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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Cons of a Café
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
“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.”
Frequently Asked Questions
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.
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.
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!