We all know the dream. You picture yourself enjoying one of your delicious cups of coffee while looking out at your dining room full of happy customers. But the truth is that in the highly competitive coffee industry, between half and three-quarters of all coffee shops fail within the first five years. What, then, are the keys to successfully managing a café?

Successfully managing a café requires a combination of efficiently running the back office while making your employees feel valued and demonstrating to customers that you truly appreciate their patronage. In addition to being a good communicator, a good coffee shop manager also needs to be motivating and organized and also have a good head for business.

You are confident that you have the skills to be a good manager. But what are some specific steps you can take to ensure the success of your café?

Efficient Back-End Management

Any successful café needs to run smoothly and efficiently. And, as boring as some of those tasks are, successful management starts in the back office. Keep those loose ends neatly tied and the front end of your shop will run like a well-oiled machine.

Very few—if any— coffee shop managers dream of late nights sitting at a desk, sifting through mountains of paperwork. Unfortunately, though, paperwork is part of any business, successful or otherwise. Automated systems can dramatically decrease the time you spend sorting through that mountain though. There are plenty of tools at your disposal that can help keep you on track.

Your Go-To Guide to Successfully Managing a Café

    • Start with the right POS system. A good POS system will keep track of your inventory as well as sales. Any most record employee hours. Some have wireless data transmission that allows them to keep working during power outages. It is very important that your system is user-friendly and has the features you need, like customizable menu options or tipping.

    • Don’t skimp on your accounting software. You don’t need to break the bank. But you will definitely benefit from an accounting software system that will streamline your bookkeeping tasks. A cloud-based system will combine all of your financial information into one place that you can access anytime and anywhere. Save time with a software package that has automatic payment options for invoices. And—very important—make sure that the accounting software you choose will be compatible with your POS system.

    • Don’t get behind on inventory orders. An automated inventory management system can utilize historical data and take care of this automatically.

    • Reduce scheduling conflicts and stress with restaurant scheduling software. Not only will these programs simplify setting employee schedules, but they also allow you to communicate with your staff quickly and easily.

    • If you have more than one location, you may benefit from a management software program. These systems integrate multiple systems like sales, inventory, food usage, and labor. They can also help you see which products you sell that are more profitable and how to reduce waste. And, no matter how many locations you have, one system will be enough for all of them.

The more you can automate, the more efficiently you can run the back office and limit paperwork. You can then turn your attention to running the front end more smoothly. 

Of course, a successful manager knows that the shop must be clean and organized. But did you know that nearly 12% of your food cost goes to waste? Some small changes can help you reduce that percentage.

    • Package day-old pastries and sell them at a discount.

    • Keep only the most popular non-dairy alternatives on hand. 

    • Organize your shelves by expiration date.

    • Keep your menu simple. Pay attention to the things that sell and offer those.

Well, that all sounds doable. So now you are free and ready to move on to the fun part—managing people. Right?

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Train Your Baristas Well and Make Them Feel Valued 

Let’s face it. Without good employees, your café is destined for failure. They are the face your coffee shop shares with your customers, their first impression. You need well-trained employees who know and understand your products. And, equally important, you really need them to feel like a valuable member of your team. How can you accomplish these goals? 

Your Go-To Guide to Successfully Managing a Café

    • Good Training: A confident employee knows what is expected of them. Customer service training is crucial. But they also need to understand what they are selling. Let them try the various drinks. Teach the differences between them. Practice handling difficult situations. A confident employee will inspire trust from your patrons.

    • Regular Staff Meetings: Allowing your baristas the chance to offer their suggestions or express their concerns will go a long way toward making them feel valued. And, these meetings are a great time to cover any new policies and procedures or to focus on team building. And you’ll have this time to pick up on any conflicts that may be brewing so you can handle issues before they erupt.

    • Promote Team Spirit: Little things like acknowledging a birthday or having a small holiday get-together or gift exchange go a long way. Show your staff that you value their opinions by letting them help with seasonal decorations or asking for their suggestions on a promotional idea. A positive and respectful work environment leads to happy employees. And happy employees make for happy customers.

    • Keep Your Wages Competitive: No matter how welcoming your work environment is, if the café down the street pays substantially more, you’ll lose your valuable employees.

    • Keep Schedules Consistent Yet Flexible: Any employee needs to know that they can count on working the hours they were promised as well as the shift they signed up for. So, be clear on what schedule you can offer and give them that. But, of course, the hours worked in the service industry are not your typical nine to five. Allowing the freedom to trade shifts or request time off without penalty will keep morale high.

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Customer Appreciation

Your back office is running smoothly. Team spirit is great. The next step for a successful manager is to be sure your customers know you appreciate them. You have a great product to offer along with friendly and efficient service. What more can you do?

Your Go-To Guide to Successfully Managing a Café

    • It is very important to make your café accessible for all. You know the obvious modifications—ramps, bathroom rails, etc. But, some equally important considerations are keeping adequate spacing between tables or visual options in your screen monitors for those with hearing loss. And, providing water and treats for service dogs is a nice added touch.

    • Make your café family-friendly. A changing table in the bathroom or smaller child-size chairs in a corner of the shop are very welcoming. But, also remember to keep this area toward the front. Leave the quieter back portion of your customer seating for those who want to work or study.

    • Host events and promotions. A senior citizen discount can draw people in.  Or, maybe you’d like to offer a back-to-school parent special. Another draw could be letting local talent perform one afternoon every week. And, offering a discount program for frequent customers is a great way to let your patrons know that you appreciate them.

    • Present a warm and comfortable environment, a place where customers feel relaxed and welcome. Your coffee shop should be somewhere they can spend some time—a clean, quiet space to socialize or get some work done. Anticipate their needs. Have plenty of outlets and charging stations, seating options, and table space. The right kind of lighting and music can help set the tone too.

Managing a coffee shop is a challenging, but rewarding career. With the right organizational and interpersonal skills, along with a little help from technology, success is within your reach. You’ll soon be living your dream, spending time and enjoying coffee with those happy customers in your dining room.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Do I need a college degree to be a coffee shop manager?

The skills needed to get a job as a coffee shop manager come mainly from experience. A college education is not required. But a bachelor’s or associate’s degree can make you a bit more marketable, especially when combined with food service experience.

What are some ways to increase my coffee shop’s profitability?

A key factor in increasing profitability is cutting back on waste. Some waste will be obvious and easy to correct. But some waste can be a result of trying to be too thrifty. For example, if your napkins are too thin, customers will take more than they need. Also, know your shop and know your clientele. Serve the products your customers want. Find your niche—do what you do, and do it well.

What do customers want in a coffee shop?

Customers are generally looking for good-tasting, quality coffee from a conveniently located café. A pleasant atmosphere and good service top are must-haves as well. Patrons of a niche café will have higher expectations—vegan or vegetarian options, specific coffees, or specialized snacks, for example. Accessible services as well as Wi-Fi round out the list.

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.