What skills and experience do I need to open a coffee shop?
You don’t need any specific qualifications to run a coffee shop; however, courses that will improve core skills that are most suited to running a successful coffee shop would be worth strong consideration. For example:
- General business skills
- Barista training
- Food hygiene
And as always, first-hand experience before making the leap is worthwhile. Is there a local coffee shop you can gain some experience in?
Other attributes of a successful coffee shop owner:
- Passion for coffee (and tea for that matter!)
- Aptitude for hospitality
In addition, the below skills will also be relied upon to make your coffee shop dream a long term reality (click the dropdown to reveal more):
It’s essential you spend time at the very beginning conducting research into the coffee industry, and what it takes to run a successful coffee shop:
- While online research can be helpful, you can’t beat hearing what works and what doesn’t from those already running their own coffee shop. Reach out to coffee shop owners and see if they’d mind discussing their experience and learnings with you. (It goes without saying but avoid speaking to your local competitors as that would be a bit cheeky-!)
- To keep things a bit further afield, is there a coffee shop on social media that you follow and love the philosophy/style of, which wouldn’t mind chatting with you? Hearing about the industry first-hand is going to give you the most realistic understanding of the day-to-day running of your business – not just the highs but the lows as well, ensuring you go into your new venture with your eyes open.
- Expand your research from the viewpoint of a customer. Visit a number of coffee shops to help you gain an insight into what you want your business to be like. What inspiration will you take forward with you, and how will you make your offering different so it stands out?
- Learn about your customer base. Knowing your customers will help you plan the look and feel of your shop, its location, your menu, price points as well as shaping your marketing strategy.
- Who are they?
- Why do they visit coffee shops? To socialise? Work? Have some time out?
- Do they bring their children with them?
- What time of day would they most likely visit a coffee shop?
- What do they order?
- How long do they spend there?
- Research the area you intend to base your shop.
- Is there much competition?
- Is there a type of customer that your area doesn’t currently cater for?
- Are there any small business associations and networking groups that you could become part of for support and advice?
- Get a firm grasp of the UK coffee industry. The British Coffee Association is a great place to start, which offers networking and training opportunities for its members.
Smart business planning
A business plan is a document that details all the future plans and predictions for your business. It will explain your ideas, map out how they’ll be put into practice and provide relevant information and facts including the business details, management plan, operating plan, marketing and sales strategy, financial projections, and operational and team specifics. Your coffee shop concept, your target customers, your menu, competitor analysis, marketing plan, financial forecasts, overheads and how much funding your coffee shop needs are all important elements that must be covered in your business plan.
A well researched business plan will help you secure funding and help launch and grow your venture. Commitment to making a business plan is a commitment to the business. It’s vital you have the skills to create this essential document, or have a business partner that does.
Strong finance skills
Knowing how to effectively manage your business’s finances, even if it’s in conjunction with an accountant, will be a crucial skill in making the best decisions that will speed up the growth of your business. What costs and expenses need to be recorded? Will these impact your tax liability and, ultimately, your profitability?
Knowing how to craft the perfect cup of coffee is an essential skill in running a coffee shop. Even if you plan to hire someone else to make your coffee, understanding coffee, brewing, beans and the whole coffee making process is the bread and butter of your business. The better tasting your coffee is, the more return customers you’ll receive. You should have these skills in place when opening your doors.
Thorough understanding of food safety regulations
You’re serving the public food and drink – the above is an absolute essential (further details in section 6).
You need to be clued up on the best channels that will encourage customers into your shop. You must also know how to turn a one-time customer into a loyal one who returns regularly and recommends you to their local network.
Attention to detail and communication
Regular customers love being remembered and appreciated – you can’t beat your local coffee shop knowing how you like to drink your coffee! Listen carefully and tailor their coffee shop experience to them. Socialising and human connection is at the heart of a thriving coffee shop, so ensure you and your team communicate empathetically with your customers. (There’s a reason why the sitcom Friends was largely based in a coffee shop!)
You’ll have lots of plates to spin. You need to work calmly and efficiently under pressure. Service without a smile could be the make or break decision factor for a first-time customer.
Negotiating supplier contracts
Be confident and well informed when negotiating your supplier contracts to ensure you get the best deal.
Legal requirements for a coffee shop
There is currently no law that states you must undertake formal training to open a coffee shop. However, as you are working with food and selling to the public, there are a number of regulations and legal requirements in place to ensure optimum health and safety at all times. As the business owner, legal responsibilities lie with you, so you must ensure you’re fully aware of what’s required – from food hygiene to fire safety.
Register your business with your local authority
You must know your food and safety regulations inside and out before opening your doors. You must register with the environment health service at your local authority at least 28 days before opening. Registration is free and can be completed online. You must make sure that the local authority always has up-to-date information on your premises and you must tell them if you plan to change anything significant about your business.
Aim for a food hygiene Level 5 rating
Food safety compliance is an ongoing process – not a one-time box ticking exercise. The Food Hygiene Rating Scheme (FHRS) was developed by the UK government and the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to help promote the importance of good hygiene practices. The FSA is the government body that regulates food safety in the UK and subsequently offers detailed guidance for those starting a food business. Environmental health officers will make regular inspections of your coffee shop, and have the power to fine or close down your business if you fail to adhere to food safety laws. They will give you a rating from 1-5 depending on how hygienically your food is handled, the condition of your premises and how you manage and document food safety procedures. You should be aiming to get the highest level (5).
Get a food hygiene certificate
Anyone responsible for handling and selling food must ensure that the food they sell is safe to eat. This extends to your team. The best way to show that you’re complying with the regulations is to take a food safety training course that covers the essential food hygiene topics which range from safe food holding temperatures to preventing cross contamination to allergen labelling. This training should be refreshed to ensure you keep on top of any changes in the law or food safety practices. A Level 2 Food Safety and Hygiene for Catering course is designed for anyone who works with or handles food and wants to meet the UK food training requirements. Online courses are available, for example Virtual College offers this course for £15+VAT.
Register with HMRC
No matter how small your business is, everyone needs to register their business with HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC). When setting up, it’s likely you’ll be operating as a sole trader, meaning you run your own business as an individual or are self-employed. If you set up your coffee shop with someone else, you’re entering into a >business partnership, where you and your partner(s) share responsibility for your business and both pay tax on your share.
Undertake a risk assessment
Eliminate or minimise any food safety hazards in your shop by undertaking a risk assessment – known as a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) control system. The FSA provides some useful guidance on this.
Get business insurance
Legally, all caterers must have Employers Liability Insurance, which covers you for the health and safety of your employees. You should also ensure you have Public Liability Insurance to cover injuries to the public, and Product Liability in case anyone gets food poisoning as a result of eating your food. Building contents insurance will cover loss or damage to equipment and furnishings, while stock insurance protects you against the financial cost of damage or loss of food stock. Business interruption insurance covers you for loss of profits in the event that the normal operations of your business are interrupted by accident or disaster.
We’ve put together a useful guide on how to choose the right business insurance.
Gas/electrical safety certificates
If you have any gas-powered equipment used for catering purposes, such as a gas hob, it must be installed, inspected and tested annually by a Gas Safe engineer. It is also important to get all of your electrical equipment tested every 6 or 12 months by a registered electrician to ensure that it is safe to use. Safe electrical equipment will be issued a PAT (portable appliance testing) sticker.
It’s absolutely crucial that you fully understand and adhere to health and safety requirements to safely protect your customers, team and yourself! Advice, guidance, news, tools, legislation and more on this subject can be found at:hse.gov.uk
Ensure your building has the correct commercial classification
Before you negotiate the lease or purchase of a property, you must check what commercial classification it currently falls under. If the property does not already have the correct classification for a coffee shop, you will need to get planning permission from your local authority. You can use the GOV.UK licence finder to help you. For further information and to apply for a licence visit the GOV.UK website.
Get clued up on employment law
Employing staff is a highly legislated area – you need to understand and adhere to a number of regulations, from health and safety to holiday entitlement. The amount you have to process yourself will be dependent on your budget, as you can outsource these tasks to a HR company / consultant. But the responsibility of ensuring your company complies lies with you, so ensure you do your research and consult specialists in this area if this is something you need assistance with. Keep in mind your vision for your coffee shop when hiring staff – look for attitudes and experience that align well with your business values and goals.
Don’t forget to consult your employees on your health and safety policy. It’s important to provide the right training and information to help them comply with your policy. Anyone working with food at your business must have the appropriate level of training and supervision to do their job properly. The legal responsibility lies with the business owner, so make sure you have all the information you need.
You’ll also need to provide the necessary workplace facilities, such as toilets and sinks with soap and towels or a hand-dryer, somewhere to rest and eat meals, and an appointed person to take care of first aid. You can read the full list of requirements on the HSE website.