You don’t have to just dream about your café ideas—you can make them a reality, no matter your experience level. Even if you’re worried about not knowing anything about the back end of running a coffee shop or having the business background you think you need to start one, look no further—you don’t need any experience to live your dream and start your own café.
To open a café with no experience:
- Start your bank account and create your business plan.
- Understand your product.
- Find your location.
- Find your staff.
- Start your marketing and open your shop.
Before you even consider starting your café, know this—you do not need any experience to start your own café business. As long as you follow the proper steps to create a business and enlist people you trust and who can help you along the way, you’ll have your own espresso roast in no time.
Start your bank account and create your business plan.
The moment you decide to start your business is the moment you need to start thinking about your business plan. A business plan outlines your entire business—operations, management, finances, staffing, marketing, branding, even your name. You shouldn’t even consider finding a location until you have this plan finalized.
You should also look over your legal structure, and consider finding a professional to help you navigate whether you’re working under your own name, as a Doing Business As, in a partnership, an incorporation, or a limited liability company. At this point, you should also look into insurance.
Setting your budget is also key at this point in the process. You should know what your short-term and long-term goals are, along with knowing your break-even point. Knowing what makes your business profitable will only help you on the long run! For more help on how to write a business plan, visit the U.S. Small Business Administration guide.
While it is very important, your business plan doesn’t have to be boring! Make your business plan pop with good organizational skills so you can easily find what you’re looking for, along with photos and colors for inspiration. Turn your business plan into a vision board, and you’ll never find it boring again!
Understand your product.
Before you set out to find a location, know what kind of products you want to sell. Research the coffee community and start to learn about the café culture so you know what you like—or don’t like. Modify it to fit your own needs.
Sample any and all possibilities for your coffee shop—you will only want to serve the best, and how can you serve the best if you don’t know what they taste like? When you do find your taste and your products, make sure you stay consistent with them. That’s not to say you can’t make changes down the road, but once people like something, they tend to stay with that certain product, so this step of the process is key!
People love shopping local, especially in the last year or so. Visit local shops to see what they’re serving and see if you can improve on their ideas. And for even more ideas, check out our suggestions here.
Find your location.
As you’re hunting for products for your café, you can also be scouting out locations. Make sure you’re not too close to your competition, as it could hurt your business rather than help. Look into the community demographic, surrounding businesses, and any foot traffic you make have access to.
Remember you will also have to look into health, zoning, and building regulations. Consider this as you scout out your location. While they vary from state to state and even county to county, your local health department will have better and more specific answers about what you need to acquire before you start your business.
Most will need a business license, permits, and food handling licenses.
If you know the city where you want to start your café, make friends with the local business owners. With a shift to community-minded shopping, they may be able to help you know when potential locations are open for you to consider. One important thing to note as you consider opening your café in the near future is that people want—and require—more space than they used to. Find a location that has outdoor seating to capitalize on this.
Find your staff.
As you finish up making sure your space is perfect for your new business, you need to start focusing on finding your staff. Even though you didn’t start with experience in the field of cafés, at this point you should be getting the hang of things, and you’ll know what you want in your employees. Go back to your business plan and vision board to figure out what you want to convey in your coffee shop; find baristas and employees that fit within that philosophy.
Many businesses now are looking to websites like ZipRecruiter or Indeed for their staff. Consider using one of these sites, or, if you prefer the local touch, ask around the community to people you trust. Finding vetted sources before you meet them will make the process easier.
Start your marketing and open your shop.
Marketing is what can make or break your new business. Having a handle on that and making sure you set things up early in your career is key—and you have many options and avenues to take as you market your café.
While you can look at all social media outlets, your local newspapers or news websites, and even your community for marketing, it’s best to drill down on a handful of diverse options and focus specifically on those. If you’re trying to make posts for Facebook, TikTok, Instagram, and Twitter every day, you’re not focused on making your café thrive. Consider picking one or two social media outlets and a physical marketing outlet to broaden your appeal to many different demographics.
You should also have a website at this point so you have a place in which to drive clicks and provide additional information. A website is better than a social media page because you have complete control over the information that is placed there and how it looks.
Consider the trends on social media. While you may not want to try your hand at some of the things TikTokers are doing, you can still hop on board the memes and trends. Be careful not to seem trite—personalize your experience and let followers see the people behind the curtain. Focus on personality rather than hiding behind your logo and name.
While you have your vision and you’ve had it for a while, things can sometimes change. Consider what works and what doesn’t work after you’ve opened your business and adapt your plan to fit those needs. Even without any café experience, you can learn on the job and from others—don’t be afraid to ask for advice in the meantime. Maintaining your philosophy—and your passion for the business—is more important than knowing the step-by-step process. You can learn the steps in creating a business, but you can’t learn passion, and bringing that into your business is the best experience you can give yourself.
Frequently Asked Questions
If you consider the average coffee shop receipt being $7 and serving about 250 customers per day, six days a week, for an entire year, you will find that a standalone, independently owned coffee shop can make an average annual gross revenue of about $500,000. Removing your expenses, it could vary between $10,000 annual profit per year to $60,000, depending on your initial investment.
As with any business, opening a new business can have many risks. Although you may note that profits are low at first and your supply chain could be frustrating, having a business plan and knowing your competitors is a great way to mitigate that risk. Try reducing your waste, both in physical items and staff—try not to overstaff on slow days. Focus on your marketing to bring in new customers and make your space inviting to combat some of the risks of opening your own café.
Please note: This blog post is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Please consult a legal expert to address your specific needs.
Hi! I’m Shawn Chun
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!