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Planning an Outstanding Coffee Shop Opening

Coffee shops may seem small on the outside, but behind the coffee bar there is a lot more going on than may appear to the eye.  There are lots of little parts that need to work in unison for a coffee bar to run smoothly and successfully, and to make happen, some heavy duty planning is essential to getting your coffee shop off on the right foot.  Here are a few things to think about for those in those critical planning stages.

Know The Menu, Know The Equipment

Again, a coffee shop is the sum of all its parts.  On one large order, nearly every piece of equipment behind the bar could be used.  Here’s a list of the most common pieces of equipment a startup coffee shop will need.


  • Coffee EquipmentCoffee equipment is the first and, for obvious reasons, most important pieces of equipment to examine when opening a coffee shop.  But, that does not mean just a coffee machine.  A coffee machine with additional plate warmers or a satellite coffee machine is a must for high volume coffee brewing; however, they are not the only piece of equipment to shop for.  Things like airpots to store coffee for self service or for rushes are important, as well as espresso machines.  Having an espresso machine is essential for coffee shops nowadays not only to keep up with the increasing demand for espresso shots, but also to steam milk (most espresso machines have steam wands) for things like lattes, and hot water valves for tea or hot chocolate.  Additionally, a heavy duty coffee grinder is a must, as the volumes of coffee being ground per shift will by far exceed what a traditional household grinder can handle.


  • Refrigeration & Ice MachinesRefrigeration is essential in both the front-of-the-house and back-of-the-house of any foodservice operation and coffee shops are no exception.  An undercounter refrigerator is a must for under the coffee bar (or a larger reach-in if space allows, and volume dictates).  Things like milk / soymilk varieties, whipped cream, and pre-made iced tea or coffee need to stay cold while simultaneously remaining on hand for baristas.  Additional refrigeration may be required depending on the amount of food on the menu, and B.O.H. needs, and refrigerated display cases to display snacks or open cooler merchandisers for bottled beverages are also common.  Ice machines and storage bins are a must for ice tea, coffee, and cappuccinos, as well as for smoothies, frozen drinks, or soft drinks.

  • Countertop Equipment & Cooking Equipment Some menu items require additional pieces of countertop equipment to produce.  Some of the more common pieces of additional countertop equipment seen at coffee shops include things like commercial blenders for smoothies or frozen coffee drinks, soft-serve ice cream machines, as well as storage bins for things like sugar, coffee beans, and tea (and even a tea decanter for loose tea).  The necessary cooking equipment can vary depending on the size of the food menu.  Some operations can just get by with a microwave, a conveyor toaster, and a panini grill, but others with significant food menus may need larger pieces of cooking equipment such as an oven or a range.  Traditionally, if heavier equipment is necessary, there will no doubt be a necessity for prep equipment and smallwares such as cutlery, cutting boards choppers, etc.  It is important to look into how large a portion of sales will be coming from food before shopping for cooking and food prep equipment.

How Long Will Guests Be Staying

Some coffee shops encourage dine-in customers, yet others try to do higher volume beverage sales and just provide quick to-go coffee.  There are pro’s and con’s on both sides, and here are a few factors to take into account when deciding which kind of shop yours will be.

  • DishesThere will obviously be some dirty dishes and cleaning to do regardless of the operation type, however dine-in coffee shops that offer their customers coffee in (traditionally) ceramic cups will most likely need a dishwasher (either a person, a machine, or both).  The coffee shops that offer this service often times will have larger kitchens, as customers sitting inside the shop for extended periods are more apt to purchase food.  Both in-house coffee drinking and dining will produce dirty dishes that will have to be cleaned.  In addition to having the extra dirty dishes, these dine-in coffee shops or cafés usually have to keep paper cups and to-go stations for customers just coming in for coffee as well.  To-go places don’t necessarily have as many extra dishes; however, they usually sell less food and have to sell more coffee to make up for this.  Bear in mind that alongside a dishwasher, dine-in restaurants will also require larger dish sinks, as well as a separate slop sink to mop up after a shift.

  • Dining Area The dining area you provide your clientele should go alongside the aforementioned guidelines of being a “to-go” or “dine-in” café.  If you are offering a bit more of a full service café, seating is essential.  An adequate dining area is important when guests will be lingering to eat, use free wi-fi, or enjoy the patio.  Conversely, “grab-n-go” coffee stands don’t necessarily need a place for customers to sit, which reduces startup overhead, but limits the size of the average customer’s purchase size.

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