Ensuring your business is the main meal

Corina Vucic | Director | FC Business Solutions

Ensuring your business is the main meal

You love coffee, food and people and dream of owning a café that becomes the heartbeat of a local community. You imagine customers chatting while they wait for their coffee, succumbing to a scrumptious looking cake or sitting down for a meal that’s “Insta-worthy” and tastes as good as it looks.

These customers become regulars. You remember their names, know how they like their coffee, and there’s always a new cake or dish to entice them.

Creating this sense of belonging promotes wellbeing and a sense of community at a time when people feel overwhelmed and disconnected because of rapidly advancing technology. Technology itself is not to blame. Mobile and internet technologies will be crucial to running your business. What’s important is creating meaningful connections with customers, both online and offline.

Being a business leader is not formulaic. You will need to know your customers, be agile and be prepared to change your mindset to meet the demands of your local community.

Brand

Your brand is your identity. It reflects your personality and vibe and helps you stand out in a crowded market. It’s your power base and must be promoted at every opportunity. Online food-delivery platforms have expanded choice and convenience, but don’t let them swallow your brand. Play in the space and offer customers similar, but better, service. Create brand loyalty by giving customers a reason to come back.  Send your food and coffee in branded containers and environmentally friendly packaging. Think about the visibility of your brand on your packaging and put something extra inside the delivery bag to develop brand loyalty. It could be a small food item with a thank you note or a flyer with a discount code to entice them to dine in next time.

Visual merchandising

This is everything the customer sees. Your brand needs to stay fresh and up to date. Make sure your food looks fresh and tempting. Don’t cover it with cling wrap or foil and give the impression it has been sitting for hours. Have delicious smells emanating from the kitchen and fresh coffee beans. Consider, too, the music you play and how that reflects your brand. Keep the café clean and smart. There’s no point in heavily investing in a refurbishment every five years; you can enhance the look and feel of your premises with new furniture or cushions. Give those customers waiting for coffee or meals something stimulating to look at, including special deals, branded merchandise and take-home treats.

Customers

Great service is linked to the relationship you build with your customers. You need to know your customer base so you can anticipate their needs and exceed their expectations. Do you get busy professionals grabbing a coffee before work, mothers relaxing after the school drop-off, retirees catching up with friends, tradies with big appetites or foodies who expect taste sensations? Note the age of your customers, their frequency and average spend. Provide free WiFi and set up long tables that encourage customers to have business meetings and family gatherings. If you make customers feel special, they’ll keep coming back.

Staff

You can teach your staff how to make coffee, take orders, serve food and clear tables, but they also need to know how to connect with your customers. Small talk puts people at ease. Remembering someone’s coffee order will turn them into a regular. Reading a customer’s mood will help them respond appropriately.

Your staff are your brand ambassadors. What they wear will reflect your vibe. It could be a branded top or a funky barista apron that bears the café’s name and logo.

Make sure your team is knowledgeable about the food and coffee being served, along with appreciating that some customers will have a special diet and allergen requirements that should be respected. Set the tone and empower your team members. This includes respecting your staff and making sure you comply with employment laws. Create a culture that reflects you and the values of your business.

Coffee!!

Customers are sophisticated when it comes to coffee, and you can’t afford to serve it weak, lukewarm, burnt or with the wrong type of milk. Coffee drinkers know what they like, and their preference will be on the Coffee Taster’s Flavour Wheel, be it mild, malty, nutty, berry, buttery or chocolatey. Give customers a choice and promote special blends. Invest in a grinder that delivers the right grams of coffee for every shot you serve. You also need to pay attention to the milk. About 75 per cent of people drink flat whites, cappuccinos or lattes. In addition to skinny, full-fat and lactose-free dairy milks, there are at least five plant milks, including soy, almond, coconut, oat and rice milk. Customers will see what brands you are using, so don’t buy from the local supermarket. It’s worth spending more on plant milk that froths well, and not charging the customer extra to give your café a competitive edge. If customers want an unsweetened variety, then provide it. Your mugs, glasses and takeaway cups reflect your brand so buy biodegradable or offer a service that allows customers to use and return your branded reusable cups.

Suppliers

It’s important to create a great relationship with your suppliers. Think about what they bring to the relationship rather than what they cost. If they understand your brand and values, they can source the best products for you. Communicate regularly and include face-to-face contact. Discuss the latest food trends and find out what they can supply. Make sure the boundary of the franchise agreement enables this flexibility. Does your franchise have a knowledge-sharing hub? If so, share your insights into trends and ways of improving sales. But be aware that introducing new products and updating ordering processes can cause temporary disruptions. Plan and ensure the suppliers are well briefed to meet your seasonal food needs. You should monitor and compare your supplier's performance with their competitors and be prepared to negotiate the terms of trade.

Menus and margin development

You will be busy with the day to day management of the café, but you need to think ahead about your menu. Your business will be unsustainable if the menu is out of date, priced too high or too low, or there is no margin management. You need to make enough profit while remaining competitive with other cafes in your area. Invest in a strategy to keep your menu current, on point and financially sound. Pay close attention to market trends and make pricing adjustments as required. Many cafes have seasonal menus. Will you follow suit, or will you change the menu annually? Your menu will be linked to your understanding of your client base. If you feel out of your depth, consult a chef, dietician, or even a foodie.

Social media presence

Social networking is a great way to extend your product and brand. Based on your customer avatars, you can utilise the online communities where your existing and new customers hang out. That could be conducting surveys and running competitions on Facebook or encouraging customers to share photos of your café on Instagram. Build a plan and strategy to keep your brand exposed online. Social networking is time-consuming, and you should consider employing a blogger or social media savvy person to design assets, take photos and schedule posts. The content you post will depend on your customer base. Does it need to be arty or homely? Do you want new posts every day or once a week? Shares, reviews and likes are great but focus on targets such as leads generated, web referrals and conversion rate to measure the success of the strategy.

People and culture

There are many laws and regulations governing franchising, and as a business leader, you will need advice and people you can trust. This includes having a hotline to people and culture experts. If you invest in this support and pay attention to your professional learning, you will have a better chance of success. Join a learning performance group and sign up for email updates and newsletters from relevant food and beverage groups. Also, seek business advice to improve your knowledge and skills.

In conclusion

If it is your dream to own and operate a café, then make it a reality, however, be realistic about what is going to be involved. It will be challenging. If you’re new to the hospitality industry, spend some time working within a café or restaurant environment to know if it’s for you before jumping in headfirst and investing.

By buying into a franchise brand, you will not be going it alone. You will have experts around you who can support you in the key areas of small business - brand, product and stock, marketing, people management and planning.

Regardless of whether you buy into a franchise or go independent, the key to your success will be engaging with your local community, both online and offline, and creating that personal connection that we all crave.

For the best chance of success, consider these top tips:

  1. Establish the brand identity of your business, make sure it is reflected in your menu, your service standards, and your team and helps you build a loyal, local following.
  2. Understand who your customers are, connect with them, ensure that your menu offer is suiting their needs, remember their coffee order.
  3. Foster your staff with good culture, training andteach them how to engage with your customers
  4. Ensure that your coffee is expertly made every time, using exceptional beans and with a variety of milk options.
  5. Research your suppliers, support the local producers and to ensure the freshness of your menu and be the local business that supports other local businesses.
  6. Plan your menu, knowing the customers you want to entice. Invest in the dishes, their quality, their presentation, and get the price point right. 
  7. Set a marketing and social media plan to retain and attract customers with consistent and professional-looking posts and activity.