Updated: Oct 24, 2020
Become the expert or hire the expert?
Learn On Someone Else’s Dime
I know nothing about plumbing. I’ve replaced a toilet in my house, and obviously I use a toilet everyday, but that’s about it. Does that make me qualified to open and run a plumbing business?
No, it doesn’t.
And the same can be said for opening a coffee shop.
I believe one of the best things anyone with coffee shop dreams can do is get a job as a barista.
It will teach you how to operate a commercial espresso machine, brew using different manual methods, cleaning and health code standards, best practices for coffee, and, of course, latte art.
This is much easier to do while still in the dreaming/planning phase. You don’t want to have to learn on the job. There will be so many other things to learn once you open, you don’t want to add more to your plate.
Get A Job at a Coffee Shop
I think the quickest, most surefire way to turn your coffee shop dreams into reality is to become a barista and start working in a coffee shop. Preferably one similar to the one you envision opening. This will give you experience and knowledge on someone else’s dime.
Take EVERY opportunity you can to learn more about everything.
Take EVERY opportunity you can to learn more about everything. This could be customer service, managerial tasks, deep cleaning the espresso machine, coffee and milk ordering, calling vendors, casting vision for the team, planning events, running social media, cost analysis on every menu item, and, of course, latte art.
This will help you learn how a shop can run successfully, how remarkable customer service is executed, and what is important to customers. Pay attention to what your customers are suggesting and plan for how you can meet those needs in your own shop.
Do this in addition to your day job (if you have one) if you need to. For many coffee shops, Saturdays are busy and Sundays are hard to find cover. Work in the shop as much as you can.
Do the Hard Work
If you think you don’t have time to work as a barista in addition to your 40 hour workweek, reconsider opening a coffee shop that could require you to work 60, 70, 80+ hours a week for possibly years.
If you think working as a barista, cleaning toilets and spilled milk, sweeping floors, etc. is beneath you, then what do you think running a coffee shop is? These are tasks that someone will have to do, and if you don’t do it, that means you need to pay someone else to do it.
If you think those tasks are demeaning, then what you think about your staff? Work beside them and they will respect you. When they respect you, they will respect your business.
Doing things this way gives you the freedom to expand and scale when the opportunity presents itself.
Since payroll is one of the biggest controllables in your business, you have the flexibility to expand your team when you can afford it. This saves on payroll expenses in the beginning.
I worked as a barista for almost a year, then bought the coffee shop I worked in. I learned what I needed and was able to seamlessly take over. I had so much to learn about the business side of things, it was a huge time and expense saver to have the coffee expertise under my belt.
Hire Expert Baristas or Become One
The other option is find experienced baristas to start and lead your team. This is a much more expensive route to take. This consists of finding experienced baristas to head up the coffee and shop management. This generally means they will need to be paid more. They will also be the ones working the shop in the early stages. They’ll need to be paid even before the business will be making enough money to afford it.
If you can afford it, and don’t mind spending more cash upfront, go for it. But this also weakens your grip on the coffee side of things.
You’ll be outsourcing the coffee expertise.
While money is certainly the leverage point in this option, there is always the possibility that your lead barista or coffee manager could leave for a different opportunity or because of life circumstances. Without the knowledge to run the shop in their absence, you run the risk of providing poor experiences, underserving your customers, and mismanaging the business. Finding a replacement will take time. If it’s an outside hire, will you be able to rectify their practices with those of the previous manager?
One of the Master Keys to turning your coffee shop dreams into reality is to become a barista first. See for yourself if the coffee life is for you before jumping in headfirst. It’s fun and rewarding, but it's also tough. Any other coffee shop questions? Contact me for a consulting call on coffee shop business planning.
Where can you get a job working part-time to learn the trade?
Are you willing to work the extra time, or even quit your current job to be a barista?