Operating a Coffee Shop Business
Ever wonder what it looks like to run a coffee business day-to-day?
This guide covers the mindset you should bring to your coffee business, what a daily schedule might look like, maintenance requirements, and your commitment as an entrepreneur to your business.
Welcome to our How to Start a Coffee Company Guide, where we take you through the steps involved in planning, developing, opening, operating, and growing a coffee company.
Recommended: Read our full, in-depth How to Start a Coffee Shop Business guides, inspired by coffee professionals, they will help make your coffee dreams real, from sourcing beans to hiring baristas, choosing the best POS system, forming an actual company, and everything in between.
We'll cover the following topics about running a coffee business as an entrepreneur:
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Getting Into the Right Mindset to Run Your Business
When operating your business, there are so many small details to be done that you might miss out on building the right mindset to operate it as effectively as possible while keeping your customers happy and interested.
You should focus on being bright, vibrant, and aware of new things in the coffee world, like a new coffee origin country or new processing methods.
One of our experts described running his coffee shop as being like running a party where you’re the host. You should consistently make sure that the temperature of the shop is right, the music’s right, the atmosphere is comfortable, the products are displayed just right, and—above all—that your guests are happy.
Another one of our experts noted that his cafe took on a life of its own, with its picnic tables out front and the apple orchard on the side. It is the place where his customers come in to begin their day, and they think of it as a real part of their day. Some dedicated customers even pop into the back of the shop to say hello.
Speaking of daily routines , the workday of an entrepreneur varies quite a bit depending on how mature your cafe is in regards to how well-trained your staff is.
That being said, even if you’re not the one brewing coffee or communicating with guests, there are some typical activities our experts mentioned that they do.
On a daily basis, you’ll want to try and set new sales targets, read sales report off your POS systems, try out new recipes for seasonal or timely drink specials, sandwiches, pastries, and anything you can do to keep your customer base happy, interested, and talking about your shop so that they continue coming back.
An owner could start their day coming in, grabbing a coffee, saying hello to everyone, and then fix anything that needs fixing, often jumping around to different tasks and being on the phone with people. This can make them an accountant, HR person, mechanic, sales and marketing strategist, staff trainer, event coordinator, and general problem solver—all in one day.
Maintenance in a coffee business is constant. If you’re a handy problem-solver that wants to take full ownership over the types of problems and different roles that need filling, then opening a coffee—or any other type of business for that matter—is ideal.
Think of how many systems you have running at once in a coffee shop: mechanical equipment and utilities, staff operations, finances, sales, marketing, importing coffee, and more. It’s amazing to think that all of this works together and can run smoothly too.
However, there may be times where an ice machine breaks, an espresso machine stops working, or you’ll have a POS register glitch out on you. This may be frustrating to work through, as these are critical pieces of equipment, but you’ll need to be patient and calm to work through it quickly.
While it pays to be positive and energetic you should also be cautious. If you or your staff break something out of carelessness, it can really make an impact on your finances. For example, if your shop has a van for deliveries, and that van goes out of commission due to an accident or something, you will have to fix the van and figure out how to keep up with your deliveries, which will cost you time and money.
Recommended: Always keep yourself and your staff up-to-date using the Best Coffee Education and Certification Programs.
Businesses take time and effort: many of our experts mentioned that they spend upwards of 12-14 hours a day working on their business, especially in the first year.
This is why you have to really like what you do; otherwise those long hours will grind on you. Imagine working on your coffee business nonstop for a year, for 70-80 hours a week, while only going home to sleep, shower, eat, and come back. Even then, you’ll likely sacrifice your free time thinking about all the little details you need to watch and handle.
While it takes time to build a shop, there are ways to make it more manageable in the long-term. You can find a manager and staff that you can really trust to do what needs to be done in the business, but early on there are some things you just can’t pass off to a staff member.
If you can train and trust your managers and staff, however, you can enjoy a very flexible schedule eventually, even while managing the problem solving that you need to be involved with.
Some operations don’t even go beyond one person, as is the case with MamaLeelu, who talked about her time commitment to her business during her peak season: summer. In addition to working 20+ hours a week on the production of her coffee, she does what she calls the “mental work” too. This includes—but is not limited to—the following tasks:
- Making phone calls
- Sourcing needed materials, including:
- Driving an hour to pick up cans
- Getting water
- Following up on emails
Taking Care of Your Physical and Mental Health
Running a coffee business, especially one like a cafe or anything that is customer-facing, is a lot of physical and emotional work for you and your staff.
There will be things like barista injuries and sickness from touching hundreds of peoples’ food, used cups, money, and every other interaction with the public.
It also takes a lot of emotional work to serve people eight hours a day, and mental health is a growing topic of concern among coffee professionals. This makes self-care routines, which many entrepreneurs forget to practice, very important. Self-care can look like a lot of things, but can be as simple as checking in to make sure you are:
- Drinking water
- Taking showers
- Wearing comfortable clothing
Beyond these simple necessities, you can do things to have fun and take time for yourself along the way. One of our experts, Jess Harmon, implemented “blue-collar stretches” at one cafe she managed, which helped her staff be more aware of their bodies as they were serving drink after drink.
Some of our other experts take time for themselves in the form of exercise activities like CrossFit and yoga. Even taking some time away from your phone can be invaluable for self-care, as you won't be bombarded by constant distraction. Taking those breaks for yourself will help you get a better perspective to solve new challenges.
If you’re all wound up and obviously stressed about things, it will come out and be very apparent to both your staff and your guests. The good news is that if you’re taking the time for self-care, you should operate far more often with a positive, problem-solving state of mind!
The Perks of Being an Entrepreneur
While being an entrepreneur is very much a mentally and physically taxing journey, it’s also seriously rewarding, not only by offering you the flexibility of running your own business, but also in the community it attracts.
Coffee shops can really grow into a life of their own, with your customers making it part of their daily routine, some of whom might become friends or staff members or work on their businesses in your shop.
You’ll also get to see your staff grow, not only in their skillset, but as people, too. It’s rewarding to watch employees progress in their lives, whether it’s going through school or finding their spouse, and you may find yourself keeping in touch with them even after they go off to do other things.
Finally, you get to connect with the people you serve. While this story has sadness, Maliesha Pullano of Mamaleelu Cold Brew told a story about a customer of hers who had recently lost her wife. While Maliesha didn’t know it at the time, the woman approached her at a farmers market, putting her hand on one of her bottles. She told Pullano about her loss, but also that one of the things that kept her going strong was the comfort and familiarity of the coffee, as it was sold at the hospital and was a favorite of hers and her wife’s.
So if all of this sounds enticing, good luck running your own coffee shop!