Surviving the opening of your coffeeshop, trap #1

Dany Marquis

Talking to you about vision would be a cliché for me since thousands of texts, books and blogs mention the importance of your company's vision, especially to define it well, to display it and to make your decisions based on it. . My personal experience also validates the importance of the mission in the organization of the company and the motivation of the team.

The vision answers the question:

For what?

However, I will not speak to you directly about vision but rather about a direction taken by many coffee shops around me, which is perilous and most often fatal for entrepreneurs. This direction contrasts with the initial vision taken by the entrepreneurs, of operating a coffee shop, inspired by our branches or by other cafes.

I would also like to mention that the coffee shop concept is a viable concept and we can consider as a good example the fact that McDonald's is directing its gigantic business into this niche. Several specialty cafes operate successfully in Quebec and elsewhere, but some are experiencing difficulty.

But what is this trap?

Today's menu!

Yes, when the emphasis of the beginnings gradually migrates towards catering, we can see the gradual decline, the ordeal of café entrepreneurs which can be long and painful and almost certainly leading them towards closure, or even bankruptcy.

I am a supporter of the coffee formula. You will call me biased but let me explain my point.

Coffee culture is still very new in Quebec and unless it has owners who are very connected to the industry and world trends, the newly started business will have to adjust to management problems, a normal phase of the evolution of an organization. These phases of evolution, sometimes very rapid, will be punctuated by searches for collective solutions or those coming from management. The solutions found will be influenced by knowledge, experience or outside advice, and as the specialty coffee culture is still young, the initial vision will therefore find itself in contradiction with the overall vision of the group (employees, suppliers, customers, family , etc). Strong role models abound to tell you what to do to succeed in your adventure, and catering is the #1 influence. As mentioned, unless you have a clear and precise vision of the direction to take, the organization will manage itself, through small daily decisions, and will gradually move towards the restaurant formula.

When opening, a large part of the budget is invested in coffee equipment and in the space intended for serving beverages. Little investment for the catering niche since a simple healthy ready-to-eat formula is favored.

If the first 6 months prove more difficult than expected, instead of persevering, taking up more space on the floor to explain their specialty and their passion, the team in place will try to find solutions to increase sales. In-house customer survey: we want more elaborate menus…

You then do like Commensal and start selling chicken in a vegetarian restaurant…


A change in the company will then begin, which may very well be profitable but until now, I have not seen any company come out of it.

First of all, the equipment purchased will become underused, especially the espresso coffee maker. The production of specialized coffees will then become a bottleneck in the lunch service. So, to keep this niche, solution? Hire additional staff…

So you will need 1 or 2 additional people.

And to ensure demand, for the daily menus, a chef in the kitchen...

So you have 3 more salaries.

Then, a certain form of collective lie will set in where we will say that the additional sales brought by the daily menus will cover salaries.

The cost of food having become astronomical, and the price perceived as reasonable by consumers, means that once the food has been paid for, there will be little money left to contribute to the viability of the business.

Food sales will primarily be used to pay salaries and pay the food supplier. And as this new activity had to be started from the company's working capital, the net profit from the catering activities will be insufficient to replenish the working capital. Unless there is an investment in hard cash from owners, the working capital requirement will be transferred to various suppliers who offer longer terms than in the restaurant business. Companies operating in this niche will rarely offer terms of more than 14 days, and will cut service at the slightest failure to pay. So, in order to continue the daily menus, the company will have to prioritize these suppliers to the detriment of others.

And that's when things get messy. Customers will identify you as a restaurant and you will have traffic during meal times only. I will spare you the details of the stages of recovery from unpaid suppliers, government seizures and the discouragement of entrepreneurs filled with hope of realizing their dream of operating their small café. Their coffee having become their worst nightmare and they begin to dream of their former life as an employee...


Coffee focus

First of all, if you start in a coffeeshop, your specialty will be coffee. Your initial vision should therefore be around coffee and the sale of specialized beverages. So invest in your expertise. And I'm talking here about training and communicating coffee culture to your work team. Barista training, book, DVD, the web is full of reference materials, and I'm sure your coffee supplier can direct you. Learn how to make latte art, it's now a must, youtube is overflowing with videos on this subject. The majority of roasters I know are willing to give a lot of time to get your coffee brewed well in order to maintain their reputation. Contact them.

Customer service

Share your passion! Talk to customers about your product, your coffee selection, different preparation methods, etc. Keep the conversations around your product. In short, educate your customers to understand what you do. Communicate! And if they want daily menus, tell them that it's not your specialty and suggest they go eat at the restaurant next door, but invite them to come back and have their coffee at your place. Your coffee should be better than the one at the restaurant. Reversing the situation, if this customer asks for a latte at the local restaurant, there is a good chance that the restaurateur will send it to you. Have confidence in your work.

Simple food

Keep meal offerings limited. We will not reinvent the wheel. Soup, salad, sandwich, in a ready-to-eat formula is preferred. Just because your menu is simple doesn't mean it's not delicious. Homemade soup with fresh seasonal produce, sandwiches with bread from a local bakery, etc. The web is full of recipes to inspire you. The ready-to-eat formula also prevents you from having 2-3 additional employees on your team. Again, be proud of your offer!

Supplier relationship

For a simple and effective management rule, try to pay all your suppliers within 7 days. If you are unable to do this, then there is something wrong. The organization spends more than it earns. Try reorganizing your coffee shop to generate cash flow every day.

There are therefore several possible solutions to consolidate your vision with your customers and your employees. This is just one example directly linked to the world of coffee, but failure to respect its initial vision, regardless of the field, is harmful to any organization. We must also remain open, and be ready for change, if the initial formula does not work as expected. The ultimate objective is to evolve with your business without denying the very nature of the momentum that gave birth to your project. I firmly believe that success comes from respecting your vision, and listening to the needs of customers related to your vision.

Be proud of what you do, have confidence in yourself and you will find people who share your passion, who will become clients, and even friends.


  • touzet

    Je compte ouvrir un coffee shop l’année prochaine, pour l’instant je ne suis qu’a l’étude de marché. Votre article est plus qu’intéressant, et moi aussi je respecterai ma vision de départ, merci pour vos conseils.

  • Soufiane Paris

    Très bonne article ! Merci. :)

  • Achraf

    Lecture qui vient à temps pour éclairer notre chemin. Nous garderons le cap et respecterons notre vision de départ! Merci

  • levy

    Bonsoir, je suis en train de faire une étude sur l’ouverture d’un coffee shop avec torréfaction devant les clients. J’ai lu attentivement vos commentaires et je les ai trouvé justes et justifiés.
    Aurez vous des conseils sur l’aménagement de mon point de vente ?
    Ou pourriez vous me diriger en me donnant des adresses.

  • Sylvain Deschenes

    Je voudrais vous mentionner que votre texte a remis ma pendule à l’heure. Je ne peux qu’applaudir les conseils que vous donnés sans réserve.
    Je crois que je vais avoir besoin de votre support dans très peut de temps car j’envisage de mettre sur pied un “coffeeshop”. Il me reste beaucoup de détails à régler avant de commencer cette aventure.
    Je suis d’abord résident du Saguenay à la retraite et je regarde pour m’installer à St-Lambert de Lauzon. Il y a la une maison formidable à acquérir qui à tout ce qu’il faut pour réaliser ce projet. Je dois faire les démarches nécessaires auprès du propriétaire et de la ville afin de m’assurer que la maison à les infrastructures et que les règlements municipaux ne seront pas trop sévères. Je prend contacte dès demain avec l’agent d’immeuble et je vous teint au courant pour le reste.
    Bon café et au plaisir.

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