You want to open a cafe, and after researching the industry a bit you keep seeing the terms “internet cafe” and “cyber cafe” pop up. Yet after a bit of surfing the net, you’re still not quite sure what they’re all about. Well, luckily I’ve done all the hard research and created this post to help answer all your questions!
Put simply, an internet cafe (the most common term used, but can also be referred to as a cyber cafe) is a place of business that provides internet access along with food and drink. It is not the same thing as a coffee shop with Wi-Fi as it provides computers and secure internet access.
When opening an internet/cyber cafe, it is important to note that you are essentially opening two different types of businesses: a coffee shop and a computer access location. This is why opening an internet cafe is not the same as opening a coffee shop with Wi-Fi. An internet cafe is much more involved, provides in house computers (while a coffee shop typically only provides a Wi-Fi hotspot), and often extra tech amenities. Thus, it is important to have a thorough understanding of the internet cafe business before diving in headfirst.
Where in the World are Internet Cafes Located?
The short answer is: everywhere! The long answer is a bit more involved.
Internet cafes have long been a staple in countries where at-home internet access is impossibly expensive for the average person. This includes places like Africa, Central Asia, Latin America, and some parts of Southeast Asia. In these locales, an internet cafe is a lifeline to the rest of the world for residents who otherwise wouldn’t have the communication connection even with the continuous spreading of Wi-Fi. Travelers in these places also benefit from a place with nourishment and computer internet access, which can be hard to come by when backpacking through Southeast Asian jungles or “overlanding” in West Africa.
However, internet cafes are also quite popular in the West and more developed countries in East Asia. Their purposes are a bit different than internet cafes that act as a communication connection to the rest of the world for places mentioned above. In East Asia, internet cafes are primarily gaming hotspots that have far more in house computers for customers to play online with other customers and online gamers alike.
In the West, internet cafes are used for socializing like in East Asia; for gamers to get together, have a coffee, and play online, like a different version of a pool hall and bar. Additionally, internet cafes often provide services (which I’ll talk about later on) which draw patrons to their cafe specifically for tech support. Internet cafes are less communication lifelines in the West as most have at-home internet, and thus must serve specific purposes.
Who Uses Internet Cafes?
Customers in less developed countries (Africa, Central Asia, Latin America & Southeast Asia)
In less developed countries, where the majority of people don’t have internet or a computer at home, the majority of people will then be using internet cafes for their tech needs. Customers in these locations aren’t limited to just the locals, however. Business people and travelers to the area will be in need of internet access. With the increase of digital nomadism, more and more people are leaving their office jobs for working on the road. And typically, digital nomads will start off in less expensive and less developed countries, where internet access can be hard to come by. Many will set up shop at an internet cafe, typically choosing one or two to frequent in town and get some work done, make bookings, or check-in for flights.
Business travelers often want a break from hotel or conference rooms and will seek out somewhere to eat, re-caffeinate and work for a few hours. Even though business travelers often have Wi-Fi at their disposal, they may want somewhere to socialize a bit or where they can print or scan documents.
Customers in more developed countries (East Asia and the West)
East Asia probably has the highest concentration of gamers (maybe in the world) who use internet cafés for this purpose. It’s typical in China or Japan for a group of friends to get together at an internet cafe and play an online game together for hours or even an entire day. Due to this, internet cafes in East Asia are typically open 24 hours, or at least have very late hours.
The availability of internet cafes in East Asia makes them popular for travelers as well, who use them to perform similar duties mentioned above such as working, printing, scanning or organizing their trip.
In Western countries, gamers frequent cafes as well, using them similar to bars for meeting up and socializing over food and drink while taking advantage of the computer access. This demographic also meets not only to play games but to talk tech and computers at an internet friendly location with likeminded people.
As mentioned above, digital nomadism is on the rise, with many location independent workers wanting to go somewhere besides their home to work. Thus, many will use internet cafes for this purpose, and to feel as though they have an “office.” Additionally, businesses may employ the local internet cafe for video conferencing or tech classes for their employees, should a nearby cafe offer these services.
Students also frequent internet cafes, wanting to have a comfier study location than the library or perhaps looking for an escape from an overcrowded computer lab. You’ll often see groups of students working on a group project at the local internet cafe.
What do I need to start an internet cafe?
Assuming you have the basics for a coffee shop/cafe space (coffee making and espresso machines, staff, an accounting system, etc.), there are just a few extra tweaks you’ll need to make for an internet cafe.
The first and most obvious difference between a run-of-the-mill coffee shop and an internet cafe is, of course, the computers and the internet offered! You’ll need to decide how many and what type of computers you want in your internet cafe. Do you want the “internet” to be secondary to the cafe? In this case, you’ll only need maybe one or two computers for customers to be able to use while having a meal or coffee break at the cafe.
But if you want people to be mainly using the “internet” piece of the cafe, you’ll need as many computers as you want customers using them. It could be as few as five or as many as twenty. The other aspect that factors into this is a network computer for control purposes which the main internet connection runs through, as well as network hardware and virus software. I won’t go into the nitty-gritty tech details here, but those are the basics.
As mentioned before, comfortable and stylish furniture can be a “premium” customers pay extra for. However, this doesn’t have to be the case. You can have basic tables, chairs, and stools and still have a nice cafe with affordable amenities. The key is a comfort.
People won’t want to spend a lot of time using computers and the internet if the set up isn’t comfortable. You’ll need ample space for the computer equipment and chairs that aren’t too hard on the body for long bouts of sitting. A mix of desk-like setups with computers and inviting cafe chairs for chatting having a snack are often the best mix.
As with any cafe, you’ll need a good team of baristas, cooks (if you plan on serving fresh meals), a baker for pastries, cashiers, waiters/waitresses, management, etc. All depending, of course, on the size and scope of your cafe.
What you might not think of, though, is how adding the extra computer and internet component might affect your staffing. Think about it: if your network crashes or one of the computers isn’t working you don’t want to have to wait possibly days for tech support to come in. It would be good to have one staff member at least partially dedicated to the “tech” side of your cafe. This is where the idea of essentially running two businesses – a coffee shop and a computer establishment – comes into play.
Depending on how large of an operation you’ll have, it may not be necessary to hire a full-time staff member for this. Perhaps a local “computer guy” is looking for a second, part-time job, or perhaps one of your baristas is studying computer science. Whatever route you take, make sure someone on hand will be able to address at least some tech issues that will inevitably arise. Additionally, if you plan to offer additional services, such as seminars on computer topics or in-house tech support, you’ll need to hire accordingly.
Just like you will have a system for the coffee shop side of your internet cafe, you’ll need a system for the computer end as well. Who will be in charge of wiping the data every day (an essential to keep the computers running smoothly) and powering down the machines at close? How often will you run virus checks and software updates? How often will you replace machines and software? All important to address in your business plan.
What Should I Charge for Services?
This really varies on the following variables:
How do you plan to charge customers?
While the staple way to charge in the West is by the hour, some cafés in smaller, less-developed economies will simply insist a patron buys a snack or drink. Some cafés may choose both, requiring all customers to buy an item and pay an hourly fee for internet services. Some may offer the first 30 minutes to an hour free before asking for payment.
Some cafes may just charge an “entrance” or “cover” fee upon arrival at the establishment that allows anyone to use the internet all day (or perhaps with an hour cap) after paying the initial fee. Again, some may combine this approach with the requirement that all customers buy something to eat or drink from the cafe. It just depends on how you’d like to run your business.
Where in the world your internet cafe business is located?
The average price for an internet cafe to charge in North America is $6 – $11/hr, plus whatever drink or food item the customer purchases, as it is assumed they will do so at some point. If your internet cafe will be located in the West, or a large East Asian country with a booming economy, you can reason charging somewhere around this price. It is also more common in these locations to charge by the hour and insist that all customers buy a food or drink item. Of course, you’ll need to factor in supply-and-demand, and perhaps you could charge a bit more if you’re the only internet/Wi-Fi provider in a certain mile radius. On the flip side, you could charge the lower rate to entice customers in a saturated neighborhood market.
In less developed economies, such as Southeast Asia or Latin America, it is more typical to charge a one-time usage fee for all-day or a maximum allowed time cap. Additionally, it is less common that internet cafes in these locales would insist on customers buying a menu item (although it is always the polite thing to do). Prices in these locales are also typically much lower than in the West, sometimes even half the price listed above.
What services and atmosphere are you offering?
If you are simply offering drip coffee, bulk bought pastries, and access to the internet against a basic cafe background, you may not have the grounds to charge premium prices. However, if you’ve invested quite a bit in the business, you could charge a bit more for “premiums.” Whether that means location in a hip, trendy neighborhood, or high-quality espresso and coffee, home-cooked pastries or upper scale furniture, customers are usually willing.
And of course, if you’re offering more than just the basics – perhaps you have in-house experts on all things tech or you give weekly classes and seminars – then this could be reflected in price fluctuation.
At the end of the day, it requires doing research into the specific market you’ll be opening an internet cafe and adjusting according to neighborhood and competition.
Do Your Research!
I’ve done a general job of laying out the basics of an internet/cyber cafe. However, a lot of what I’ve mentioned requires further research should you decide to open one. From location to network, to computer software, and staffing, you’ll want to make an even more detailed plan than you would for a regular cafe.
Frequently Asked Questions
That is an exceptionally difficult question to answer, how can you know if any business will be profitable? Recent numbers show profits in internet cafes declining in the past decade or so, with the rise of more personal computers in homes in the West. However, with additional add-ons such as in-house tech support and gaming tournaments, there is a good chance. Check out how you can ensure profits for your business.
Again, it’s difficult to give a clear answer besides, “It depends.” The important follow-up questions to ask in order to answer this question are:
● Do I want an Apple or Windows operating system?
● Will I offer a lot of in-house gaming?
● How much do I want people to be on the computers?
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!