Opening a Café - Checklist

Over the years we have set up one restaurant and eight cafés. For each set up we note down all the steps and as the years have gone on this has evolved into our own methodology that we use now for every new set up. So, it’s quite detailed and you may or may not need all of it - it’s written to be dipped in and out of, as you go about your setup. Firstly, I am assuming you already have a site in mind but are not sure what to do. I have explained our checklist tasks in more detail, so it’s not in checklist format anymore and this task list ensures when we open we have everything in order to let us concentrate on delivering a warm and welcoming customer experience with great food and beverages.

We have it in a weekly format that suits our business model, you can move around and switch tasks as you feel is necessary for your new venture.

Week 1

Inventory Check - If you are lucky enough to get a site that was already a cafe or restaurant then there may be some equipment already available to you. Review what’s there, get it serviced and then buy additional equipment as needed.

Panini Machine / Merry Chef - Really important to get a good one but price Around. These will be big purchases but will give you value for money. Refrigeration - Crucial to a good café, you need to be able to stock up on dairy for busy weekends. Make sure you have adequate space, add to it if necessary and have a service contact.

Additional Catering Equipment - When you have identified from above what equipment you need to replace or purchase, get at least 3 quotes in, check guarantees and lead times. Decide the best supplier based on all three requirements. Again service contracts are a good idea, but more so with older Equipment.

Tables and Chairs - I love this part! If you need some order as soon as possible, some suppliers can take up to 6 weeks. This will affect your timeline. Registration with Health Board - You can’t open until you are registered so the quicker you do this the better.

Tableware - Cutlery, Delph, Counter Display, etc. This is crucial and fun. Remember though, have a budget and don’t over purchase. Check the lifespan of the set you are signing up to as you may need to restock/replace a few times over the next few years and you want to ensure you can continue to match what you have.

Risk Assessment Document - Good starting point for your café. This is not a ticking box exercise, it’s key to ensuing you set up your business safely and are aware of all potential hazards. The HSA website has a great tool for this if you have never done one.

Check Utilities - Ensure you have supply of all you need, if you need to create a new supply that could take weeks so important this is identified early. Do change over as late as your landlord will allow!

Coffee Supplier - Decide whose coffee you want to sell and negotiate a contract for supply with them. It is possible to get your equipment as part of this contract which will allow you to keep some cash in your bank - big help in the early days.

Covid Charter - New task since pandemic, register with Failte Ireland to ensure when you have your team they are trained with a recognised brand. Signs / Visual Brand - Really important step, employ an expert as you will have this brand hopefully for a long time. This takes a while and needs your full attention.

Recruitment - Use free sites if possible like Indeed, Hotel and Restaurant Times, Facebook Groups,, and others. Refer to my article about labour if you need help deciding on salaries.

Order Safe - Security is key where cash is involved and cash is still a big part of takings in a cafe. It’s also important to watch your cash and if you are lucky enough to have a high volume of cash it may be cheaper to employ a cash collecting company.

Shelving - As part of your initial inventory check you should find any available space for shelving, you can never have enough. Ensure it is suitable for food Storage.

Networking - Sign up with your LEO, they have great supports and advice as well as mentors on hand to help you set up a business for the first time. Look locally for business network groups and join these. They are a great source of advice and usually a good forum to just discuss your challenges and help you identify solutions.

Week 2

Insurance - Shop around but make sure you have adequate cover. As this is a new set up some of the figures you will give will be estimates. Make sure that once you are up and running, say 3 months or so, you review your cover to ensure it’s adequate based on your actual costs, turnover and investment.

Technology - Even though you are a café the right technology is key. Map out how you are going to run your café. At a minimum you will need a Laptop, Printer, Till (IPad), sim router if you don’t have access to wired broadband, camera (really important these days), cc machine (negotiate hard on the rates or they will eat into your profits), staff rostering and clocking in system (some EPos systems can do the clocking in for you), accounting software, and loads more if you like.

Wine License / Special Restaurant - This depends on your plan and budget. Wine license is €500p.a. and a special restaurant could initially cost you €2K. Do you think it’s worth it?

Menu Holders - if you are going to have your menus on your tables. Speaker for music and registration to IMRO - if you play music you must pay for it. You pay per seat with IMRO.

Loyalty - Will you reward your customers? Loads of options here, the simple loyalty cards with loyalty stamp - no real data though or through an app - most Epos offer this, Squid really popular and others. Order lockers if necessary and room available - Ensures some privacy and security for your team.

Uniform - Decide what it is and if you need to supply it. If you do, get your stock in place.

Menu Boards - Important to have a clear visual of what you are offering, price and allergens. Your brand company can help with the design but the content is all you.

Staff Organisation Chart and Plan - Clear Job Specifications and Descriptions. Training plans and deliverables. You can’t identify if your team is performing unless you and they know what they need to do.

HACCP - This should not be news to you! All food businesses need to have a HACCP system in place and the team trained in it.

Cash - Cash is expensive to collect, count and lodge. It might be better to use a cash collecting service. This is something you may come back to once you know how busy your café is.

Ice-Cream / Soft Serve Ice Cream - will you sell these? Do you have the room? Ice cream suppliers usually supply the freezers and therefore margins are tight, soft serve ice cream machines are expensive but the margins are high.

Pest Control - Basic to any food business, loads of suppliers out there. Set up a contract and let the experts take control. Make sure staff are aware through their HACCP training to always be vigilant and watching out for any traces of activity as well as aware of what to do if they do see activity.

Marketing Plan - Important to map it out and set targets. Also register your café with google, tripadvisor, yelp and any other sites you feel are important.

Week 3

Stationary Order - Make sure you have enough for opening, paper, pens, order books, staples etc.

Allergens - All menus need to have accurate allergens by law. Make sure you have yours identified and your staff trained in them. Web Site / Email Address - Part of your brand and should have been done from Week one to be launching soon.

Approved List of Suppliers - Negotiate Negotiate Negotiate - not just ingredient suppliers, also waste, packaging, hygiene, stationery, etc. Important to keep control here and make sure your staff only order from approved suppliers and the products you have approved to be ordered from them.

Staff Contracts / Training Plans - If this is all new for you, good idea to get professional advice.

Program Till - This is important as all your sales analysis will be based on accurate till reports. Put in as much information as you can on your till - slow to do but powerful for reporting and decision making.

VAT - If you are registered for VAT, make sure you have it accurate on your till. Basic rule - Hot Food eat in / T/A @ reduced rate (currently 9%), Cold Food eat in @ Reduced, Cold Food T/A @ 0%, Tea / Coffee @ reduced, Confectionary high (currently 23%). Good accountant can help with this.

Week 4

Training - Can never have enough, always coach and train your team as well as yourself.

Float - Make sure there is money in your till for opening and you have a control system for it.

Deep Clean - Needless to say.

Stock and Prep - You can’t open without product, This is probably the part you have been waiting for so go on enjoy!

Café Final Set up - Check everything is in order, where you want it and flows for your team and your customer. Walk it out again and again to make sure.

That’s the bones of it and at this stage you should be ready to open your doors and start trading. As on all my other posts, I am always at the end of an email if you are looking for a quick bit of advice.