How to open your own café

Many people dream of owning their own business one day – in the current economic climate, with few rewards and long hours in the city, more are taking the plunge into independent ventures than ever. If you want a slower pace and a richer quality of life, perhaps you’ve thought about going into catering and hospitality. Opening a small café or boutique in the country is hard work but it’s more of a lifestyle than a nine to five.

start own business running a cafe-113400.jpgMost of us are familiar enough with Dragon’s Den to know that there’s more to it than turning up with a good idea: before you start you’ll need to calculate your outgoings and estimate your turnover.

Here are some of the essential things you need to know about when planning your start up.


Prepare to fill out a lot of forms before you can get into the kitchen. At the very least you’ll need planning permission, a hygiene certificate and to register as a food business with your local council. You’ll have to prove you have adequate toilet facilities and that the area intended for food preparation is safe.

You’ll need separate licenses for serving hot food, having a take-away, playing recorded music, having live gigs or having outside facilities, too. If you’re in a residential area it can be tricky to get permission in some cases but if you’re willing to make some concessions, like only having acoustic gigs and adhering to strict curfews, you should be able to get something going.

You’ll also need specialised insurance. Restaurant and pubs need to take out similar policies but there are lots of small variables that you have to take into consideration so make sure that you’ve shopped around and know what you need covered. One of the most important things to check you have is public liability insurance, which protects you if any of your customers injure themselves in or around your premises.

Human Resources

Human Resources is more then just employment law, it’s concerned with defining the roles of your employees. When you’re advertising, make sure the jobs you’re offering aren’t vague. Will your café staff double as cleaners, or will you delegate that to a specialised company? Will you hire cooks with front-of-house skills, or waitresses with culinary potential?

Take into consideration the age of staff you’re looking to hire. Many café owners find it’s only viable to run their business if they manage the day-to-day running, as employing a manager eats into profit. How will you cope with no holidays?


If your staff haven’t got a food hygiene certificate or it’s outdated, they’ll have to go for one day’s training so check online for nearby courses and be prepared to pay between £40 to £85. They might be keen for a career in catering and willingly cough up themselves but really, you’re the boss and it’s your responsibility to pay. Look at it as a positive expense: it’ll foster good feeling between you and your staff from the get-go and you’ll find yourself being more discerning when you’re hiring.

Depending on the size of your facilities, consider installing separate staff toilets and a rest area. You owe your staff a safe and comfortable environment. Your restaurant insurance should cover any injuries to your staff that occur in the workplace but it’s best to make sure you never need it – you’ll need at least one trained first aider on the clock at all times.

Storing and sourcing your products

Buying in from specialist providers and producers cuts out supermarket overheads, so if you’re preparing food regularly it’s the best way to get stock. There’s a lot to be said for sourcing locally – higher prices are offset by lower shipping costs, more frequent deliveries and fresher produce. After you’ve worked out your menu shop around to find the cheapest price and don’t be afraid to ask about discounts: there might be introductory prices. If you’re going to be ordering from them regularly, there might be money off if you pay in advance or through a certain channel – take it all into consideration.

If you are planning on serving meat than you’ll need two fridges as if it’s raw it has to be stored separately to other food. Find space for a freezer and a larder and invest in food storage containers and day-of-the-week labels. If you know when food was first prepared you’ll know when to chuck it.

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