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Open a Coffee Shop - Things to Consider First

Updated on March 27, 2012

If you're thinking of opening a coffee shop read on. For many people it's an idyllic dream to have their own business; to move somewhere picturesque, Devon, Cornwall, Norfolk (pick a pretty British county) and spend the rest of their working days serving coffee and cake to grateful people.

The advantages are enourmous, there's no doubt about that:

No hassles from the boss, you can organise your own day, no commuting, no deadlines, no stress, people will pay you for your home-made baking, you can choose how much you earn, no fitting holidays in around other people's lives, it's not rocket science and nobody dies if you screw up.

Open A Coffee Shop

You're thinking there's a but coming - well there is, several buts in fact. Speaking as someone who's done it, set up a continental chocolate retail and coffee shop, got the T-shirt and washed it so many times it's worn out, let me share some of my ruminations about this coffee shop malarkey that you may not have considered.

No Hassles from The Boss

None, absolutely no hassles from the boss whatsoever. It's fantastic, a huge weight of stress gone immediately you hand in your resignation. However......

Most people open a coffee shop with their life partner. Other than holidays, have you ever spent 24 hours a day, day in day out, week in week out, year after year with your partner before. At the end of a two week break together do you want to hit them over the head with a frozen lamb joint and stuff them in the freezer?  Or do you wish you could spend every day together forever and ever? Just a thought.

Have you heard how they speak to/deal with staff? They will have no qualms about how they speak to you, they know you so well. If you've had a row at home about how you've loaded the dishwasher (knives pointing up or down) or some such trivia, how will you stop this spilling over into your coffee shop life? Customers and staff don't want to be involved in your domestic rivalry.

Ah, then there are those self-same staff. you are likely to be a very small team, working closely together. If you've never managed staff before it can be tricky. You need to be friendly, but remain The Boss. Staff arrive late, can be lazy, can be bossy, want holidays at peak times etc, etc., but can also be absolutely fantastic. When you employ good staff, you want to hold on to them at all costs, they are worth their weight in gold.

Open a Coffee Shop - Things to Consider First

Organise Your Own Day

Most coffee shops open around nine am, some earlier to catch the breakfast trade, it depends what type of coffee shop you are. In any case, you need to arrive around half an hour before opening so you can put the coffee machine on, this is just about the time you will need to take your kids to school if you have any. You will also somehow have needed to visit the bank or Post Office on the way in, to organise a float of change for the till. You could have done it last night, but at five minutes to closing there was a coach party desperate for a wee and a cup ot tea, so the banks were closed.

You also need to put out your cake displays, make sure you have enough milk and fresh consumables to get you through the day and check any stored cakes for freshness. If they're looking even a little stale don't serve them. If you do serve anything slightly old, customers will notice. In the US, they are likely to complain and ask for a refund, or coffees on the house. In the UK, customers will do the British thing, say 'that was lovely', then never come back, plus they will tell all their friends what a rubbish coffee shop you are.

Choose How Much You Earn

Let's face it, you're opening this coffee shop for the lifestyle, not to earn millions. At least I hope you are, otherwise you'll be sorely disappointed. Owning a coffee shop is only ever going to make you a living. There will be days when, having got to work early and set everything up, your first customer will be at 1pm, and they will just want a cup of tea; usually the cheapest thing on your menu.

There are days when you have five customers all day, and they are soooo boring. You can feel all your lovely cakes going stale around the edges. How do you get through a day like this? You could sit down and start doing the wages, or cleaning, there's loads of cleaning to be done - always.

We often found that our worst days were in the height of summer. When the weather's hot, customers want to be outside, not in a cosy coffee shop. If we were doing this business again, we would definitely try to find a location with outside space, then get an alcohol license, just to sell a couple of types of wine and a couple of micro beers. It's worth thinking about, and could seriously improve your summer takings.

Take away ice creams in summer help to boost the footfall through the door, so they are also worth thinking about.

Home Made Baking

Lovely idea.

When the hell are you going to do this? 

In order to earn a (usually much smaller, than when you were employed) living wage, you need your covers to be full, at least 80% of the time. You need customers to be popping through the door, bang, bang, bang, one after the other.  This means you will be taking orders and flying the coffee machine; you will be far too busy trying to earn money to even think about baking.

Maybe you could do it in the evening, ready for the next day?


At last, no more hassles about when to have your holiday.

You're setting up a business - you won't have any holidays - end of.

You could pay staff to cover. You'll need to earn your family's living wage, plus extra for the holiday, plus double to pay your staff and their National insurance. just a thought.


Relaxation time is really important. Let's imagine you've had an absolutely cracking day. your last customer has just left at 5.15 pm, taking a couple of bits of cake with her to share with friends so she can spread the word about your fantastic coffee shop. Brilliant. Now you need to clean the place from top to bottom, tables, carpets the lot, strip down your coffee machine and clean it thoroughly (otherwise the coffee tastes bitter), put away any stock that needs putting away, oh and cash up. Also, every few weeks the pipes of your coffee machine need cleaning with special stuff and you can't do that when the shop is open.

Excellent, it's all going really well today. you're away from the shop by 6pm, so you can put your feet up.

Once you've done all your household chores that you havn't done, because you were at the shop, cooked the supper, picked up the kids, logged on to the computer and done a couple of hours of bookkeeping, sorted out the tax man, oh and your staff want paying this week, so you need to do the wages. Bloody selfish of them if you ask me.

Before you know it, your supper's in the dog (my God, the dog, hasn't been walked!), it's midnight and you've still a chocolate cake and three batches of scones to make before the morning. At some point you also need to visit the bank, as you've got ten grand under the sofa cushions in the lounge.

Just before you go to sleep you need to finish that row about the bloody dishwasher!

Open A Coffee Shop - It's Still A Great Life

 I know I'm being facetious, but all of the above has to be considered.  As your business builds and you have more money coming in, you can pay people to do some of this stuff for you, such as wages, basic bookkeeping, cleaning, holiday cover, etc, but it all eats into your profits, which in the beginning may be non-existent.  Most people starting up a business don't expect to see a profit until year three.

They say it's a great life if you don't weaken and it's true.  I wouldn't have missed opening a coffee shop for the world.  It was a great experience, we made a living and a profit.  What more could you ask for.  The fourteen hour days were a killer though, and we only had every other Sunday off.  Just a thought.


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    • profile image 6 years ago

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    • Georgina_writes profile image

      Georgina_writes 7 years ago from Dartmoor

      Thanks ss sneh - I guess it's not easy to choose how much you earn in this economic climate.

    • ss sneh profile image

      ss sneh 7 years ago from the Incredible India!

      Hi! Nice business tips!

      The most important one - choose how much you earn! - Thanks

    • Georgina_writes profile image

      Georgina_writes 8 years ago from Dartmoor

      Thanks NateSean. Speaking from experience you gotta sell a f*** of a lot of coffee to make a profit, particularly if you've taken out a bank loan to set up (we didn't), so I think the romantic idea of pottering about making loads of homemade stuff doesn't work for most folk when you have bills to pay.

      Health inspectors - we contacted ours for 'advice' before we opened. She didn't tell us anything we didn't know/weren't going to do anyway, it was all about building a good relationship right from the start. But, you're right, you have to be scrupulously clean ALL the time -easy if it's your business, but not so easy to encourage staff to keep up such high standards. Great to meet a fellow Crawford!

    • NateSean profile image

      NateSean 8 years ago from Salem, MA

      I like you're very "no BS" approach to this. I think a lot of people who read this will be at least somewhat disillusioned from their preconcieved notions if not educated about the process.

      My brother and I have been talking long about opening up a coffee shop. One of the things you didn't mention, but I'm sure you are well aware of, is the ever looming threat of a bad visit from the health inspectors. Just one speck of dust found in the most obscure corner of the most unused space in the coffee shop can close your business down for good.

      And those health inspectors never take a day off.

    • Georgina_writes profile image

      Georgina_writes 8 years ago from Dartmoor

      Mike Chronos, thanks for your comment. I guess small town UK is used to opening at nine and closing at six. When we set up our chocolate shop and cafe we juggled about with the opening hours for a bit, but it wasn't financially viable to open early (no customers)- except on Christmas Eve. I suppose it depends on the type of establishment and location. If you're selling breakfast stuff with plenty of footfall past the door, then opening early would be vital.

    • profile image

      Mike Chronos 8 years ago

      Wow I'm actually surprised that some shops open at 9am. That would be great! But I think most shops would miss most of their customers if they did not open super early (some as early as 5am). Something to think about if you are used to sleeping in every morning.

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      online bookkeeping courses 8 years ago

      Good thorough information, always a pleasure to find info that is useful, will be very happy to see more from you in the future