Nearly 90% of Americans consume caffeine on a daily basis, whether its a cup of coffee, a shot of espresso, or an energy drink. For many, a cup of coffee is their preferred choice, and some even have multiple cups per day. A coffee shop offers people a place where they can quickly grab a coffee, a pastry, or another specialty drink, and also provides customers an inviting space to work, relax, or socialize. If you want to find out how to start a successful coffee shop, this article covers the basics you'll need to know, from crafting a business plan, to startup costs, to common business licenses required in the coffee industry.
Inspired by coffee professionals, our coffee shop business guides will steer you through the necessary steps to make your coffee dreams real, from picking a location to buying equipment, sourcing beans, hiring baristas, choosing a POS system, forming an actual company, and everything in between.
Ready to form your LLC? Check out the Top LLC Formation Services.
Learn how to start your own Coffee Shop and whether it is the right fit for you.
Start a coffee shop by following these 10 steps:
- Plan your Coffee Shop
- Form your Coffee Shop into a Legal Entity
- Register your Coffee Shop for Taxes
- Open a Business Bank Account & Credit Card
- Set up Accounting for your Coffee Shop
- Get the Necessary Permits & Licenses for your Coffee Shop
- Get Coffee Shop Insurance
- Define your Coffee Shop Brand
- Create your Coffee Shop Website
- Set up your Business Phone System
There is more to starting a business than just registering it with the state. We have put together this simple guide to starting your coffee shop. These steps will ensure that your new business is well planned out, registered properly and legally compliant.
Exploring your options? Check out other small business ideas.
STEP 1: Plan your business
A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. It will help you map out the specifics of your business and discover some unknowns. A few important topics to consider are:
- What are the startup and ongoing costs?
- Who is your target market?
- How much can you charge customers?
- What will you name your business?
Luckily we have done a lot of this research for you.
What are the costs involved in opening a coffee shop?
The startup costs for a coffee shop business can vary widely, depending on the size and type of coffee shop you want to open. Your expenses will depend largely on the type of coffee business you want to start, the specific equipment you need, your location, if you want to include space for a bakery, etc. For instance, a small kiosk in the corner of an existing building can be opened for as little as $5,000, although many cost between $25,000 and $75,000. Free-standing drive-thrus can cost between $80,000 and $200,000 to start up, and shops with their own seating can be more than $200,000. The main expenses that contribute to these costs include rent, staffing costs, taxes, and equipment, such as Point-of-Sale (POS) systems, espresso machines, and so on. Espresso equipment alone can run up to $20,000.
There are several ways to minimize startup costs. Running a small kiosk yourself will keep rent low and eliminate any staffing costs. Focusing solely on high-quality brewed coffee, rather than espresso, will eliminate the need for expensive espresso equipment and reduce how much milk you use.
Read our coffee shop purchasing guide to learn about the materials and equipment you'll need to start a coffee shop, how much to budget, and where to make purchases.
What are the ongoing expenses for a coffee shop?
The ongoing expenses of a coffee shop are labor, which shouldn’t exceed 35 percent of sales, rent, which should be kept below 15 percent of sales, utilities, and the costs of good sold. Costs of goods sold includes the costs for coffee (~$7.50 per pound), milk (~$3.00 per gallon), syrups ($4.50 per 25.4 ounces), and cups, lids and sleeves ($0.20 per beverage served).
Who is the target market?
An ideal customer is someone who has discretionary income and enjoys food and beverages. Customers with little discretionary income are less likely to purchase higher-priced beverages and food items.
How does a coffee shop make money?
Coffee shops charge their customers based on what beverages and food items a customer orders. Some coffee shops have problems with people “camping out.” These customers may purchase one beverage, but then remain at the shop (typically on a computer) for several hours without spending any additional money. To combat this, a few coffee shops in higher-traffic areas ask customers to make a purchase every hour or two. Other coffee shops don’t offer Wi-Fi, but this can also deter customers from coming at all.
How much can you charge customers?
The average cost of a cup of plain, brewed coffee at a coffee shop is $2.70. Brewed coffee accounts for 51.5 percent of the beverages sold in coffee shops. Espresso-based beverages, such as americanos, cappuccinos and lattes have an average price ranging from $2.62 to $3.94. The food products sold at coffee shops often are in a similar price range.
How many customers can you expect your business to serve in a week?
How many customers a coffee shop will serve in a week or day varies widely. Busy shops centrally located in cities may serve more than a thousand in just one day, while shops in rural areas may see only a few hundred a week.
How much profit can a coffee shop make?
A coffee shop's net profits are directly tied to how many cups of coffee and pastries a shop sells. A shop that is in a higher-traffic area and sells more coffee will usually have higher profits than one with little traffic. When run well, a coffee shop's profits are typically between 10 and 18 percent of its gross revenue. To see how much volume increases profits, consider coffee shops that are open every day of the year and have average tickets of $3.00. A shop that sells 100 beverages a day would grow $109,500 annually, and hopefully bring in a profit of $10,950 to $19,710. One that sold 300 cups a day would gross $328,500, and hopefully have an annual profit between $32,850 and $59,130.
How can you make your business more profitable?
Upselling customers is the easiest way to increase the profitability of a coffee shop. Customers can be offered larger sizes, additional shots of espresso, flavored syrups or baked goods
What will you name your business?
Choosing the right name is important and challenging. If you don’t already have a name in mind, visit our How to Name a Business guide or get help brainstorming a name with our Coffee Shop Name Generator
When registering a business name, we recommend researching your business name by checking:
- Your state's business records
- Federal and state trademark records
- Social media platforms
- Web domain availability.
It's very important to secure your domain name before someone else does.
STEP 2: Form a legal entity
Establishing a legal business entity such as an LLC or corporation protects you from being held personally liable if your coffee shop is sued.
Form Your LLC
Read our Guide to Form Your Own LLC
Recommended: You will need to elect a registered agent for your LLC. LLC formation packages usually include a free year of registered agent services. You can choose to hire a registered agent or act as your own.
STEP 3: Register for taxes
You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
In order to register for taxes you will need to apply for an EIN. It's really easy and free!
You can acquire your EIN for free through the IRS website, via fax, or by mail. If you would like to learn more about EINs and how they can benefit your LLC, read our article, What is an EIN?.
Small Business Taxes
Depending on which business structure you choose, you might have different options for how your business will be taxed. For example, some LLCs could benefit from being taxed as an S corporation (S corp).
You can learn more about small business taxes in these guides:
- LLC Taxes
- Sole Proprietorship vs LLC
- LLC vs Corporation
- LLC vs S Corp
- How to Start an S Corp
- S Corp vs C Corp
There are specific state taxes that might apply to your business. Learn more about state sales tax and franchise taxes in our state sales tax guides.
STEP 4: Open a business bank account & credit card
Using dedicated business banking and credit accounts is essential for personal asset protection.
When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your business is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.
Additionally, learning how to build business credit can help you get credit cards and other financing in your business's name (instead of yours), better interest rates, higher lines of credit, and more.
Open a business bank account
Besides being a requirement when applying for business loans, opening a business bank account:
- Separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
- Makes accounting and tax filing easier.
Recommended: Read our Best Banks for Small Business review to find the best national bank or credit union.
Open net 30 accounts
Net 30 accounts are used to establish and build business credit as well as increase business cash flow. With a net 30 account, businesses buy goods and repay the full balance within a 30-day term.
NetMany net 30 credit vendors report to the major business credit bureaus (Dun & Bradstreet, Experian Business, and Equifax Business Credit). This is how businesses build business credit so they can qualify for credit cards and other lines of credit.
Recommended: Read our best net 30 vendors, guide and start building business credit.
Get a business credit card
Getting a business credit card helps you:
- Separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
- Build your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money later on.
Recommended: Apply for an easy approval business credit card from Divvy and build your business credit quickly.
STEP 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.
Make LLC accounting easy with our LLC Expenses Cheat Sheet.
STEP 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.
State & Local Business Licensing Requirements
Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate a coffee shop business. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.
In particular, most states require a coffee shop businesses to obtain a seller’s permit. A seller’s permit allows states to record and collect taxes from the sale of goods and services.
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, read our article, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.
In addition, certain local licensing or regulatory requirements may apply. For more information about local licenses and permits:
- Check with your town, city or county clerk’s office
- Get assistance from one of the local associations listed in US Small Business Associations directory of local business resources.
STEP 7: Get business insurance
Just as with licenses and permits, your business needs insurance in order to operate safely and lawfully. Business Insurance protects your company’s financial wellbeing in the event of a covered loss.
There are several types of insurance policies created for different types of businesses with different risks. If you’re unsure of the types of risks that your business may face, begin with General Liability Insurance. This is the most common coverage that small businesses need, so it’s a great place to start for your business.
Learn more about General Liability Insurance.
Another notable insurance policy that many businesses need is Workers’ Compensation Insurance. If your business will have employees, it’s a good chance that your state will require you to carry Workers' Compensation Coverage.
STEP 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.
If you aren't feeling confident about designing your small business logo, then check out our Design Guides for Beginners, we'll give you helpful tips and advice for creating the best unique logo for your business.
If you already have a logo, you can also add it to a QR code with our Free QR Code Generator. Choose from 13 QR code types to create a code for your business cards and publications, or to help spread awareness for your new website.
How to promote & market a coffee shop
Coffee shops serve a small area, and marketing efforts should be focused on reaching the people who live and work in the neighborhood. Signs can help attract attention, but going out into the community with freebies is often a much more effective way to initially get customers in the door. You can hand out free samples or coupons for free beverages at local schools, fire stations, police stations, businesses or churches. Even if an establishment doesn't want you soliciting the establishment's patrons, many organizations and businesses will be happy to share coupons for free coffees with their volunteers or employees.
Still unsure about what kind of business you want to start? Check out the latest Small Business Trends to help inspire you.
STEP 9: Create your business website
After defining your brand and creating your logo the next step is to create a website for your business.
While creating a website is an essential step, some may fear that it’s out of their reach because they don’t have any website-building experience. While this may have been a reasonable fear back in 2015, web technology has seen huge advancements in the past few years that makes the lives of small business owners much simpler.
Here are the main reasons why you shouldn’t delay building your website:
- All legitimate businesses have websites - full stop. The size or industry of your business does not matter when it comes to getting your business online.
- Social media accounts like Facebook pages or LinkedIn business profiles are not a replacement for a business website that you own.
- Website builder tools like the GoDaddy Website Builder have made creating a basic website extremely simple. You don’t need to hire a web developer or designer to create a website that you can be proud of.
Using our website building guides, the process will be simple and painless and shouldn’t take you any longer than 2-3 hours to complete.
STEP 10: Set up your business phone system
Getting a phone set up for your business is one of the best ways to help keep your personal life and business life separate and private. That’s not the only benefit; it also helps you make your business more automated, gives your business legitimacy, and makes it easier for potential customers to find and contact you.
There are many services available to entrepreneurs who want to set up a business phone system. We’ve reviewed the top companies and rated them based on price, features, and ease of use. Check out our review of the Best Business Phone Systems 2023 to find the best phone service for your small business.
Recommended Business Phone Service: Phone.com
Phone.com is our top choice for small business phone numbers because of all the features it offers for small businesses and it's fair pricing.
Start a Coffee Shop in your State
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- New Jersey
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- South Dakota
- West Virginia
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Is this Business Right For You?
People who love coffee, food and other people are well-suited for working in or owning a coffee shop. The business involves plenty of hands-on work making beverages, and business owners regularly interact with both employees and customers. Most people drink coffee in the morning, so most coffee shops are open during morning hours. Shops can also be open the afternoon or evening, but owners should at least expect to be working almost all mornings. Some owners close their shop one day a week so they can have a day off, and many either close their shops or have limited hours on holidays.
Want to know if you are cut out to be an entrepreneur?
Take our Entrepreneurship Quiz to find out!
What happens during a typical day at a coffee shop?
In a coffee shop, day-to-day activities center around making and serving customers coffee. When not brewing coffee and ringing up customers, downtime is filled by restocking supplies and ordering more inventory (e.g. milk, coffee and cups), scheduling employees (if a shop has multiple employees), washing dishes, cleaning, and prepping more coffee and food for sale.
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful coffee shop?
First and foremost, coffee shop owners should be familiar with coffee. They need to know much more than the average drinker. In addition to knowing about coffees and coffee beverages, owners also need to be proficient in inventory management and managing employees.
Many coffee shop owners get the initial skills and knowledge they need by working in a coffee shop for several months before opening their own shop.
Alternatively, coffee expertise can be learned in just a few days by hiring an experienced barista or coffee roaster to serve as a consultant. Managing inventory and employees can be learned on the job, although not having these skills will make the startup phase much more hectic.
What is the growth potential for a coffee shop?
A coffee shop business can be as small as a single drive-thru or as large as a national, or even international, chain. Starbucks, for example, has more than 24,000 stores around the world. Many successful coffee shops are local or regional, having a few locations in a relatively small area.
Should you consider joining a franchise?
Joining a coffee shop franchise can be a good option for entrepreneurs who prefer to use a proven model rather than start from scratch. While joining one can mean slightly higher initial costs and less control, a quality franchise offers great benefits such as initial and ongoing support, marketing assistance, and brand recognition.
Opening a coffee shop franchise typically requires $200,000-$700,000. Larger coffee shop franchises like Biggby Coffee and Dunkin' Donuts typically cost more, while more niche favorites like Sertino's and Classic Rock Coffee often have lower startup costs.
Interested in joining a coffee shop franchise? Check out our favorites.
Take the Next Step
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.
Learn from other business owners
Want to learn more about starting a business from entrepreneurs themselves? Visit Startup Savant’s startup founder series to gain entrepreneurial insights, lessons, and advice from founders themselves.
Resources to Help Women in Business
There are many resources out there specifically for women entrepreneurs. We’ve gathered necessary and useful information to help you succeed both professionally and personally:
If you’re a woman looking for some guidance in entrepreneurship, check out this great new series Women in Business created by the women of our partner Startup Savant.
How and when to build a team
While running a coffee shop yourself will keep operating expenses low, hiring at least one employee as soon as the business can afford it has multiple benefits. With an employee, you can take an occasional day off and focus on marketing efforts that grow the business. You’ll also be able to serve customers faster during peak times when working with someone.
Depending on how big your coffee shop is and how many customers it serves, you may want to hire additional employees. Coffee shops may have anywhere from one to a couple dozen employees who work on rotating shifts.
Coffee shop employees are called baristas. Baristas earn an average annual salary of $22,000, which includes tips. Hourly wages tend to be between $8.80 and $13.20 per hour.
Read our coffee shop hiring guide to learn about the different roles a coffee shop typically fills, how much to budget for employee salaries, and how to build your team exactly how you want it.
- TRUiC's Coffee Shop Hiring Guide
- TRUiC's Coffee Shop Purchasing Guide
- TRUiC's Coffee Shop Franchising Guide
- Scotter's Coffee — franchise opportunity
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