The research, development, and work that you put into your new coffee shop can make it successful. By contracting with expert consultants, you can get the help you need to open a coffee café.