You notice dogs meeting up for drinks and snacks on the dog-friendly patios at popular taphouses and you wonder why there’s no such place for cats. A sophisticated venue suited to cats, such as your coffee shop, would be the perfect place to forge a new feline frontier. To pull it off, you’ll need a different approach than used for dogs. If you’re fishing for ideas, I’m here to tell you how to do it.
To make your coffee shop cat-friendly, you’ll need to check with your city to verify local ordinances, confirm you have adequate insurance, develop rules to protect your customers, their cats, and your business, establish emergency protocols, enclose your outdoor seating with a catio, and partner with cat-centric charities.
I promise I’ll get to the fun stuff in a few minutes, but first I’m going to cover some of the necessary steps you’ll have to take to get started. To begin, you’ll need to check with your city to make sure cats are allowed on the premises of your coffee shop before inviting them in.
Most establishments that host companion dogs are not permitted to have dogs inside the building due to city health codes, but they’re glad to allow dogs to visit their outdoor dining area, so perhaps that’s a possibility with your cat customers as well. Typically, pet-friendly patio ordinances do apply specifically to dogs, but in light of cat cafés, there appears to be some wiggle room. So, if pet cats aren’t allowed currently, check with your city to find out what you need to do to get the go-ahead.
A Little Bit About Insurance
Upon getting the green light from the city, contact your insurance agent to see if you’ll need additional coverage. You’ll likely have your customers sign waivers (here’s an example of a dog patio waiver), but they can still sue if something goes wrong, so having the right insurance is important. (While a cat café is different from a cat-friendly coffee shop, you could encounter similar issues.)
You’ll Need Rules
Take a Look at Similar Establishments
No one wants to be a party pooper, but you’re going to need some house rules to keep your customers and their felines safe, comfortable, and happy.
Because a pet cat-friendly coffee shop is relatively uncharted territory, have a look at the different rules for various dog-friendly patios to get an idea of what sort of behavior is expected of pets (yes, dogs are very different, but they’re still ‘pets in public’, just as cats would be). Also check out rules for cat cafés to get a sense of what you’ll need to ask of your customers. You’ll need variations of these kinds of rules.
Your business is a little different, so you’ll come up with some rules of your own, too.
Plan Ahead and Cover Your Tail
Think about potential cat conflicts and how you can avoid them. Develop protocols for your staff to follow in different situations, such as if a customer is letting their cat do something that violates city health codes. The city may take away your cat-hosting privilege if you let customers ignore its rules, so be sure everyone takes them seriously.
Also think about what your staff should do in the event of a cat or person injury. It may never happen, but if it does, it’s better to be prepared! Have a plan in place if a cat should happen to slip from the catio door into the coffee shop itself, just in case. Think of potential issues that could arise and plan ahead of time how you would handle them.
Consider Offering Reservations
If your cat-friendly concept gets an enthusiastic reception, think about how you’re going to ensure your customers leave with a positive experience. You probably won’t have the outdoor space to host more than a few cats at a time. During peak times, you will need to think about whether you want to cap cat visits to around 60 minutes, and/or consider implementing a reservation system so you don’t have to unexpectedly turn cats and their people away.
Create a Partitioned, Human-Friendly Catio
“If You Build It, They Will Come.”
You’ll need to securely enclose your outdoor seating so that it may be used as a catio for the cats and their human companions together. This way, your customer and their cat can experience all the happenings of your coffee shop, yet they’ll be safe in their own secure spaces.
The catio will need its own entrance so to comply with your city health code, which will almost certainly forbid cats from entering the interior of your building.
Consider a double door entry to your catio, much like dog parks use double gates, to help minimize the risk of accidental escapes. Also, ask customers to bring their cats either leashed or in carriers until they’re securely inside their enclosed area.
Let Cats Chill Separately in Their Own Sections
Cats react differently to other cats for a variety of reasons, and it is impossible to predict what they will do. The sweetest cats can sometimes see an unknown cat and have a physiological reaction that suggests the unknown cat has been an archnemesis spanning all nine lifetimes. For that reason, you should keep cats separated.
Add screen partitions inside the large catio to separate the space depending on the size of your outdoor seating area. Each section should contain seating for one or two people, plus room for the cat to explore. This will allow you to host two to three cats and their companions in your coffee shop at a time, while minimizing the likelihood of the cats disturbing each other.
Cats are fascinated by the sight, sound and feel of running water (on their own terms)! What better way to indulge their sensory curiosity than to offer not just water dishes, but sparkling, bubbly fountains out on the catio?
Consider a sign-off sheet to ensure that your staff is regularly cleaning the cat water sources. Cat fountain filters will also need to be changed often too, as they are the cats’ “public drinking fountains.” Stainless steel bowls and fountains with stainless steel bowls are easier to clean well and are more hygienic than plastic fountains and bowls.
Use Low Maintenance, Easy-to-Clean Cat and People Furniture
Cut down on cat hair by making sure your catio furnishings are easy to clean. Place soft cushions and pads on non-carpeted cat trees, shelves and perches. Cushions and pads can be washed frequently and replaced as needed to keep the ambient cat hair at a minimum.
You can bet that your customers are going to be posting pics on social media of their cats at your coffee shop—that’s another reason you always want your catio looking its best. The less material around your catio that can catch cat hair, the better!
Grow a Catio Fantasy Garden
To add to the whimsy and to really pull off this theme, add some containers planted with the stuff of cats’ botanical dreams. Cats love to take a nap in a small box of cat grass. Several pots or hanging baskets of catnip in the catio and catmint planted around the perimeter within reach of the cats will beautify your business and captivate the cats.
Host or Partner with Cat Charities
Capture the hearts of animal lovers and get the word out about your unique coffee shop by giving back to your community through a non-profit partnership. A great place to start is by supporting cat charities or shelter cats.
Having special dates where a percentage of sales are donated to cat causes, promoting cats for foster or adoption on your website or social media, and organizing staff to volunteer with these groups will not only help cats, but it will get your name out to your target market of cat lovers.
Benefits of partnering with a charity include attracting new customers, better employee retention, networking with potential business partners, building brand awareness, and increasing customer loyalty, according to business planner Amy Sterling-Casil, of FastCapital360.
Your cat-friendly coffee shop will be a one-of-a-kind place for cats and their people. It has the potential to become a legendary establishment that visitors will never forget, so don’t be afraid to go for it.
Large catios can be built by builders for $5,000-$6,000, but they are simple structures and materials are relatively inexpensive. If you’re handy or know someone who is, it will cost less, around $3,000.
Should Irequire proof of rabies vaccination to host cats at my coffee shop?
Proof of rabies vaccination may be required by your local health department or your insurer. If so, consider streamlining the process by having customers register their cats online by uploading their vaccination record and waiver ahead of their visit.
My adventure in coffee began when I first launched my first coffee shop back in the early 2000s. I had to figure out so many things on my own and to make it worse within 2 years of opening two large corporate coffee chains moved in just blocks away from me!
As I saw smaller and even some larger coffee shops in the neighborhood slowly lose customers to these giant coffee chains and slowly close up shop, I knew that I had to start getting creative…or go out of business.
I (like you may be) knew the coffee industry well. I could make the best latte art around and the foam on my caps was the fluffiest you have ever seen. I even had the best state-of-the-art 2 group digital Nuova Simonelli machine money could buy. But I knew that these things alone would not be enough to lure customers away from the name brand established coffee shops.
Eventually, through lots of trial and error as well as perseverance and creativity I did find a way to not only survive but also thrive in the coffee/espresso industry even while those corporate coffee chains stayed put. During those years I learned to adapt and always faced new challenges. It was not always easy, however, in the end, I was the sole survivor independent coffee shop within a 10-mile radius of my location. Just two corporate coffee chains and I were left after that year. All told the corporate coffee chains took down over 15 small independent coffee shops and kiosks and I was the last one standing and thriving.
Along the years I meet others with the same passion for coffee and I quickly learned that it is not only “how good a barista is” that makes a coffee shop successful, but the business side of coffee as well.
Hence why I started this website you are on now. To provide the tools and resources for up and coming coffee shop owners to gain that vital insight and knowledge on how to start a coffee shop successfully.
Stick around, browse through my helpful blog and resources and enjoy your stay! With lots of LATTE LOVE!