Opening A New Café: Design It Right, Build It Once

by Tom Palm, President @ Design & Layout Services

Opening a new café can be a real challenge, especially if you have never done it before. Many of the problems that a new café owner encounters occur during the two months between signing a lease and getting a building permit. See article “Opening your dream café – don’t let it become a nightmare!” In that article we discussed issues such as parking, restrooms, ADA, fire exits, and health department codes. These areas require extensive research prior to signing the lease. In this article, we will explore the next phase of opening a new café – the floor plan design.

A common approach to the design of a new café concept is to plan the space from the front to the back. The primary focus is on the atmosphere and design elements in the customer areas. These may include the style and type of seating, a roaster, retail displays, internet stations or a fireplace. Then architectural features such as soffits and lighting are combined with colors and finishes to create your image and identity. It is in the “front of the house” where your concept and brand identity are realized.

These design elements are crucial to differentiate your café concept in the marketplace. However, this approach has a tendency to underplay the importance of the service counters and the back room storage needs. These are the areas your employees depend on for logical equipment placement, functional work space and adequate storage needs. When the employee areas are designed last, efficiency, labor costs, speed of service, customer retention and profits are adversely affected. The challenge of any design is to balance the desires for unique and appealing design elements (customer areas) with the needs for functional work and storage areas (employee areas).

Before you can begin your layout, you must first decide what items will be served on your menu. Coffee, espresso, tea, smoothies, pastry, cookies, sandwiches, soup, salads, and ice cream are common menu items. This menu will dictate the equipment needed to support your menu. For example; bakery items purchased from a local bakery and delivered daily, will only require a display case for merchandising. However, when the cookies and muffins are baked on-site, your equipment will change to include a storage freezer, convection oven and a work table. If you will be preparing sandwiches on site, a separate vegetable prep sink, sandwich prep table and additional refrigeration will be required. Thus, the new operator must decide early in the design process what items will be prepared and stored on-site and what items will be purchased from an outside vendor.

When designing a floor plan, start with the kitchen and storeroom. Working from the back of the space to the front, essential pieces of equipment ranging from dry storage, refrigerated storage, food prep and ware washing are designed into the space first. Remember, your health department codes will dictate the minimum requirements of a water heater, mop sink, three compartment sink, hand sinks, and adequate refrigeration and dry storage needs. So, before you begin designing the location for the fireplace and retail displays, get the storeroom and kitchen areas done first.

The front and back service counters are now designed into the floor plan. This is where employees must have efficient work space and the proper equipment to deliver orders quickly to the customers. The counters incorporate built-in equipment, readily accessible to the employee (cups, ice, refrigeration, trash, plates etc.). Equipment should be strategically arranged so that each employee has their own work station (cash, espresso, sandwich). The longer the lead time for an order, the further from the cash register the customer will move. This prevents a back-up at the cash register when a customer orders three espresso based drinks and the customer behind them just wants a large house blend coffee. With the operational areas of your café properly planned first, the remaining balance of the space is available for creating personal design elements in customer areas.

Tom Palm is President of Design & Layout Services.

Since 1996, Design & Layout Services has worked with over 700 clients interested in opening a café or starting a coffee shop. Services include floor plan design, health department coordination, construction documents, cabinetry and equipment sales.

Tel. 800-471-8448

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