How to Start a Coffee Shop – Getting Into the Barista Business

Of all the How-To's out there, How to Start a Coffee Shop is one of the most popular – and for good reason. Coffee consumption is growing by leaps and bounds. It's not just about the beverage, but the community and social life that goes with it. Coffee drinking is now as sexy as wine consumption ever was. Coffee shop society got a great boost from the popular TV show, Friends, and it has not let up since.

As with all new ventures, the first order of business is planning and counting the cost. Below is a quick basic checklist. It is by no means exhaustive, but it gives an overview of what an up and coming coffee shop owner / barista can expect to invest in time and money.

  • Put together a business plan. There are templates available that make this easier than starting from scratch. There's no need to reinvent the wheel.
  • Set up a business bank account. Expect to pay more in service fees than you would for a personal account. However, a credit union account will save money in fees even for a business.
  • Investigate financing. Again, a credit union may be able to offer the best rates and service to finance your new venture and are often more personal than a national bank.
  • Get the necessary business licenses and permits. This will vary from state to state, from county to county, and even from city to city.
  • Check with the local municipality about zoning ordinances. You do not want to sign a lease for space that you later discover is restricted for a high volume business.
  • Meet with a good tax accountant to discuss strategies to maximize your business tax deductions. You want one that respects the IRS, but does not fear it. A timid accountant will miss legitimate obligations and savvy strategies. You will also want to investigate the advantages and disadvantages of incorporation and analyze the risks / benefits of each option.
  • Seek out an independent insurance broker. Let him or her do the shopping for you to get the best coverage for your needs at the best price. (Needs will vary depending on whether you decide to Incorporate or not.)
  • If you're using a business alias, referred to as a dba (doing business as), you will need to file that name with the county clerk. Unless you have a very unusual first or last name, a dba is recommended. It can be one of your best tools for adding character to your coffee shop and grabbing the attention of customers.
  • Set up a dedicated phone line for you business. Consider whether or not an 800 number would be advantageous. In a large metropolitan area with multiple zip codes, this may be a good idea, depending on your location, clientele, and the services you provide.
  • Support your business with a website. If you plan to engage in online commerce, it may be a good idea to hire a Webmaster. Shop carefully for this service. Just because someone is good at designing a website, does not mean they're good at marketing it. Find a Webmaster who is proficient at marketing. Design is secondary. If you're not going to engage in online commerce, you can find numerous companies like GoDaddy who offer website templates that are easy to set up and inexpensive to host.
  • Order business cards and always carry them with you. You can save money by designing your own or going to online services and using a template. Some online services even offer your first order for free.