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How to Write a Business Plan for Opening a Cafe

How to Write a Business Plan for Opening a Cafe

So you’re thinking of opening a cafe. We salute you. A well-crafted cafe is a bedrock of your community, a welcome stop in any big city, an oasis in your town and a second home for your regular customers. Before you can open a cafe, though, you have to create a cafe business plan.

Think of your plan as a roadmap for your entrepreneurial adventure—one that’s easier to create than you might think! In this article, we’ll show you how to write a business plan that will set your cafe up for success.

How to write a business plan for opening a cafe

Finally, we’ll end with an example business plan to show you what it looks like in action. 

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 Want a quick summary of what to include in your cafe business plan? Consult this handy table. 

Section Overview
Executive summary Provide a high-level overview of the entire business plan, highlighting the purpose, unique value proposition and key elements of the cafe business.
How will your cafe business succeed? Address the unique selling points of the cafe, location strategy, menu offerings, marketing strategy, and operational efficiency to ensure success and competitiveness.
Study your competition Conduct a competitive analysis to understand the landscape of similar food and beverage businesses, identifying strategies to differentiate and succeed in the market.
Analyze your target market Analyze the target market segments, market size, and marketing plan to attract and retain customers effectively.
Tell us what you’ll sell and how you’ll sell it Detail the menu offerings, pricing strategy, and creative approaches to maximize customer satisfaction and profitability.
Create a marketing plan Develop a comprehensive marketing strategy, including digital and traditional channels, to build brand awareness, drive customer engagement, and foster loyalty.
Ownership structure Outline the ownership structure of the cafe business, highlighting the experience, roles, responsibilities, and governance structure of the owners/partners.
Your operations plan Define the operational workflows, staffing requirements, inventory management, and quality control measures to ensure efficient and effective day-to-day operations.
Financial planning Present the financial projections, including startup costs, income statement, cash flow analysis, balance sheet, and break-even analysis, to assess viability and sustainability.
Planning for growth Discuss potential avenues for expansion and scalability, including additional locations, diversified revenue streams, and strategic partnerships for future growth.

What is a cafe business plan?

At its core, a cafe or coffee shop business plan is a document that explains what your business idea is and how it will succeed. It answers questions like how much it costs to set up shop, how those costs will be funded and how much money you expect to make from your cafe. A coffee shop business plan includes information about your competitors, target market and pricing structure.

When it’s finished, your business plan can be shown to potential investors, bankers, partners and anybody else who will help you open your cafe. As you can probably tell, it’s an extremely important document, so it’s worth your time and effort to get it right. First, you’ll learn about all the different pieces of information that will go into your business plan and then we’ll help you pull the pieces together.


Start with your vision

A business plan is the first step in making your cafe-ownership dream a reality, so take time to dream by laying out your vision for your future cafe or coffee shop. What will your cafe look like? How will it be decorated? Where will it be located? Which items will you sell? Who will frequent it? How will your customers navigate your cafe, from the moment they walk through the door to the moment they swipe or tap their credit card to check out?

Pull inspiration from cafes you love, images you’ve seen, your favorite films or books, even your travels. Then write it all down or post pictures on a wall to create an inspirational mood board. As you spend hours working on your business plan, it will be incredibly motivating to glance up at your initial vision and be reminded of the finish line.


Study other business plans

Before you pen your masterpiece, look at business plan examples from your industry: cafes, coffee shops and quick-serve restaurants. Study how they planned their business and make sure that your cafe is on the right track.

Real-world examples from business owners are also invaluable. Seek out current or former coffee shop owners or even franchise owners in your town and ask them how they succeeded and what they would have done differently. While you’re at it, you can seek recommendations for, say, an accountant who can help you write your business plan. Even if local business owners are your future competition, they might be willing to share their experiences.


Building your business plan template

A blank page can be overwhelming, but there are countless business plan templates available online to help get your started. We’ve outlined the basic sections you should include in your business plan below, as well as further tips on how to build out each one. 

At the end of the day, your template doesn’t have to be fancy or include imagery. The most important thing is that it contains all the necessary information and is logically organized so it’s digestible to anyone reading it.


Section 1: The executive summary

When a reader opens your business plan, they will see the executive summary first. This gives a high-level overview of all the sections in your business plan. A well-written executive summary will get your foot in the door, so be sure to read examples to get a feel for how the summary is worded and to see how all the information is presented.

Just as you thought about the customers who will visit your soon-to-be-open cafe, consider who will read your business plan and tailor the opening paragraphs to your audience. As you’re preparing to open your cafe, your executive summary is the most important marketing tool your cafe has.

It’s designed to capture the attention of your reader, and give them an overview that’s brief and compelling. Here are some tips on writing a strong executive summary:

  • Clearly state the purpose and unique value proposition of your business at the start
  • Highlight what sets you apart from competitors
  • Take your audience and potential investors into consideration as you write
  • Summarize the business opportunity you’re presenting


Section 2: How will your cafe business succeed?

The second section answers questions like, “What problem does your cafe solve?” and “How will your cafe be the solution?” Maybe there is no coffee house or cafe in a busy retail center near you. Or maybe a restaurant just closed downtown.

This summary provides a brief overview of your industry, mentions where your cafe will be located and describes how it will stand out. Will your shop specialize in breakfast sandwiches near an airport? Sell your locally famous pie? You’ve envisioned how your future cafe will be a success. Make sure the readers of your business plan understand that too.

You can talk about the following in this section:

  • Your cafe’s unique selling points (these could relate to your menu, brand, other offerings, etc.)
  • Your location strategy (how will you maximize foot traffic? What factors were involved in your decision?)
  • What your menu will look like compared to competitors 
  • A sneak peek into your marketing strategy (more on that later, though)
  • How you’ll optimize your operations for efficiency, cost-effectiveness, etc.


Section 3: Study your competition

The next part of your business plan is usually referred to as the competitive analysis. It explains how your cafe will compete with similar food and beverage businesses—including big coffee chains like Starbucks and fast food giants like McDonald’s. Nearby restaurants, coffee shops and even public gathering areas like movie theaters are all your competition. So now is the time to do the research of visiting your potential competitors and making a note of who their customers are, as well as what’s for sale and how much it costs.

By understanding the pricing strategy for similar businesses, you’ll know how much you need to charge for your coffee, pastries, sandwiches and whatever else you’re selling in order to remain competitive in your particular market. Gross margins (the amount of money you make based on what you sell) for cafes and coffee shops can be high, but small cafes have notoriously small operating incomes (read: profits) due to the high cost of overhead.

However, if you put in the time to undertake a thorough analysis of your competition, your cafe has a higher chance of being successful. By writing down how your cafe will compete against similar businesses, you will convince your reader (and, most importantly, yourself) that your goal of opening a restaurant or cozy cafe is realistic and sustainable.


Section 4: Analyze your target market

In order for your cafe to succeed, it needs a steady flow of customers. Unfortunately, attracting foot traffic is not quite as easy as “if you build it, they will come.” In your business plan, your future customers are known as your market, the number of potential customers is your market size and how you’ll reach them is your marketing plan. 

In your cafe or restaurant business plan, you’ll then take your market and divide it further into market segments. For example, if your coffee shop or cafe is close to an elementary school, a market segment might be parents or caretakers who stop by for high-end coffee after dropping their children off at school. Or college students studying for exams as they swig espresso. 

By dividing your market into segments, you can zero in on how to reach each type of customer. Your marketing plan (how you will advertise to your target market) will be outlined in your business plan as your market analysis.
barista pouring milk to make latte art in a cup of coffee


Section 5: Tell us what you’ll sell and how you’ll sell it

Now that you know what the competition charges, it’s time to create a pricing strategy for your cafe. 

When creating your menu and prices, be smart. You’ll be buying ingredients in bulk, so try to use the same ingredients in many different dishes. Are you thinking of selling wine at your cafe? Liquor, like coffee, offers some of the largest profit margins in the industry, but a liquor license will cost you money and there may be a waiting period, so you might want to start with non-alcoholic beverages.

Don’t be afraid to get creative. If you charge less for a croissant and coffee combination than you do for those items alone, you’ll encourage customers to buy more and cut down on food waste. Once you open for business, you’ll probably end up making changes to your menu. But for the purpose of a business plan, you’ll need to know how much you will charge for the coffee or soup you plan to sell, which you’ll determine by breaking down the ingredients needed to make each item and researching your competition.

Take Toronto cafe and bakery Le Beau, for instance. They’re known for their freshly baked croissants, which come in many different flavors. People go to the cafe specifically for their famous croissants, and of course usually end up buying other items as well. If you want to cultivate this type of loyalty, you’ll have to start early. 


Section 6: Create a marketing plan

Your marketing plan can be part of your sales plan or it can be a separate section. Will you advertise your specials every morning on social media? Will you partner with another local business for special promotions? In addition to marketing, this is also a great section to explain your plans for retaining your customers. Will you offer loyalty programs or have your employees give your top customers a free cookie on their birthday? With a cafe point of sale system, it’s easier than ever to reward—and keep—the customers who will frequent your cafe. 

It’s also important to create a strong brand identity. Allow this to guide your marketing plan so that the reader is confident that your business will be able to create more successful marketing campaigns. 

You can also include information about:

  • Using your online presence to market your business
  • Whether you’ll implement customer loyalty programs 
  • Events you plan to host to boost your business profile
  • The programs and tools you’ll use to monitor the progress of your marketing initiatives


Section 7: Ownership structure

Your business plan will include the ownership structure of your business. Explain how much experience you and your partners bring to the table and why you’re the right person (or people) to go into business.

Clearly outline the legal structure of your business and what form that will take. That could be an LLC, corporation, sole proprietorship or partnership. To further legitimize your business plan, identify the roles and responsibilities that each owner or partner will take on. Explain how you’ll work together to ensure effective management and decision-making. 

You could even include any plans or contingencies for future ownership, as well as the governance structure of your business and how decisions will be made. 


Section 8: Your operations plan

In this section, you’ll include information about your facilities, employees, equipment and supplies. Think about the direct costs of rent, barista wages, ingredients like coffee beans and technology. Try to get many services out of individual tools, like a POS system that lets your customers check out, your part-time employees clock in and also manages the inventory of your cafe. This will maximize your efficiency and allow you to run your business from one platform, which your employees and customers will also benefit from. 

Approximate how often you’ll need to reorder ingredients like flour and eggs. Carefully considering your operating costs during the business planning stage pays off. For instance, a coffee roaster is an upfront start-up cost, but roasting your own coffee at your cafe can save you operating costs in the long run. Save money where you can (secondhand chairs, anyone?) and don’t scrimp where it’s important, like your espresso machine.


Section 9: Financial planning 

Now you’re ready to craft a financial plan for your cafe. This is usually the most time-consuming and important section of your business plan, especially for lenders and investors. It should include an overview of your start-up costs, an income statement, projected cash flow, a balance sheet and a break-even analysis.

Startup costs

You’ve heard the adage that it takes money to make money, and this is because most businesses need initial funding to get them off the ground. A major reason you might be writing a business plan in the first place is to secure funding, like a business loan, for your cafe, but remember that your start-up funds can come from anywhere. How much money do you need to borrow? Will you dip into your savings? Crowdfund from your fans? No matter where you find your initial financing, a business plan lays out how your cafe will be funded and how that money will cover your business start-up costs.

Income statement

Once you know your start-up costs, operating costs, pricing strategy and target market, you are ready to lay out all this information into an easy-to-digest income statement. Take all of your expenses (mainly operating costs) and your projected sales volume (the amount that you are selling each month based on your pricing strategy and market research) to prove that your cafe business will turn a profit. In your case, create a projected monthly income statement for the first year your cafe will be in business. Explore some examples of income statements to see what your final analysis will look like.

Looking ahead to the future

A big part of writing a business plan for your cafe is figuring out the projected cash flow your cafe will earn over time. Depending on the audience for your business plan, you may have to project your cafe’s cash flow up to five years in advance, broken up into months or quarters. Though this exercise might seem difficult, it’s not impossible. You’ve already completed most of the financial legwork.

Combine those crunched numbers with your personal experience as a customer and a worker to project how much money your cafe will make in the future. Consider seasonal differences, like a spike in business around the holidays if you’re in a busy shopping district, or a lull in business during the summer if your cafe caters to college students. Just like your income statement, these cash flow projections will go into your business plan as easy-to-view statements.

Balance sheet

A balance sheet details the assets, liabilities and equity of your cafe business on the day it opens. It’s generally used to determine how much money a business has to work with. For a small cafe, it’s not as important as the income statement, but it’s useful as a realistic snapshot of the financial health of your restaurant.

Breaking even

Now that you’ve detailed how you will make a profit and you know how much money you are working with, you can approximate how long it will take your cafe to turn a profit. This is called the break-even point.

Did you know? Lightspeed offers funding to businesses through Lightspeed Capital, our merchant cash advance program. Eligible Lightspeed customers can use the funding for any business purpose.


Section 10: Planning for growth

Include a section that discusses potential avenues for expansion in the future. This will show important stakeholders you’ve already started thinking about the future direction of your business.

Review the scalability of your business model and operations to support expansion efforts effectively. Determine whether the infrastructure, systems, and processes you’ll start with can support your visions of growth.

The opportunities you mention could include opening additional cafe locations in new neighborhoods or cities, expanding your product offerings to include catering services or packaged goods, or diversifying into related businesses such as coffee roasting or wholesale distribution.


Example business plan

We’ve created a business plan for a hypothetical cafe called Sip & Savor Café. Keep in mind that it’s shorter than is typical. 

Section 1: Executive summary

Sip & Savor Café is a quaint yet vibrant coffee shop nestled in the bustling downtown district. Our vision is to create a welcoming space where patrons can indulge in artisanal coffee, delectable pastries, and light bites while fostering connections and savoring moments of tranquility amid the urban hustle. With a dedication to exceptional service and a commitment to community engagement, Sip & Savor Café aims to become the preferred destination for coffee enthusiasts and locals seeking a reprieve from the daily grind.

Section 2: How Sip & Savor will succeed

Sip & Savor Café will differentiate itself by offering a curated selection of specialty coffees, locally sourced ingredients, and unique menu offerings that reflect the diverse tastes and preferences of our customers. Our prime downtown location, near office buildings and shopping centers, will maximize foot traffic and visibility. We will optimize our operations for efficiency and cost-effectiveness by selecting suppliers carefully and using a streamlined tech solution while maintaining a strong emphasis on quality and customer satisfaction.

Section 3: Competitive analysis

Through a comprehensive competitive analysis, we have identified key competitors in the area, including national coffee chains and independent cafes. By offering personalized service, a welcoming atmosphere, and distinctive menu items, Sip & Savor Café will differentiate itself from competitors and attract a loyal customer base. We’ll also create a strong loyalty program for our customers to rival the likes of big chains.

Section 4: Our target market

Our target market includes urban professionals, students and local residents seeking a convenient and comfortable place to enjoy coffee and light meals. We’ll create a space that encourages people to sit, stay and work. By understanding the preferences and behaviors of our target market segments, we will tailor our offerings and marketing efforts to effectively reach and engage with our customers. 

Section 5: What we’ll sell

Sip & Savor Café will offer a diverse menu of specialty coffees, teas, and seasonal beverages, accompanied by a selection of freshly baked pastries and sandwiches. We will implement a smart pricing strategy, utilizing high-quality ingredients and creative combinations to maximize value for our customers. Our menu will evolve based on customer feedback and seasonal trends, ensuring a dynamic and appealing selection of offerings.

Section 6: Our marketing strategy

Our marketing plan will focus on building brand awareness, driving foot traffic, and fostering customer loyalty. Strategies include social media campaigns, local partnerships, community events, and loyalty programs to engage customers and generate buzz around Sip & Savor Café. We will also prioritize customer retention through personalized service and rewards programs.

Section 7: Ownership structure

Sip & Savor Café is structured as a partnership between founders Emma and Liam, who collectively bring over 20 years of experience in the hospitality industry. Each partner holds a 50% ownership stake and shares responsibility for day-to-day operations, strategic decision-making and financial management.

Section 8: Operations plan

Our operations plan outlines efficient workflows, staffing requirements, inventory management systems, and quality control measures to ensure smooth and consistent operations. We will invest in modern equipment, staff training, and technology to optimize efficiency and deliver a superior customer experience.

Section 9: Financial plan

Sip & Savor Café will require initial funding to cover startup costs, including leasehold improvements, equipment purchases, and initial inventory. We have secured financing through a combination of personal savings, small business loans, and investor contributions. Our financial projections indicate steady revenue growth and profitability over the first three years of operation, supported by growing customer traffic and cost-effective operations.

Section 10: Plans for growth

As Sip & Savor Café establishes itself as a local favorite, we plan to explore opportunities for expansion, including additional locations and new menu offerings. By maintaining a focus on quality, customer satisfaction, and community engagement, we aim to sustain long-term growth and success in the competitive cafe market.

Keeping the restaurant dream alive

Though creating a business plan can seem complicated, remember that it’s an important step you should take before starting a cafe. A thoughtful business plan proves to others (and yourself) that your cafe can be successful. 

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1. How profitable is owning a cafe?

Profitability varies, but successful cafes can generate healthy profits with the right management, location, and business model.


2. How do I start a cafe business?

Start by creating a solid business plan, securing financing, finding a suitable location, obtaining necessary permits/licenses, hiring staff, sourcing suppliers, and marketing your cafe.


3. Is a cafe a successful business?

Cafes can be successful if managed effectively, offering quality products, good customer service, and a welcoming atmosphere.


4. How do I write a business proposal for a cafe?

Include sections on your concept, target market, location analysis, marketing strategy, financial projections, and management plan.


5. What is the failure rate of coffee shops?

Failure rates vary, but some studies suggest around 60% of new coffee shops close within the first five years due to various factors like location, competition, and mismanagement.


6. How much do small cafe owners make?

Earnings vary greatly depending on factors like location, size, and business model, but small cafe owners may make anywhere from modest incomes to substantial profits.


7. How much does it cost to run a coffee shop per month?

Costs can vary widely based on factors like rent, utilities, staff wages, inventory, and marketing expenses, but estimates range from several thousand to tens of thousands of dollars per month.


8. Are cafes a good investment?

Cafes can be a good investment if carefully planned and managed, offering opportunities for profitability and growth in the food and beverage industry.


9. Are cafes more profitable than restaurants?

Profitability depends on various factors including location, target market, and operating expenses. While cafes may have lower overhead costs than full-service restaurants, profitability can vary widely between individual establishments.

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