A Definitive Guide To Cafe Fit Outs (Design, Costs, Processes, Suppliers and Inside Tips)
To most people, cafes are more than just a place to drink coffee: they are a place to refocus, retreat and hang out. Whilst being a quick part of the morning grind for business folk, they are also a hub for families and friends. Creating a space that balances the two can be quite tricky, especially when you’re on a tight budget and are trying to stand out from the crowd.
Here’s the thing: people can get coffee anywhere, but positive experiences are still quite few and far between. Providing one will ensure you really leave a mark. But what makes a positive experience?
It’s simple: design.
Okay… it’s not just in the design. But design that is intentional, considerate and sensitive to lighting, colour and space make it much easier to ensure a positive experience.
Think about it. Movies are best enjoyed when the temperature is right, lights are low, sound is perfect, display is clear and popcorn fresh. Cinemas are intentional about creating an environment that fits the bill and makes people feel comfortable.
It’s no different for your cafe. People are a lot less likely to spend more than 5 minutes in your cafe if the environment doesn’t make them feel comfortable.
The question: how much does it cost to fit out a cafe that will guarantee a positive experience? Lucky for you, we’re fitting out our own cafe and have had this conversation with interior designers and cafe owners over a thousand times. Here’s what we’ve learned.
Paying an interior designer might feel like an unnecessary expense when you already know what you want, but we’ve often found that working with an experienced designer is an investment that always pays off — even if it feels a little pricey.
A good cafe design team will help you work through each step of the cafe design process, from brainstorming cafe design ideas to deciding on colours, ideal finishes and materials to use in your space. These people have a knack for visualising the end result and making things look beautiful and coordinated.
They are also typically well-connected with industry professionals that can help you with the cafe fit out and other stages of the project.
What does the cafe design process look like?
It starts with concept drawings and then progresses to highly detailed construction and joinery plans. The designer or architect will provide you with expertly drawn plans and 3D visualisations of your ideal cafe design, which you will then be allowed to provide feedback on.
It seems simple, but this process can save you thousands of dollars over the whole cafe renovation project – It also pretty much guarantees you an outcome you will be happy with.
The big C. What does it cost?
The cost of a full design can range between $20,000 to $100,000 depending on your cafe’s size, the features you want, and the scope of the project.
Who can help me?
There are a tonne of interior designers in Melbourne. We’ve mentioned this in our blog about tips when starting a cafe, and we’ll mention it again: choosing the right people to work with is essential. Don’t settle for the cheapest — make sure you actually like whoever you are working with. We have used a well known company called Hot Black and have found them very proficient and capable of designing a concept that looks good, meets our goals and suits our budget. The best part: they are great people to deal with and very diligent in their work.
There’s a fair amount of planning that goes into the initial stages of the cafe fit out process. It’s important to familiarise yourself with ‘red tape’ costs before you get going. Without these, your coffee shop fit out won’t even get started.
Red tape costs in cafe fit outs include things like planning and building permits, professional fees for structural engineers and consultants, and legal expenses. These costs vary from project to project, so putting an exact figure on it can be quite difficult. However, we would recommend you budget for at least $25,000 as a starting point.
Building and renovation
Coffee shop fit outs can get messy if you don’t have a budget, so it is a good idea to have a figure in mind before you sit down with your designer and builder as they will typically design and make recommendations according to your budget. Building costs can be hard to exactly estimate, but they usually come down to project scope and a few other things. These can be roughly categorised into the following groups:
- Electrical & Lighting
- Fire protection
- Hydraulics (plumbing)
- Mechanical (air conditioning & ventilation)
- Painting & Decorating
- Partitions & Ceilings
- Signage & Graphics
Cafe fit out costs include more than just building costs. It’s important to be aware that the type and quality of materials chosen will also have a huge impact on the cost of the fit out.
ZEST TIPS:Use headings as a checklist to ensure you don’t overlook anything. Be as diligent as you can with these headings and make sure you are able to put a dollar figure against each of these lines as you receive quotes. This will also help negotiate, save coin stay on top of all the other shop fit out costs.
Cafe fit outs are complicated: there are builders, designers, architects and plenty other things (including your personal life) to stay on top of. A quick and easy trip to Bunnings becomes far less achievable when you’re having to manage other people.
A little word of advice: do not try to manage a cafe or restaurant fit out if you have ever struggled to manage a roster – it requires a little more than coordinating staff members.
We highly recommend working with someone to either help or manage the project for you. If you’re super tight on your budget, think of someone you know that has experience doing large scale renovations –they might not have experience with cafe fit outs, but they can at least help with coordinating tasks and workers.
Our recommendation is to reach out to a company that can manage the project for you. It is more expensive, but the benefit is that these companies have seen and done it before. They know what is written in the fine print and are also privy to regulations that are often neglected – you can also hold them accountable for quality – they will also ensure you get good value from contractors and suppliers.
Who can help me?
We have used and come across a few good operators in this space. It’s hard to skip past O’Neill’s Design & Build, who are a fantastic partner if you’re looking at a cafe renovation or shop fit out Melbourne business owners love and trust. They are very experienced and have completed many top shelf renovations in Melbourne.
What will it cost?
It is recommended to allow for about 5-10% of the total project cost for project management. It might seem like a lot, but this will ensure you avoid any hiccups with the council and that the project is delivered on time.
Furniture and cafe design go hand in hand. It is what keeps bums in seats and convinces customers to order a second coffee or even food. You might have a project that is delivered on time, but if there’s no place for customers to sit, you probably won’t have any making it past the front door.
Do your research early and work out a reasonable budget that is based on quotes from reliable suppliers that have been properly qualified. Don’t go for the first thing that fits your cafe fit out ideas — furniture needs to be practical and long-lasting. Nobody likes a cramped table or having to replace something shortly after buying it.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Will you need custom built pieces?
- Will some of the seating be integrated into the build phase as a fixture?
If your designs are a little more complex, you will need to find different suppliers that are good at different furniture types. You may also need to source from a number of vendors to ensure you get everything you need.
Who can help me?
We’ve worked with a few suppliers and have narrowed down the best to Identity Furniture and BCI Furniture. There are no doubt a host of options, but if you are short on time to prospect and research, these are proven and reliable suppliers that will supply your needs comfortably.
Fact: equipment is important. Myth: equipment can come last.
We’ve found that equipment can sometimes be an afterthought that most people don’t include in the scope of the building and coffee shop fit outs. Sourcing equipment relies on the owner: nobody is going to know the vision, budget and preferences as well as you, so choosing equipment can’t be left to anyone but the owners.
It is very important to ensure you are looking in the right place. As much as you might be good at selling coffee, you can’t make it if you don’t have the right equipment.
Certainly not well, at least.
Machines, grinders and the essentials.
In terms of how to source coffee equipment, there are many options available. If you’re completely new to the space, consider reading our article on the best commercial espresso machines to help you get a better idea of what the preferred machines in the industry are.
You should not skimp out on your espresso machine as you’ll end up paying for it in knocks to your reputation. It’s best to find equipment that will complement your cafe design, whilst delivering a first class cup of coffee as well. It’s not going to be the friendliest purchase to your books, but it’s in your best interest to bite the bullet and invest in what’s right for you.
As important as it is to get good equipment, be very wary of the offers from suppliers that you might receive. While it’s very common practice to offer ‘free on loan’ machines — we do it too — we recommend trying to purchase your own machine as it provides the flexibility you need to secure the best deal on your coffee.
But wait, there’s more!
Most cafes don’t just consist of coffee equipment, but other non coffee assets too. This includes: refrigeration, both under-counter and display; benchtop cooking equipment, like sandwich toasters, blenders and microwaves; and undercounter dishwashers.
Design your food offering and menu first and then write up a list of all the equipment you will need based on what you want to serve. After you’ve done that, send a list to a catering equipment supplier and use that to form your foundation. This does not only apply to cafe fit outs, but to restaurant fit outs too. Use this list to look for better deals elsewhere if you’ve hired a project manager to manage the building phase and have time to do so.
Generally speaking, a budget of between $50,000 and $200,000 is very common for a café kitchen, but this, like everything else, depends on the scope of the project. You’re definitely not going to spend as much if you’re starting a small cafe.
Who can help me with kitchen fit-out?
Looking for equipment for your kitchen or restaurant fit out? Look no further. Our sister company Active Kitchens does a great job in handling total commercial kitchen fit-outs. They offer great value to help keep cafe and restaurant fit out costs low, whilst stocking trusted industry brands such as Convotherm, Waldorf, Thermofan, Roband, Williams, Skope and Washtech among many others, you can rely on them for great quality at very competitive prices. They also offer stainless steel work and extraction canopies as part of their offering.
Budget. Budget. Go.
So how much does it cost to fit out a cafe?
Well… how long is a piece of string?
From experience, we’ve seen a wide range of costs. To set you on the right track, try to budget for a minimum of $150,000 and a maximum of…
At the end of the day, it’s your project, your choice and your budget. But please believe us: the right attitude, great coffee beans, expert barista training and a good equipment set-up will make it easier to sell coffee.