Choosing The Right Coffee Shop Equipment for Your Coffee Business
Other than your coffee shop location and the terms of your property lease, one of the biggest decisions you can make is that of your coffee shop equipment.
You can be sure, that it is easy for the new and inexperienced coffee business owner to “Go For Broke” and buy the wrong or unnecessary coffee equipment – squandering their cash on hand or racking up tons of debt.
Losing money on poor equipment simply because I wasn't prepared isn't something I like to do.
You don't have to waste your money.
Getting a real handle on your coffee shop equipment choices that falls within your estimated coffee shop budget is an important aspect of starting any coffee shop business.
Developing your coffee shop concept, codifying it in a business plan, creating your budget, and making smart coffee equipment decisions, will help you maximize your money.
We find this topic so important that we've dedicated a one-hour conversation found in our Complete Coffee Shop Startup Kit, which contains 15 hours of essential audio interviews with coffee shop owners and coffee business experts.
The questions often asked by aspiring coffee shop business owners are:
“What equipment do I need to start a coffee shop?” and “How do I choose the right coffee shop equipment for me and my business that fits my budget?” We will explore these questions in this article.
Additionally, our one-hour audio interview contains an essential pack of interviews dedicated to your coffee shop equipment, health department, and your space that you will want to hear.
“What Kind of Coffee Equipment Do You Need?”
The answer to your coffee equipment questions typically depends on what kind of food and beverages that you plan to serve to your customers.
First, start with the question: “What items do I want to have on my menu?” or “What food and beverage choices do my customers want at this location?”
Your menu decides.
It's no secret that your location will also play a key role in what you decide to serve to your customers.
Different customers have different needs: consider coffee shop chains or fast food restaurants change their menu slightly depending on where they are located.
Serve what your customers want. I've met one cafe owner who spent three months baking different cakes, tarts, and scones to see which ones her neighbors liked the best.
One of the biggest mistakes made by coffee shop owners is building a coffee shop business concept based on a menu that isn't appealing to their customer base.
Spending equipment to prepare, store, and serve your menu items can be expensive – if they can't pay for themselves. That is, they are not being used to sell your items. By doing basic research, such as asking your would-be customers what they like is a great start. It's not rocket-science. It just takes a little work.
Your menu will ultimately determine your coffee equipment needs, which will often have a ripple effect into other areas of the start of your coffee business. This includes your basic needs for adequate space.
Okay, so let's settle that you've decided on what's on your menu.
Depending what you serve, it will necessitate certain equipment that the health department expects you to have.
This is why generally prior to your health permit approval, you will be required to submit your menu items, along with specific information on ingredients and how it will be prepared, stored, and served.
There is no doubt, that your menu and equipment, consequently impact the design of your coffee shop as well.
After all, if you need at least 3 sinks, a prepping table, a commercial grade refrigerator, freezer, ice maker, grease trap, etc., just how will that impact your need for space?
How will these factors impact your decision to sign your property lease or choose the location you want, alter your original business concept, or adjust your changing budgetary needs?
Additional changes to your menu, your business concept, and your equipment needs must take into consideration the ultimate needs of your customers.
Regardless of what you decide to serve, there are a few important things to address when it comes to your coffee shop equipment. And we'll list many of them below for convenience.
Your coffee shop equipment needs will be based on your menu. Your menu ultimately depends on your customers. Therefore, knowing your target market and what need you are satisfying in the market place, will help you determine the equipment needs.
Additionally, the type of coffee business will determine your coffee needs. For example, if you have a coffee concession stand or coffee truck, your equipment choices will need to consider the plumbing, water supply and the available power supply.
With that said, there are a few basic things that you will need to serve your coffee and satisfy the needs of local agencies like the health department.
With your menu intake and your coffee shop equipment decided upon, you'll need to find the appropriate space for your coffee business. Your space will need to accommodate for all of the sinks, prep tables, commercial refrigerators, storage, grills, etc.
Finally, your coffee equipment decisions will always depend on your budget. While you may want to get a sparkling new refrigerator, display case, or coffee grinder, you have to ask yourself whether or not that is necessary.
However, your equipment is what makes it possible to run your business, so you want to invest in quality and in equipment that won't break down on you when you need it the most. (In our coffee business blog, we've previously offered tips on shopping for used coffee equipment.)
When people ask how much does it take to start a coffee shop or set up an espresso stand, I always ask the question: what's on your menu.
Consider reviewing the following workflow:
Not understanding this basic workflow can increase your spending (by a lot) and may delay your coffee shop or coffee stand opening. The fact is that you might not need all the equipment you anticipate getting before you look at this workflow.
Everything begins and ends with your menu. But, additionally, this requires you to focus in on your customer. What “pain points” will you be solving for your customer-base? Your ideal customer will also determine what's on your menu.
One of the important things that is left off this workflow is the ongoing relationship that you will have with the health department. Your location, your customer, your menu (and therefore your budget) really impacts everything from here on out.
Here are a few pieces of coffee shop equipment that you may need:
The following pieces of coffee equipment really are general and essential needs for a standard cafe, coffee shop, or bakery cafe. You will want to contact your local health department prior to you signing any lease so that you will be able to fully understand what equipment you'll need to fully satisfy any general requirements.
A Three-Compartment Sink
A three-compartment sink is absolutely vital to your café or coffee shop. The reason is that you will always have to wash dishes, rinse them, and sanitize them.
Additionally, you will need a separate hand washing sink to ensure you and employees are able to wash their hands. This is usually required for most cafes or brick-and-mortar coffee shops.
It may also be required for a food/coffee truck and drive-thru espresso stands depending on your menu. Be sure to check with your local health department code.
A Mop Sink/Closet
The health department wants you to make sure that you have a mop sink that drains well and can be used to quickly clean up any spills that may occur or be used in the natural course of maintaining a clean business.
Certain minimum and maximum water temperatures may also be a requirement for your use in your mop closet, so be sure to check with your local health department.
For the obvious reasons of hygiene and illness prevention, you cannot use a hand-washing sink or food prep sink as your mop sink.
A Commercial Water Heater
You’re going to need a commercial grade water heater that fills up quickly. A commercial hot water heater or hot water tank will ensure that you have enough hot water to last throughout the day at an appropriate temperature level. If you have a coffee stand, your commissary may be the location for this water tank (but this depends on your locale!). You will need to be able to wash your dishes and provide ample heat for your water continuously throughout the work day.
A Commercial Refrigerator
A good commercial refrigerator that keeps the temperature constant while being opened and closed continuously throughout the day is essential. The steady temperature of your milk and other foods and condiments will be a necessary requirement for your health department.
Your Espresso Machine
There are a variety of espresso machines that you will/could use for your coffee shop, but since your espresso machine will be the heart of your coffee producing venture, choosing the appropriate one will be important.
You have to have a quality espresso machine that will meet the highest demands of your business throughout the day.
Depending on the traffic that you will have throughout the day, you may consider having a “2 group” or “3 group” espresso machine. Generally, I recommend against having just a “one group” espresso machine. If you are going to invest the money, I would “plan for growth.”
But again, you want to choose an espresso machine that will work efficiently to address the peak times for your coffee business each day.
Each espresso machine requires some type of plumbing and a certain amount of energy. This is particularly important for coffee drive-thru stands and coffee concession-type trailers or trucks.
Professional Coffee Grinders
You’ll need at least two grinders (one for your espresso and the other for decaf or drip brewing). Professional coffee grinders are important for a number of reasons including the consistency and superior quality of your coffee.
Commercial coffee grinders are really good at insulating the coffee from the heat that is caused during the grinding process, which can impact the flavor. But even more importantly, it impacts the consistency of the size of each coffee granule.
The size of your grind is important for extracting the perfect espresso shot. Choosing a commercial grinder that allows you to perfectly “dial in” your coffee to deliver the perfect shot will be important factor in the quality coffee you serve.
Such commercial coffee grinders can be very sophisticated and help you achieve the perfect amount of espresso before you tamp it.
Work and Food Prepping Table
If you prepare your own food, including sandwiches, bagels, salads, or paninis you may need a prepping table that is separate from your other items. Your food prepping table is a table for just that – preparing your food. They aren't places to hold your cash register or espresso machine. Some municipalities may be more picky than others, so consider doing some homework.
These are just a few of the items you will need for your café If you are buying an existing café, make sure that you have the equipment purchase individually itemized in writing. Be sure what items are included with the sale of the business.
If you are starting from scratch, meaning that you will not have any coffee equipment, then be aware of the menu decisions and how they will impact your bottom line, the equipment needed, design necessities, and space requirements.
Small Wares & Miscellaneous items
If you make coffee, you are going to need some required items such as stainless steep pitchers, twisted frothing spoons, shot glasses, tampers, and other items.
You will also need cups or ceramic where to serve the coffee. Small wares and miscellaneous items are important to make your coffee shop work but they can be overshadowed by the “big ticket” purchases. So, be sure to budget for these items as well.
Furniture & Fixtures
While furniture and fixtures are not generally thought of as “coffee shop equipment”, you will need to factor the costs of furniture and fixtures. Items like chairs, stools, tables, and counters maybe needed. Additionally, you might need to buy outdoor furniture as well.
A sugar and creamer station may also be required to be installed or purchase. Fixtures include interior and exterior lighting.
And what about your Point-of-Sale cash register?
Your Coffee Shop POS Cash Register System
Another important coffee shop element is your coffee shop Point-of-Sale register or POS. A coffee shop POS is essentially your cash register.
As you start planning you coffee shop, you should consider looking early for your Point-of-Sale system as there are many different options.
Every year there seems to be more and more iPad or tablet-based POS registers available. Of course, each have their “Pros & Cons” for your particular coffee business. We have written a detailed POS recommendation article here.
Your Budget and Your Coffee Equipment
When shopping for your coffee equipment there is no doubt that you will be thinking about your budget in the back of your mind.
“Can I afford this?” and “Do I really need that?” As we have written before, the ultimate budget for your coffee shop will have to align with your concept and your menu ideas.
If they don’t align appropriately then some adjustment to your concept or menu will be needed.
We believe that your coffee shop equipment is really what makes your “bread and butter”, or in this case your coffee.
Without the appropriate equipment you will be hard pressed to deliver what your customers want and what ultimately your goals are: to serve great coffee and to be profitable.
Never compromise on the quality of your tools to make money. Now with that said, is there a way to save?
Is there a way to reduce your overall budget costs when it comes to your coffee equipment? Sure, but it takes planning and requires you to take a hard look at what it is that you want to accomplish with your coffee business.
While you may not need a shiny new refrigerator or a sparkling toaster oven, you may need dependable grinders and an espresso machine. Making the right decisions can be “made easier” by giving yourself enough time to look around for deals, negotiate with suppliers for equipment (i.e. your coffee roaster).
Coffee Shop Equipment Regulations
Now that we’ve talked in general about the coffee shop equipment you will need, you should also be aware that not all equipment are created equal. Since the equipment you need will be used to prepare and serve customers, your equipment will need to often be commercial-grade.
For example, your refrigerators or ice-machines may need to be commercial, which allows them to stay cold, at a certain temperature, when they are being opened and shut all day.
Setting up the appropriate infrastructure to “house” your equipment will also be important. For example, your espresso machine may likely require a 220 V outlet and power source and plumbing (if it does not already exist).
Additionally, some very good quality espresso machines are built for “home use” . This can mean that the materials that it is made from are different. Some commercial machines have different standards that ensure certain chemicals don’t leach into the water. So this may (or may not) impact your coffee equipment decisions.
With these variables in mind, you should contact your county health department for any specific regulations. Additionally, you should contact your local building department. Most building departments offer pre-written guidelines for food establishments.
These additional regulations are placed for safety reasons and are often vigorously enforced before you can get your health permit. So, just keep them in mind as you move forward with your coffee equipment purchases.
Bringing It Together… in your Coffee Shop Business Plan
Developing your concept, menu, and budget will help you with making your coffee equipment choices and will provide you a frame-work to base your next steps. Having a coffee shop business plan will be important for your ultimate business success (And it will save you money too!)
Be sure to start writing your coffee shop business plan. If you need help, our Complete Coffee Shop Startup Kit contains a coffee shop business plan template and explanations that you will need. Our business plan will save you approximately 12-15 hours of research time.
A coffee shop business plan will help:
- Organize your thoughts.
- Make sure you thought everything through.
- Help develop your budget.
- It's often required by banks or property managers.
Learn How To Choose Your Coffee Equipment
(And Save Money)
Our Complete Coffee Shop Startup Kit provides you with a tremendous amount of resources that will be helpful for you when starting your coffee business. In the exclusive audio interview package you'll find an informative one-hour interview with a coffee equipment expert.
The most common mistake when starting a coffee shop is the coffee equipment. Additionally, our coffee shop business startup kit provides informational and educational interviews that dig deep on issues and topics you will want and need to know more about.
We ask the important questions that you will want to know when staring your coffee business.
Topics range from your coffee shop equipment decision making, your coffee shop property lease, to the ability to navigate your health department – it's all here in one convenient online package.
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