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Buying a business: Cafes and coffee shops

Could you tap in to this hugely popular market?

What is it and who is it suited to? Research, rules and regulations
How much does it cost? How much can I earn?
Tips for success

What is it and are you suitable?

In recent years there has been an explosion in the number of cafés in UK cities. Although many form part of larger chains such as Pret a Manger, Starbucks and Aroma, there is plenty of room for everyone. Continental trends have given rise to an increase in smaller, more specialised café businesses hoping to take a slice out of a multi-million pound coffee cake.

Figures taken from a survey also show that café culture is big business in the UK, with the average Briton apparently visiting a café twice a month more than the French, Italians and Spanish.

So cafés are alive and kicking in the UK. And just because a coffee shop is situated in Britain, it doesn’t have to be like the Bridge Street caf in Eastenders. We take a look at what actually constitutes a café.

What is it?

A café is a hybrid business and generally an urban affair with other variations such as tearooms restricted to tourist destinations or rural locations.

However, life as a café owner can be as varied as you want it to be. It can have elements of a tearoom, bar, restaurant and public house within its four walls. You could also choose a business based around a theme according to your personal and customers’ tastes.

Some cafés only sell alcohol alongside full course meals. Other establishments will sell hot and cold food and/or snacks and occasionally more substantial meals accompanied by coffees, teas, and soft drinks.

The choice doesn’t end there. Many cafés are open in the evening as well as in the day and can be classed as café bars. Whereas some may be purely indoors or outdoors or a mixture of both. Some may even be tied to another facility such as a shopping centre or a sports complex, for example.

Many cafés also offer additional attractions to tempt customers into eating and drinking. This may include computers with internet access, a bookshop, a gallery or memorabilia attached to the walls and facades of the building.

So, there are plenty of decisions to be made when you buy your premises.

Who is it suited to?

The catering industry is made up of a diverse range of people from many backgrounds and the café business is no different.

To run any business you need more than just plain enthusiasm and drive. You will need to be multi-skilled, cope with hundreds of different situations every week and at unusual times of the day. However, there are certain characteristics you will need to have or develop to run your own café.

Steve Nottage, owner of the Coffee Potshop in West Hampstead, who after a year of running his own café is moving into the hotel business, says: “You will experience highs and lows. The lows always come first as it takes a while to establish the business under new management but this is something you will have to deal with. In general you need to be good with people as well as food and have a solid business mind.”

In an industry where you show your face for long periods of the day, communication is the key to success. You should be able to understand and relate to your customers and staff in a friendly and approachable manner, building up repeat relationships as you go along.

Being able to avoid a high turnover of staff in the catering industry is another aspect not to be taken lightly. For this you will have to have good motivation and management skills as well as a high degree of stamina in order to work long and unsociable hours, often when the shop is closed.

Chris Burt, business advisor at Enterprise Plymouth, has seen many people enter the catering trade: “Because you are front of house you need to be outgoing, dedicated to the cause and work long hours after the café has stopped for the day.”

But this is just the beginning. There is far more work to be done than many people think. Although, it is not strictly essential that you hold any qualifications to run a café, you may wish to consider taking courses on general business skills such as book keeping, advertising and planning as well as catering and hygiene classes. These could be of significant help to you if you plan to remain in the catering trade for some time.

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