Insider Tips To Consider Before Opening a Cafe (The Top 10 Cafe Setup Tips)

Having consulted on a few startups and worked as a barista, trainer and rookie coffee roaster, I too have felt the strong pull to open a cafe. Though I haven’t started my own cafe (…yet?), I have spent enough hours helping others start theirs or thinking about it myself to know a few tips and things that form part of the unspoken cafe essentials to keep in mind before opening a cafe.

Everyone looking at opening a cafe needs to have some idea of what is involved in starting. Starting a cafe is not an easy ‘change of pace’ from the corporate world; being a cafe owner is hard work and involves its fair share of stress, long days and sleepless nights.

Every start-up has a unique story, which is what makes them great, but the uniqueness of their story isn’t the only thing that makes them successful. This blog post is aimed at helping existing and aspiring cafe owners understand how to open a cafe and operate it well so that they can run a successful business.

1. Stop, drop and get some experience working in a cafe.

That’s how the saying goes, right? If you’re looking to open a cafe, it has to be. As obvious as this might sound, it is often something that is overlooked, but is possibly the best piece of advice anyone wondering how to open a cafe can receive.

(Maybe less the stop and drop part.)

We all know that teamwork makes the dream work and this is especially true in cafes, where the success of the business is directly proportional to the satisfaction of its customers. It’s not like a traditional business and everyone plays a role in running a cafe.

One of the most important things to know before opening a cafe is that customers aren’t only paying for a product, they are also paying for an experience. The experience is made a lot more pleasant when there is synergy across the team, the customer service is good and the staff are skilled at what they do.

I would strongly encourage you to try and experience every role before you consider starting a cafe. Doing this will help you understand what goes into running a cafe and what is required to be successful across all parts of a hospitality team. Experiencing each role in the cafe will help you make better decisions when hiring new staff and will also help you establish a positive workplace culture.

But don’t just work in any cafe — work in the type of cafe you would like to own. This will give you a little taste of what it’s like owning a cafe, and will also provide valuable insight into what it takes to achieve your vision.

2. Plan and think about a vision for your cafe

Once you’ve gotten a little experience and have a better idea of what is required to open a cafe, you can move onto the business side of things: setting the vision for your cafe. I recommend you start with a core idea of your vision and then work with key people — like your wholesale coffee supplier, family members and business partners — to develop it.

Research a couple of your favourite cafes and use them as inspiration to get a better idea of what is involved in setting up a cafe you would like to own.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What do I want my cafe to look like?
  2. Who is my target audience?
  3. What cafe atmosphere do I want to create?
  4. Do I want to serve food?


There’s no point starting your journey if you don’t know the destination. Knowing how to run a cafe successfully starts with having a clear idea of what you want to achieve. A vision serves a business in two main areas: it brings purpose and direction. Having a clear vision helps business owners understand what their end goal is, which brings stability to the business and helps you hire, retain and motivate staff.

3. Write a business plan

A business plan is like a roadmap: it provides the foundation for the journey. It’s impossible to travel without one, especially when starting a cafe. Setting up a business plan sounds like a lot of work, but the fruit it produces far outweighs the work that is required to complete it.

Your business plan should include the following:

  1. A market analysis
  2. Competitive analysis
  3. Customer segmentation
  4. Marketing plan
  5. Cash flow projection
  6. Long term growth


A business plan helps protect a business against risk and brings stability when things don’t go according to plan. It is very difficult to know how to run a cafe in uncertain times if you don’t have a business plan to fall back on. You should put a decent amount of work into writing a good business plan as it sets the foundation when opening a cafe and can also help you sell your business in future.

4. Network and form relationships with as many people as possible

The goal is to grow a network and build community interest before you start so that customers are forming a line before you open your cafe.

Look for events to attend like MICE, join groups on social media, go to cupping sessions and try to form relationships with people in the industry. Opening a cafe is hard work and can’t be done alone. Forming these relationships before starting will help you make better decisions, understand the industry, hire staff and save dough.

Don’t stop there: get involved in the community you are looking to start your cafe in. This will help you get the word out and build a customer base before the opening day.

5. Find the right wholesale coffee supplier

Choosing the right coffee supplier can be one of the biggest headaches in the journey. Far too often this comes down to price, and while this is important in keeping your business profitable, it shouldn’t be the main consideration when choosing a wholesale coffee supplier.

I recommend doing this as early as possible as it will give you a second set of eyes when making decisions about things like branding, location, equipment, pricing and logistical things like permits and licences.

The right wholesale coffee supplier will be a good fit for you personally and will take a genuine interest in partnering with you. There are plenty of options to choose from, but the best wholesale coffee supplier will be considerate of your circumstances and will work with you to find suitable solutions.

In Melbourne, there’s no shortage of wholesale coffee suppliers to choose from. At Zest, we like to partner with our wholesale coffee clients, helping them make decisions that will see their businesses thrive. Whether it’s sourcing equipment, providing advice on fit outs or choosing the right location, we work with our wholesale coffee customers to make sure they are not left in the dark when they need to make important decisions.

6. Do your hard work justice and invest in good branding

The next thing to think about when you are setting up a coffee shop is its branding. Your branding is typically someone’s first impression of your business; it’s crucial to hire a good brand designer to make sure your brand accurately represents your values and the quality of your product.

A good brand designer is like gold. They will bring perspective and provide coffee shop design ideas that will help you stand out from competition.

Customers shop with their eyes. You might be using the best coffee beans on the street, but how will people know if you don’t entice them to find out.

Good branding doesn’t only attract the right customers though — it also attracts the right employees. The best cafe employees are passionate and — can’t stress this one enough — want to come to work. Cafes are a social enterprise, built around communication and relationships. Hire people that will inspire you and you achieve your vision.

7. Location, location and one more time… location

If you are still uncertain about how to open a cafe in Melbourne, know this: location is everything. The success of a new cafe often hinges on its location, especially in the coffee capital of the world.

Doing a bit of research on your competition will give you insight into areas where you can stand out and have a point of difference. I’d recommend checking out a couple of Google reviews and filtering them from low to high to see where you can service the local community better.

Once you have narrowed it down, contact the local council of each location and find out what building permits, food licences and other legal stuff you’ll need to do to open a cafe.

8. Set up systems to help you manage your cafe

Knowing how to run a cafe successfully requires a strong understanding of cash flow management. I’m no expert in this field, but investing in simple cash flow management software can be a very effective and affordable way to help you stay on top of your finances.

Do some research on rostering software like Deputy to help you manage your cafe. These tools can be very helpful in saving time and communicating with your staff.

9. Invest in the fit out of the cafe

Yes, this is where the cost of opening a cafe can get a little intimidating, but appropriately fitting out your cafe is a worthwhile investment for two main reasons: firstly, fit outs are expensive, but they’ll cost you even more if they aren’t done well; and on top, they will reward you in the long and short term if they are done well. As much as we’d like to believe otherwise, people are influenced by what they see; not many people will get a coffee from a place with a cold or uninviting cafe atmosphere.

If you can afford it, I would recommend looking for an interior designer to help you make decisions about the fit out. An interior designer will help you establish a good coffee shop design and will also provide solid cafe fit out ideas that will help you get bums in chairs and increase the value of an average customer.

If you can’t afford an interior designer, try to find very close replicas of your ideal design to hand over to the contractors. Hiring a draftsperson is often a much more affordable route if you are trying to keep your cafe setup costs low and your budget is tight.

Investing in a good fit out is not as much about how it looks, but choosing the right people. At the end of the day, fit outs are seldom changed if they are done well, so it’s worth hiring the right people to get it right from the start. Save yourself the time and money and invest in a good fit out for your cafe.

10. Get the word out!

This goes hand in hand with networking, but is a little different. Important to note, this doesn’t have to be expensive. There are tons of affordable ways to market your cafe — check out our article on cafe marketing ideas to kickstart your process!

ready. set. go!

I’ve had the privilege of experiencing the specialty coffee industry in three different continents and have noticed that these things are consistent across all successful start up cafes.

I strongly recommend you consider these things before opening a cafe, or get in contact to have a chat about how you can get your dream cafe off the ground.