If you are ready to take your love of coffee to the next level, you might consider starting your very own coffee business. However, when it comes down to deciding what type of coffee business to build, you may struggle to determine which is your best option. Below we have compiled pros and cons of starting a coffee shop vs. a café along with the differences between the two.

The pros of starting a coffee shop vs. a café are that a coffee shop will require less decorative effort, equipment, order preparation, and ultimately, less spoilage than a café.

The cons of starting a coffee shop vs. a café are that there are less food options for customers and it may not have as inviting of an atmosphere.

While these may seem like minor differences to you, they may make a huge difference to your potential future customers, so make sure you choose the right option for you and your business.

Pros and Cons of a Coffee Shop vs a Café

Pros of a Coffee Shop

Less decorative effort required

One of the biggest pros of starting a coffee shop over a café is that they require less effort to set up.

Because coffee shops are less about the atmosphere you provide, you do not need to tend to the decorations the way a café owner might.

While a café owner will spend much time and effort crafting the perfect area for their customers, coffee shops are not held to these standards.

Less spoilage

Another standard that coffee shops are not held to is the offering of food.

While customers often expect to find multiple food options at a café, their expectations will be much lower at a coffee shop. Because coffee shops do not need to provide as many food options, they are bound to have less spoilage.

Less preparation

The need to provide less food options trickles down into your preparation time as well. If you are not offering as much to eat as a café, you will not require as much time to prepare your menu.

Less equipment

The presence of less food also allows for the presence of less equipment. If you have no need for a toaster or oven, you would not need to make these purchases and so would not only save some money along the way, but space as well.

Pros and Cons of a Coffee Shop vs a Café

Cons of a Coffee Shop

Less options for customers

While it is certainly positive for coffee shop owners that they have less equipment, preparation, and spoilage to organize and manage, the lack of food options also has negatives associated with it.

Less food might mean less customers, depending what the people in your area are interested in purchasing. If your community is looking for a place to provide breakfast with their coffee, they will choose a café over your coffee shop.

Less inviting atmosphere

Similar to the way having less options for customers that may be looking for somewhere to eat could affect business negatively, a coffee shop might lose customers who are specifically looking for somewhere with a nice atmosphere.

It is convenient not to have to be worried about decorating, but it could also affect your business depending on the need in your area. Make sure to pay special attention to this in your market research.

Pros and Cons of a Coffee Shop vs a Café

Pros of a Café

More options for customers

The fact that you provide many more food options than a coffee shop is likely to stir up some interest from those who are seeking a meal with their coffee.

Even some simple breakfast sandwiches or a variety of bagels and pastries is a leg up from somewhere that might only offer fruit or muffins to go, if any food at all.

Inviting atmosphere

The atmosphere of a café is a big variable in why people choose cafés over coffee shops.

Often cafés are aesthetically pleasing and more welcoming of people spending long periods of time in conversation, on a date, in a meeting, or hanging out.

This inviting atmosphere is sure to attract a much larger crowd than a coffee shop might as it gives people a reason to be there even beyond your food and drink options.

Pros and Cons of a Coffee Shop vs a Café

Cons of a Café

More spoilage

As mentioned, because a café requires more food options, you may also have more food waste.

A good way to combat this would be to do thorough research ahead of time to figure out what foods specifically are desired by your community. See the next section to learn more about best practices for this type of market research.

More preparation

In addition to having more spoilage than a coffee shop, you will also require more preparation than a coffee shop might just to keep up with the food demands.

If this is taking up too much of your personal time, you might need to consider hiring more employees for this task, which is another cost completely.

More decorative effort

Many of your customers will be drawn to your café because of its atmosphere. Because of this, you must spend much more time (and likely more money) to make your space one where people want to spend their time.

If you are not particularly gifted in this area, you might want to consider having an outside party come in to assist you in your set up.

More equipment

Another reason you might need to spend a bit more money to start a café in comparison with a coffee shop is that you may require more equipment to be able to prepare your many offerings.

Consider each food option you will provide and whether any piece of the meal will require heating, cooling, or specific tools for its preparation.

Pros and Cons of a Coffee Shop vs a Café

Ask Questions First

You might think a coffee shop is the easy answer due to the many more pros listed above – not so fast!

While a café might involve more effort to start and eventually manage, what really matters is which your community is more likely to purchase from.

For example, if you start a coffee shop so that you can avoid excess equipment, decoration, and spoilage fees and not prepare as many options, but your community wants a place to go where they can sit and eat, you will have a problem.

Alternatively, you might spend more money and effort to start a café than you would starting a coffee shop, but if your business is giving people exactly what they want, it will be much more profitable than if you took the easy route that was less in demand.

You can make the best decision for you and your community by asking them many questions before you even select an option. This action of question asking is called market research.

Pros and Cons of a Coffee Shop vs a Café

Other questions you might want to consider asking in your market research:

  • How old is your ideal customer?
  • What does their lifestyle look like?
  • What time of day are they most likely to grab their coffee/food?
  • What drives them to a coffee shop or café?
  • How does your local competition best reach people?
  • How can you make yourself stand out when compared with your competition?

Pros and Cons of a Coffee Shop vs a Café

“Café” and “Coffee Stand” Used Interchangeably

While cafés generally offer more food options along with a more inviting atmosphere to their customers, this is not always the case.

The fact is, some coffee shop owners just like the word “café,” think it sounds sophisticated, and that it will make their coffee shop sound more inviting. For these reasons, some call themselves “cafés,” even if they are not acting as one by serving food or providing an inviting atmosphere.

This is especially interesting, because some people do not think the word “café” sounds as fancy, special, or welcoming as others! While some find this French word for “coffee” to be especially appealing, others find it too overused and without meaning.

This article gives even more information in the cafe and coffee stand word usage.

Avoidance of the Title

Finally, it is important to recognize that rather than confuse the words, other coffee businesses might avoid the terms “coffee shop” or “café” altogether, feeling they carry too much connotation one way or another.

While it is entirely your decision as a business owner, it might be helpful to ask some questions surrounding this topic in your market research. This way you will determine whether your community cares about the words used to describe your business before you even use them!

Find Your Balance

As you start your business, remember that the distinction between coffee shops and cafés do not have to be black and white.

Just because you decide to have a coffee shop, does not mean you cannot make it a beautiful one or have a special food item offered once a month.

Similarly, just because you decide to have a café does not mean you cannot find ways to cut down on equipment or spoilage.

Lean into the difference of your choice in the way your customers most want, but never stop thinking of ways you can improve your business, even if it is outside of the typical definition of “café”’ or “coffee shop.”

Pros and Cons of a Coffee Shop vs a Café

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a coffee bar?

A coffee bar is often more focused on selling espresso or artisan coffee. It is not designed for people to stay long and often has limited seating. Coffee bars can be a bit more upscale than the typical coffee shop would be.

What is a coffee house?

A coffee house emphasizes atmosphere much like a café would, but they push this emphasis even farther to actually entertain their customers. They may offer games, art, or events to try to keep customers in their establishment as long as possible. They may serve a wide variety of drinks, pastries, and food as well.

To learn more on how to start your own coffee shop checkout my startup documents here

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.