Opening a cafe: six considerations for your equipment needs


Much like running a marathon, opening a café requires considered and thoughtful planning, preparation, and approach. All the stamina and drive you can muster won’t necessarily see you through to the end (at least not painlessly!), without assembling the right team and equipment for your desired outcome. So, let’s look at where your main points of focus should be in opening your café before you even brew your first cup.

1. Define Your Ideal Café

What will your café be like and who will it attract?

An inner-city location may be smaller and forfeit parking and sit down space, but maximise the corporate crowd and local foot traffic. Meanwhile, a larger venue can offer either a large and inviting space for corporate events, or a cosy and comfortable location for studying students or suburban mums. Ultimately, where do you see yourself heading daily, for upwards of 60 hours a week? Consider the following:

  • What kind of food and beverage items does your skill and experience allow?
  • Are you a coffee and cake bar, or would you like a full-service kitchen?
  • Are you wanting to cover breakfast, lunch, or dinner, or perhaps all three?
  • How extensive will your menu be – a minimal set of popular favourites, or an extensive range of gourmet items?
  • Have you mapped your location requirements and size and how much equipment you can fit?
  • How extensive will your refrigeration, countertops and POS systems need to be?

Defining the specifics of your dream venture will help you realise the necessary equipment to make it a reality, and allow you to start investigating the factors impacted by your requirements.

2. Financing & Budgeting

Well before you see any cash coming in, a substantial chunk of money will be flowing out to help upstart your business, be it on refurbishing the venue, connecting amenities, or buying your equipment. You may need to rely on your bank for funding and to support your network of POS and accounting needs. It’s always best to explore your finance options – be it your traditional bank or the more flexible touch of private funding.

It is also critical to track of your initial budget. Consider whether you can utilise the existing fitout, what your fixed costs (rent, utilities etc.) will be like, and the equipment you need to buy. Most critically, consider just how your equipment needs will impact your venue’s overall infrastructure. Breaking it all right down into finer detail initially with an accountant is best, and always make sure to have a contingency finance plan for unexpected costs.

Not having the right piece of equipment when you need it can be a catastrophe, and a real stumble in opening your café. Further lower-cost domestic equipment isn’t designed for the rigorous daily workloads of cafes will break down with much greater frequency, just adding further costs down the road.

3. Licensing Fees & Functionality

Like other business ventures, there are several governing bodies that will have certain regulations to be met and limitations on what you can and cannot do. Foremost, is your local council. When you open up in New Zealand, you are going to need to register your food premise, potentially including food, alcohol, and outdoor dining licences. Getting slapped with a fine a few weeks into the opening your café because you don’t meet council rules is no way to hit the ground running.

Make sure to also have a thorough understanding with your property manager of what restrictions your lease has for adjustment made to fixed features. Integrating the necessary equipment for your café in a workable manner is largely dependent this. Consider:

  • How extensive are your plumbing changes going to be and are they feasible?
  • Is your location functionally ready for the installation of gas equipment and any necessary exhaust systems?
  • Will you need to include new equipment (such as refrigerated displays) and how extensively will this affect the electrical plan of the venue?

4. Suppliers & Maintenance

Before buying equipment, ensure you physically visiting trusted and established industry equipment suppliers and engage in a professional conversation around the mould of your café, the specific tools, and the fun nitty-gritty. This essentially forms the basis of the information you need to hit the ground running come the big opening day. Shop around and make a list of preferred product suppliers.

Make sure to also consider who you can trust to call to fix any electrical, plumbing or machine-specific problems? Finding the right person has been one failed attempt after another for many business owners, and with emergency services costing much more than usual rates, it’s best to plan ahead. Take the time to ask around and collect some quality phone numbers. It also doesn’t hurt to chat with other local businesses in your area as they may know of someone very handy and close too.

5. Business Essentials

Every business needs a business banking accounts for tax purposes, and staff that participate in the development of your café. But there are also a few essential pieces of equipment that you simply can’t get away with not having for a new cafe, such as:

  • Internet Service Provider (ISP) - Helps streamline your banking requirements while also ensuring you can interact online with your customers through social media and digital marketing. Consider if you can offer free Wi-Fi to your customers and if your ISP is capable of such a load while offering the best price.
  • Point-of-Sale (POS) equipment – Ensures you’re not losing customers due to an outdated “cash only” mentality and improves speed of service, especially when the location and type of system reduces the movement of customers and staff and is intuitive and quick to use.
  • Cold storage – A vital piece that can also be one of the costliest if you choose faulty or low quality units. Consider whether you need a drink display fridge or ice-cream freezer, under-bench prep fridges to hold your milk, or a walk-in fridge for a full-service kitchen.

6. Non-Essential Toys

Of course, you will need a coffee machine, but just how much do you love coffee and want to use your equipment as a marketing tool, say by installing a Slayer over a Wega? This approach will attract a clientele that is looking to be ‘wowed’ by the latest and greatest gadgets, technology and staff skill. They also tend to be big fans of social media and the frenzy that is capturing the moment in a freeze of ‘INSTAhappiness’.

Having gone through this list, you’ll have a much better understanding of both what you need and what needs further consideration or planning. Opening a café is an exciting prospect but to be successful and to ride out the first few challenges of any new business, you need the right plan and equipment to match. Approach each aspect of your dream café with well-considered steps, whether its your shopfront layout and design, café equipment, suppliers or staff. Always think sensibly and revert to your budget, no matter how enticing that fancy piece of equipment is.

Dream big and plan accordingly.