Business Overview

People have been playing board games for a long time, and these games continue to be popular. In 2016, board game sales reached $9.6 billion -- and a lot of the demand was driven by millennials.

Cafes have also become popular in the past few years. Just a few decades ago, cafes were sparse and did most of their business before 10:00 a.m. Today, they’re found on many street corners, and some cafes are right across the street from each other. Additionally, the industry continues to see growth of 7 percent annually.

Board game cafe businesses capitalize on both of these trends, providing a cafe environment where people can play board games. They give people a social place to gather around a fun game. In addition to providing games, some game cafes also offer food and beverages.

Who is this business right for?

Someone who is passionate about board games and enjoys talking to people may like running a board game cafe business. Business owners need to be familiar with many different board games, and they need to be able to connect with others who like these games.

What happens during a typical day at a board game cafe?

Running a board game business involves a lot of interaction with customers. In a typical day, employees:

  • Welcome customers
  • Recommend games to customers who ask
  • Explain the gameplay and rules of new games
  • Give games to customers
  • Collect games when customers are done playing

When not interacting with customers, employees spend time organizing games and cleaning the cafe.

What is the target market?

Board game cafe businesses appeal to both children and adults. As 3 & Up explains, a cafe may see a lot of children and families during the day. In the evening, the clientele is mostly adults.

How does a board game cafe make money?

A board game cafe makes money by charging customers for playing games. As Mike Lee explains, fee structures are similar to those of bowling alleys. Customers may pay by the visit, hour or game. Many cafes also have private rooms that customers can rent out.

Like bowling alleys, board game cafes may form leagues or tournaments around specific games. Customers who participate in these pay a flat entry fee. The winner may be awarded a gift certificate or another prize that’s funded with part of the entry fees.

What is the growth potential for a board game cafe?

Most board game businesses operate just a single location. A successful business, however, could franchise and open numerous branches in other locations.

Getting Started

What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful board game cafe?

Learning games themselves isn’t difficult, as games generally come with instructions. A knowledge of games isn’t all that business owners need to run a board game cafe, though.

Business owners also need to be familiar with basic business practices. For example, they need to know how to market their business, how to manage any employees they have and how to handle the business’ finances.

Business owners who don’t have a background in business can gain these skills by taking one or more business courses. It isn’t necessary to earn an MBA, but business owners might want to enroll in a business class at a local community college or take an online course. Coursera, Open Culture and Harvard Business School have many online business courses.

What are the costs involved in opening a board game cafe?

The start-up costs for a board game cafe business are manageable. The main expenses include:

  • Leasing a space for the cafe
  • Build-out and furniture costs
  • Purchasing games for the cafe
  • Food preparation and serving equipment (if serving food)

To keep the initial expenses as low as possible, business owners can begin with a basic cafe that doesn’t serve food. This will eliminate the need to purchase food-related equipment, and the remaining expenses can be kept low. Business owners can:

  • Lease an inexpensive space that doesn’t need to be modified
  • Purchase furniture at garage sales or second-hand stores
  • Start with a small library of games

As a business grows, business owners can invest in nicer furniture, more games and food-related equipment.

What are the steps to start a board game cafe?

Once you're ready to start your board game cafe, follow these steps to ensure that your business is legally compliant and avoid wasting time and money as your business grows:

  1. Plan your business. A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. A few important topics to consider are your initial costs, your target market, and how long it will take you to break even.
  2. Form a legal entity. Establishing a legal business entity prevents you from being personally liable if your board game cafe is sued.
  3. Register for taxes. You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
  4. Open a business bank account. A dedicated checking account for your board game cafe keeps your finances organized and makes your business appear more professional to your customers.
  5. Set up business accounting. Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.
  6. Obtain necessary permits and licenses. Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.
  7. Get business insurance. Insurance is highly recommended for all business owners. If you hire employees, workers compensation insurance may be a legal requirement in your state.
  8. Define your brand. Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.
  9. Establish a web presence. A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers.

Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.

Where can I find a business mentor?

One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.

Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.

Recommended: offers video courses and a supportive online community of like-minded entrepreneurs. Try one month membership for for free.

What are some insider tips for jump starting a board game cafe?

When selecting the furniture for a board game cafe business, it’s important to get tables in a variety of sizes. Some people will want to play small two-player games, while other groups will want to play party games that require a big space. There should be tables available for groups of all sizes and that. This will ensure that no one leaves because they didn’t have a properly sized space for their group.

It can also be helpful to start up a social media group dedicated to the board game cafe’s customers. This group will give customers a convenient place to arrange meet-ups and game nights.

Growing Your Business

How to promote & market a board game cafe

The advertising efforts to promote a board game cafe business should be focused on reaching local residents who are interested in playing games together. Placing ads in local papers and magazines is a great way to reach families and adults who play board games. Sponsoring geeky events is another good way to connect with game enthusiasts.

Recommended: Get started with local advertising for your business with a $300 credit from Yelp.

How to keep customers coming back

To keep customers returning, a board game cafe business should offer lots of different games to play. 3 & Up has over 1,100 games, and Board Game Republic carries more than 700. While businesses may initially start with fewer games to keep their upfront expenses low, revenue should be invested in more games as soon as is feasible.

How and when to build a team

A board game cafe business may be run as a one- or two-person operation, or it might have a small team of employees. Having employees lets a business be open more hours and makes it easier to serve customers during busy times.

Business owners who are operating on a tight budget can initially open without any employees but hire some as soon as the business’ revenue supports their wages.

Legal Considerations

State & Local Business Licensing Requirements

Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate a board game cafe. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.

In particular, if you want to offer alcohol at your business, you will need a liquor permit, the specificities of which vary locally.

If you plan to sell food at your board game cafe , you will need licensing from a local health department. All establishments serving food are required to pass a health inspection. Tips for faring well on a health inspection can be found here.

Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, check out our informative guide, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.

For information about local licenses and permits:

Certificate of Occupancy

Businesses operating out of a physical location typically require a Certificate of Occupancy (CO).  A CO confirms that all building codes, zoning laws and government regulations have been met.

If you plan to lease a location:

    • It is generally the landlord’s responsibility to obtain a CO.
    • Before leasing, confirm that your landlord has or can obtain a valid CO that is applicable to a board game cafe business.
    • After a major renovation, a new CO often needs to be issued. If your place of business will be renovated before opening, it is recommended to include language in your lease agreement stating that lease payments will not commence until a valid CO is issued.

If you plan to purchase or build a  location:

    • You will be responsible for obtaining a valid CO from a local government authority.
    • Review all building codes and zoning requirements for your business’ location to ensure your board game cafe business will be in compliance and able to obtain a CO.

Reduce Personal Liability

Structuring your business as a limited liability company (LLC) ensures your personal assets are protected in the event your business is sued.

What is an LLC?

Form an LLC in 5 easy steps

Earning Potential

How much can you charge customers?

Board game cafe businesses generally charge people a few dollars per visit. For example, 3 & Up charges $5 for 90 minutes of play. Board Game Republic charges $5 for unlimited play.

What are the ongoing expenses for a board game cafe?

The ongoing expenses for a board game cafe business are low. They include rent, utilities and employees’ wages. Occasionally replacing a game might be necessary.

How much profit can a board game cafe make?

How much a board game cafe business earns depends directly on how many customers it attracts. A busy cafe may bring in tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. After all, an 8-player game will net a cafe $40 if it charges $5 per person. It takes just seven 8-player games per day to reach $100,000 in annual sales.

How can you make your business more profitable?

Many board game cafe businesses increase their revenue by offering a variety of high-quality snacks and drinks. This increases your business' total revenue, and it also helps keep customers coming back for more food, drink and gaming.

Next Steps

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