Your essential guide to café design and café fitouts

Your essential guide to café design and café fitouts

Everyone in the hospitality industry knows; the café business is cut throat. Every year hundreds of Australians take the plunge and open their own cafe or coffee shop, often realising a lifelong dream.  Unfortunately, many will fail long before they have made their owners any money.

The café fit out is usually the biggest expense a new café owner will face. Get it wrong and the business is destined to fail, but get it right and you will have a thriving business on your hands.

So before you start organising the photo session for your machine we’d like to offer some common sense advice on how to plan a successful fit-out, and start your café business off on the right foot.

Know Your Budget

To lay the foundations for success, every new café owner should have a tight business plan. Managing ongoing costs will be key to the long-term success of your café, but initially, set up costs (including the cost of your fit out) will be your biggest expense, and the biggest risk you take.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, more than 60 percent of small businesses cease operating in the first 3 years. A major reason for this is a lack of capital. If you spend too much on your fit-out you won’t have sufficient cash to run your business and will be destined for failure.

It will be very tempting to break the bank creating the café of your dreams but always remember, the more you spend on your fit out, the more you will need to turn over to break even or service any debt you incurred starting the business.

Whether fitting out a hole-in-the-wall coffee shop or a sprawling garden café, you need a realistic budget that you can stick to, and that all starts with a solid business plan.

Know Your Audience

First and foremost, your fit out must meet the needs of your customers. During planning, you should have spent plenty of time considering who your customers will be, and how your café will meet their needs. New café owners often try to be all things to all people. Most would be better off focussing on the needs of their core customers first.

For example, if your target audience is busy office workers collecting takeaway coffee and food, your fit out design will need to focus on customer flow and use of space. You will need clearly defined areas for ordering, waiting and collecting. Large signage that can be seen from anywhere in the cafe will speed up your line. Furniture and barriers can be used to gently guide customers where you want them to go.

If you want your clientele to sit down, relax and stay a while, your fit out needs to be spacious, comfortable and welcoming, it’s all about knowing your customer and designing for their needs.

Know Your Space

With good planning and design, a café can work in almost any space. Good design is making the best of what you have rather than trying to fit the right café into the wrong space.

The size and shape of your premises will dictate the kind of fit out that will work. Even if your dream café has luxurious soft booths or banquette seating, if it doesn’t fit, or reduces your seating capacity you will have to compromise if you want to stay in business.

Don’t neglect outdoor areas. If you are lucky enough to have a garden or courtyard area, consider a fit out design that makes the most of your extra space.

Take a good look at the bones of your building. You may discover some lovely old features you can use as a design element in your fit out. Exposed brickwork, hardwood floors and structural beams all add character to space and tie your business to the history of the building it is in.

To Theme Or Not To Theme

Kids and families love themed cafes! If that’s your target market, a big, bold, novelty theme is a great marketing strategy to get large profitable family groups through the door.

As with any design ideas, there are thousands of good, bad and downright ridiculous examples. A theme that is charming to one customer is tacky to another. When considering a theme, you should keep your customers front of mind in your designs. Try to resist indulging your own quirks too much. Remember your café is a business first,  if the customers don’t like your shelves of Star Wars memorabilia, they’ll have to go.

Instead of a specific theme, consider including a common design thread or colour that runs through the name, menu and fit-out design of the café.

Coffee Is King

The espresso machine is the single most important decision you will make when fitting out your cafe. When picking a coffee machine for your café you need to consider:

Size and Position – Your coffee machine (and barista) need to fit in your café. It will also need to be near a power supply, water supply and waste drainage.

Group Heads – As a part of your business plan you should have estimated how many customers you will be serving at your busiest time.  Most cafes have a 2 or 3 group machine but you will need to factor in how many baristas you have working and how much coffee you will be serving per week when making your decision.

Boiler – Commercial espresso machines usually have 1 boiler, 2 boilers or a heat exchanger. Talk to your barista, they may have a preference or consider your clientele, the main drawback of a single boiler is you cannot draw coffee and froth milk at the same time, which can limit capacity.

Automatic or Semi-Automatic – Automatic machines take the pressure of your barista to control water flow, freeing them up to perform other tasks. However, some baristas prefer to be in control of the extraction process so will prefer a semi-automatic machine.

Price – Expresso machines vary greatly in price. Consider a reputable brand, that has the right mix of features and capabilities of your business. Your coffee machine is a big expense, but as the heart of your business, it should be seen as an investment. Some makers offer to lease and rent-to-own options. Servicing and maintenance may be an additional expense or built into your lease agreement.

Use Your Ears

If you are installing a sound system as part of your fit out, consider what your customer will be doing in your cafe. Whether business people in for a meeting or friends catching up, most customers won’t want their conversations overheard but won’t want to have to shout to be heard.

The acoustics of your space will affect how sound behaves in your café.  Hard flat surfaces will bounce sound around and will sound ‘noisy’, while soft surfaces at a lot of different angles will soak up the sound, letting customers hear the music, or each other more clearly.

The system you settle on will influence the ‘vibe’ of your café and is another cue you are giving potential customers about the experience they can expect at your café.

Give Your Compliments To The Chef

Your kitchen fit-out will be one of the biggest expenses you face. If you have the budget, it is best to get professional advice about the equipment and installation you will need. At the very least, talk to the people who will be using the kitchen to produce your menu, they may have specific ideas about the layout or equipment that they prefer.

Seeing Is Believing

The key to good café lighting is flexibility. Your café will probably be mostly open during the day and if you have nice big windows you may be able to make do with natural light. Customers need to be able to see their coffee, food and your menu but apart from that, the lighting should reflect the mood you think suits your customers best.

Pick The Right People:

As you can see, a lot goes into a successful café fit out. A lot of new business owners get themselves into trouble by not preparing for the expense and complexity of a successful café fit out. If you haven’t started a café before, it may be a good idea to enlist some professional help from either a designer or a hospitality industry consultant. You may save money in the long run by avoiding common mistakes new business owners often make when starting their café.



Greg is a Marketing Assistant at 7 Grams Coffee, an office coffee and machine supplier for 300+ offices around Australia. His pleasures in life revolve around hiking, camping and spreading the word about high-quality coffee.