What does it take to run a successful cafe

image via morguefile  

Hi everyone, so sorry that this is the first post in a long while. I have not been well and to be honest work has just been hounding me since February.

But what inspired this posting is that I had the opportunity to meet with a friend over the last few days and we got to talking about his business. He runs a cafe in the Klang Valley and he mentioned that business has been challenging. When I pressed him further it seems he feels that his operations are not running smoothly and he feels that he is not moving his business forward but is just constantly putting out fires in his business. So as I sat down to speak to him I began to notice a pattern emerging. The thought that kept coming to me was this “He truly had no idea how to run a cafe and here he was running one”.

So I thought that this would be an interesting topic which I would like to talk about.  

How do you run a successful cafe?

image via free images   I sincerely believe that the success of a cafe or any food and beverage business depends on 4 key cornerstones.  

1) Have the big picture in mind
In the course of my job as a retail consultant I find that a lot of cafe owners get into the business without a vision of the big picture. When I ask them why they started the cafe business that they are in, a lot of the time the reasoning will be either the money seemed good or they thought that it would be good to be their own boss.  Most of the time Cafe owners seem to be in love the notion that a food and beverage business is a cash based business and that is good because you know, you will have customers paying you cash daily and that you will an incredible amount of free time because you are the captain of your own ship! That could not be further from the truth but that is a discussion for another time. Back to my point.

So what do I mean about having the big picture in mind? The first thing is to understand is what would your Cafe business will look like when it is a success? Do you see yourself behind the counter running the business and your Cafe being the kind of place where you know the name of all your customers? Or do you see yourself running a chain of Cafe outlets?  As you can see those are two vastly different visions of success but both are equally important. Second, what is your goal of having your Cafe? Is it to entertain your friends and a quasi retirement plan or do you think this cafe will be your road to financial freedom? If your goal is the latter then having just 1 outlet might not be the best plan to accomplish your goal.

image via morguefile

2) Who is your customer?
I tend to find the most amazing answers whenever I ask Cafe owners this question as the answer tends to be, my customer is everyone who eats. Well to be honest  I made that statement up but most of the time the answer I get is my customer is “everybody la”.  I find this answer most amusing because a business cannot be everything to everyone.

In the context of a cafe, if you are an outlet which serves alcohol then perhaps our muslim friends may not be too comfortable dining in your cafe. Thus, clearly then your main customers cannot be muslim. Knowing who your customer is an extremely important point as it will help you to decide how to spend that precious and limited marketing budget.

image via istock

3) What is the experience you are delivering?
The cafe business a a truly competitive segment. In my line of work I have seen cafes open and close in the blink of an eye and this I believe is the number one reason why these businesses do not stay open for long.

As I have said before in my other posts, retail is an experience and this is especially important when you run a cafe, to stay first and foremost in your customers mind, you have to deliver something which the customer will remember you for be it exceptional service or even having a truly unique dining experience such as Johnny Rockets which entertains its diners with its staff coming out and dancing at certain times of the day to entertain its customers while they dine. Whatever the case maybe your cafe will likely survive if you have a strong differentiating factor that sets you apart from your competitors.

image via shutterstock

4) Constant reinvention
A good cafe should be re-inventing their menu every 6 to 8 weeks by introducing new items or putting a twist to a menu favourite. The key here is to give your customers a reason to come back to your outlet.

Think about it, if you have something new every month which is off the menu, would your customers be excited to come back every month to try this new item? Having the same food day in and day out can quickly bore your customers so go ahead and change it up a little. You never know, you could stumble across the new customer favourite and this item could put you on the map!  

So these 4 essential cornerstones are what I sincerely believe can a roadmap for your cafe to stand out.  


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