If you are considering opening a café, we want to share some specific information with you, to ensure you go into it with your eyes open. We want to welcome you into the Specialty coffee industry, but we want your business to be successful and financially viable.
If you want to join the world of Specialty coffee, it will feel exciting to select which beans you will serve to your customers and this is of vital importance, BUT this is only one crucial factor in a long list of variables to ensure that you get right, and actually should be finalised after you have sorted out many of these other details first. A good coffee partner should hold your hand and support you with consultancy.
If you would like to learn more – please sign up to subscribe to our emailer and use the code “I am considering joining the world of specialty coffee” – then each week we will drop some relevant words of wisdom and if you still think it might be for you, let us know and we will help mentor you along the way.
So here goes, in no specific order of importance as they are all equally important:
1. LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
While this isn’t the only factor in selecting the space you are going to rent to open your café, its is the first thing you should consider.
Here is our first check list:
1. What business was there operating before you and why didn’t it work?
2. Is there enough space/seating for you to sell the desired cups of coffee per day to be profitable?
3. Is there enough electrical load for all your equipment and air conditioning requirements?
4. Is there adequate and close parking?
5. Is there enough passing foot traffic?
6. Can new customers who don’t know your café see your sign and find you easily?
7. If you are going to be a destination café (like we are), they need to have a reason to come to you rather than go to another café that is closer to them. That reason should be the superior quality of your offering.
8. Is there good natural lighting, will the space feel welcoming and inviting and does it have everything that you visualise when you dream about it?
In many countries, customers may be using the tube or public transport to get to work so parking is not always an important issue. But here in the UAE most people drive long distances from their home to work, so convenience of parking and destination cafes are more common. Selecting a location without adequate parking will drastically limit your revenue opportunities and should be a reason to rule out locations. Make sure there is easy, convenient, close parking and access to your café.
3. DESIGN AND FIT-OUT SOLUTIONS
Once you have found your ideal location, having a clear concept in mind and an individual look and feel will help you to find a designer and fit out company to bring your dream to life.
Interview a number of companies, have a mood board ready (I love Pinterest), and select a team that have F&B experience, ideally with existing restaurants / café’s that you can visit to see the quality of the end product and talk to the operators about their experience with that company. Did they deliver on time and within budget? Remember, the café has to be a working space, so workflow must equal the importance of beauty and aesthetics.
Even though you are not yet ready to select a coffee partner (roaster or supplier), it might be a good idea to ask some if your design works from a busy workflow perspective.
4. BRAND DESIGN / LOGO DESIGN / MARKETING
This has become increasingly important during our time of operation. What you are building here is a Specialty Café, but it is first a brand. With the same mood board, you have visualised and hopefully a name, work with a design team that can take your vision and create for you a logo and brand that will instantly become recognisable and stand out from the competition, It must also convey some of your core values to your customers. This could be happening in parallel while you are in design phase.
The more homework you can do yourself the easier it will be for the design company to understand your vision and help you execute it.
5. KNOW YOUR IDEAL CUSTOMER AND THEIR PURCHASING PERSONA
- Who will your customers be?
- How often will they visit?
- What are they looking for and what will they spend?
For example, if you are near an office space, on the way from parking to their desk, they will probably be rushing, so you will have peak times that you will need to prepare for with staffing, coffee’s will be take away and they will not want to wait for long, they will be looking for easy payment and you should consider the temperature variables to make sure the coffee will still taste good when they reach their desk.
If on the other hand, your customer is coming to sit and buy breakfast on their day off, they will want comfortable seating, less speed of service but more attention to service, they may feel more experimental and probably drink more than one coffee.
If your target customers are expatriates they may finish purchasing coffee around 5pm, whereas the local Arabic and Levant customers will come later in the afternoon or evening and sit with friends until late drinking hand poured coffees.
You have to know who your customers are and what their preferences are.
6. KNOW YOUR COMPETITION
You should explore extensively the area you plan to open your café, and see who your competition is, what they do well, what you like and what their faults are.
- What are their best sellers and why?
- Who are their customers, and could they also be yours?
- What will be your point of differentiation?
- How can you authentically compete against them to capture market?
7. YOUR TEAM
Carefully selecting the team that will join you on this journey is so important as these people will be the face of your business, they will represent your brand and be the point of contact with your valuable customers.
They must be well trained, respected and empowered, you need to build a team culture and create trust and loyalty.
This cannot be underestimated in your potential success, and also, if you get this wrong, will be your downfall.
This requires adequate time pre-opening and having a hands-on approach will help to create the right atmosphere and communication.
This is why large franchises still have some market share, it is not because of the quality of their coffee or food, or aesthetics, it is due to the preparation and standardisation of training and procedures.
Everyone wants to be a barista, but if you think about it, the waiters are often taking the orders and delivering the coffee to the table, they need to have knowledge and know how to communicate that clearly and accurately to your customers.
Each variable and person in the entire team has to have the same knowledge and clear voice to ensure transparent sharing of information.
Your team needs support dealing with customers and to know that you have their back.
This is a very time consuming and demanding element of your journey, without which you probably will not succeed.
Your people will be your strength or your weakness.
Don’t ask or expect any of your team to do what you would not do yourself. Set an example from the get go, join the training classes, and always have clear communication.
8. MENU DESIGN
Unless you intend being a pure Specialty coffee café without food, you need to consider your food solution. We operated for the first 10 years without food, as a pure coffee experience but in hindsight, this is not what the majority of customers are looking for. They want to enjoy something to eat alongside their coffee, or at least to have something to eat if they chose to.
Again, knowing your customers, knowing your competitors and being true to your brand vision, select a menu that focuses on the same values you want to present with your coffee. It is possible to design a smaller menu of very high quality food items, that “pair” perfectly with the flavours of your coffees but your options here are extensive.
Keep in mind food is a completely different beast and food costs and wastage are a science unto themselves.
If you are going to make your own food you will need to employ a professional chef who can take control of your menu, suppliers, and costings.
You will also need sound advice regarding government regulations regarding, health and safety, food hygiene, and other Dubai Municipality F&B compliance.
I was tempted when writing this to put water as a topic right at the beginning, that’s how important it is.
Poor water quality will sabotage everything else you do; the taste of the coffee will never be right, it will be bitter, and your equipment will be irreparably damaged within months if you do not get this right.
We have been roasting and supplying for 15 years here in Dubai, and the biggest single lesson we have learnt the hard way, is respecting the importance of water treatment and filtration.
If you listen to one thing above all others, make it about water quality.
Unfortunately, the companies that supply water filtration here on the market, know less than we do. They might install a reverse osmosis unit, but they won’t maintain it, they don’t know the correct mineralization required to make the coffee taste good and they definitely don’t support their customers equipment.
This topic is so important, that my business partner and servicing team have designed a solution that we have run ourselves for nearly two years and now ready to share.
It has removed the wild fluctuations in water quality and saved us hours in maintenance and downtime of equipment.
10. FUNCTIONALITY VERSUS BEAUTY FOR YOUR ESPRESSO EQUIPMENT
When you are designing your café, consider the layout of your espresso bar, and whether you want the espresso machine to command the space and be a feature. There are espresso brands that we love and have worked with for many years, here like with a car, you get what you pay for, and this is the equipment that will make you your money.
A good point to start at is to know how many cups of coffee per day you want to sell?
During your peak times how many cups do you want to sell?
How many barista staff will be working during these times?
We offer customisation and personalisation of equipment, but these are details that you should consider only after you have selected a machine that suits the workload and menu you intend to offer.
Do you want raised group heads to accommodate the scales and take away sized cups?
Do you have enough counter space for two or three group machines?
How many coffee origins so grinders do you want to offer?
The counter depth has to be wide enough to offer space in front of the espresso machine for the barista to work and manage busy times.
Or would you like a sleek clutter less counter with an under counter Modbar set up? There are many options.
11. ALL THE OTHER DETAILS
Know you have to look at the small details:
1. What kind of coffee menu do you want to design, what will be the focus and how big an offering do you want to offer (knowing consistent quality is key and human error a major factor in poor consistency)
2. Selecting the right crockery to deliver the coffee correctly, the right size and the right temperature
3. Finding suppliers for your disposables
4. Selecting your fresh milk partner and again focusing on quality
5. Are you going to remove single use plastics and source biodegradable items
you have a team so they need to be looked after, you will need an HR consultant or manager to create the human processes and elements to be both compliant and efficient
6. You will need an accounting division or person to manage suppliers, sales, VAT and the day to day operations
7. You should constantly re-evaluate your business and the future dreams of your business, always looks for positive change, and financial viability
And finally, once you have solutions for all the above details, you are ready to finalise your coffee roaster and supply partner in this journey.
Along the journey, it would be sound business practice to have investigated your coffee options, who is out there, and what do they offer your cafe to help you be successful.
Are they on the ground here locally so the coffee will always be delivered at its peak freshness? Do they have local knowledge of water, staffing, palettes, other supply partners? Do they have a proven history of supporting strong Specialty cafes and can they guarantee supply consistency both of origins and quality?
Taste is subjective and very much individual, but you can not offer an exceptional coffee experience to your customers if you don’t use coffee beans that are premium Specialty quality.
Understand through reading and spending time understanding the industry you are going to join, about what Specialty actually is, there are many knew players who use the lingo but have no business experience and the front for big corporate companies who want to join the industry.
Knowledge is key.
We are also not supporters of looking for free or leased to own equipment from your coffee partner, as this ties you in to an uneven relationship with your supplier and traps you in a relationship, should they not deliver on their promises of quality.
Your coffee roaster should be your partner in this journey, they should be invested in ensuring your success and be held accountable for the quality of the coffee and support that they deliver you.
Generalising, but with data to support this, 75% to 80% of the UAE Specialty café’s sell milk based coffee beverages to their customers; so flatwhites, lattes, cappuccinos, and mocha lattes. This is a café’s bread and butter, their main source of income so it must be treated with the respect it deserves.
Using a bold rich blend that has some acidity to cut through the milk is key, it is also important to evaluate not just your preference, but run tastings with your equipment and water, and milk, selecting a taste that appeals to your customers palette but gives you a point of differentiation to competition and a reason for customers to come back to you.
You will need a separate grinder for each different coffee you want to offer on your menu. An ideal scenario if you want to seriously play in Specialty would be to have two main blends with two very different taste profiles, for example grinder 1) dark chocolate, long lingering nutty finish,, and grinder 2) Caramel, sweet biscuit, and milk chocolate finish. A third grinder could have your café’s single origin coffee that is best suited to your customers that enjoy their coffee black without any additives, this could offer more vibrancy and complexity which are positive attributes in the Specialty coffee world.
Hand pouring and brewed coffees open up a world of opportunity and are becoming increasingly popular. A well made hand poured coffee that is made correctly is a sublime way to enjoy the full flavor and potential of a coffee. But this requires skill and training and very often we see beautiful quality of beans that are roasted correctly, not ground correctly or over / under extracted.
A strong coffee partner will provide all the training and support you need pre-opening but also once you have opened, there will be tweaks that will be required to ensure the quality remains consistent and the customer can trust you.
Equipment will need to be correctly cleaned on a daily basis, water filtration will need to be maintained regularly and all your equipment will need support, serviced, and maintained regularly for the health of your valuable equipment but also for the quality of the taste of the coffee.
Regular customer service visits to check up on all these things ensure open and clear communication, often avoiding issues before they arise and help to support the baristas with any feedback or issues they may have.
Putting it basically, your success is also our success as a supplier.
This professional support is actually part of what you are paying for, in your kilo of coffee pricing, and ensures, from the day you open, that your customers will be your loyal supporters and now with social media, your loudest marketing tool.
Also understand, that the investment in really good quality coffee and the actual cost in the cup, is your point of differentiation, it is the ingredient that will bring your customers back to you and the foundation to build your reputation on.
Now, go drink some good coffee and get started!