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Pop-Up Café or Coffee Business: Useful Tips

thinking of starting a pop up cafe or coffee business

Guest article

Lily Harris is a budding freelance writer with a passion for sustainability. She is currently focused on alternative and niche business styles and is interested in how small businesses can embody an eco-friendly approach. Lily loves nothing more than a hot cup of tea in a flask, and a long walk in the woods with her cocker spaniel.

If you have a guest article you’d like us to feature get in touch via opinion@ncass.org.uk

Managing Your Pop-Up Café or Coffee Business: Useful Tips

Pop up shops are popular all across the UK and for good reason – they’re appreciated by customers and are an excellent way for business owners to experiment with new products or services. Pop up shops, especially coffee shops or simple cafes, are perennially profitable, albeit after an initial set up period and the principles are relatively straightforward. Here are a few things to keep in mind when you start out.

Be adaptable

There are so many ways to do a pop-up café – but the main decision is whether your shop will be mobile or on-site. Versatility is key, and a pop-up café gives you plenty of freedom and flexibility. You can lay out your space and decor in creative, ad hoc ways, or switch things up depending on the particular function or venue you’re working that day. For example, seasonal or themed coffees are easy to bring into rotation as the weather changes.

Building in a degree of flexibility form the start will help you stand out from the crowd and adjust when needed. It may seem that coffee is just coffee, but customers always appreciate a little creativity. Try fun novelty options or a signature drink to match the event. Offering just a handful of options on the menu also means you can more closely monitor stock levels and ensure your staff can serve up drinks quickly and uniformly.

Keep an eye on your profits

A pop-up café is a business just like any other. Carefully consider how your business scales – coffee is relatively cheap and simple to produce, but customers will have rather fixed ideas for price ranges. It may work for you to offer a more upmarket selection of slightly more expensive or unique coffees, or consider easy upsells like pastries or cake. You can expand your profit margins by making sure you buy as much as possible in bulk, and prepare things like toppings ahead of time.

Bear in mind that you will need to factor in any vendor fees associated with serving at your chosen location, as well as relevant licensing costs. Concession fees may be prohibitive for smaller pop-up cafes – in that case seek out smaller events where you can be guaranteed you’re the only coffee vendor. Be aware not only of attendance rates, but also time of day – it goes without saying that most people will opt for coffee earlier in the day or as a standalone alternative to a sit-down snack or meal.

Be different

Coffee is everywhere. But that doesn’t mean that it will simply sell itself – a good pop-up cafe will need to stand out from the competition somehow, especially if there are many vendors competing for the same customers, or if you’re literally going to be capturing their custom in heavily attended and crowded events. 

Here, branding is crucial. Quirky décor, fresh design and bold, attention-grabbing colours will capture attention, as will creative use of the available space at your location. Think out of the box – literally. There are now exciting options to use converted trailers and other vehicles, as well as upcycled shipping containers for the pop-up café itself. Choose a reputable UK company like S Jones Containers to design a bespoke repurposed container with storage space, latches, windows and doors, ramps, lighting and so on.

It’s true that initial set up for an eye-catching modular or mobile shop like this can be significant, but the profits can really roll in once you’re properly established and licensed. If you choose the right event and arrive early, you can take your time choosing a spot with the greatest visibility, so customers can find you easily. Why not extend branding to recyclable napkins and paper cups so that you continue to advertise your product even after your customers are done with their coffee?

 

Spend time on staff training

The pop-up shop itself is crucial, but it’s nothing without smart, hard-working staff to keep your customers happy. You need a team you can trust to think on their feet and serve with efficiency and friendliness. Take the time to train your staff on every eventuality and brief them on exactly what to do with unusual orders or complaints. You’ll need them feeling confident enough to respond to any outcome, and serve up delicious coffee without having customers kept waiting.

Choose servers who are not just polite but who can generate some friendly feeling, which will always reflect well on your brand. The key is to make sure you have staff that are attentive enough to keep delivering coffee made to a consistently high standard – this also cuts down on accidents or wastage. Depending on the exact drinks you’re offering, you might find it helpful to have a checklist to streamline workflow, especially if there are more than one or two servers at work at a time.

Maintain regular communication with your staff – they might have valuable insight into how to make efficiencies for future events, or when to replace stock. You’ll need proper communication particularly if there’s a main café or restaurant that you’re working in conjunction with. Pop-up cafes can absolutely be lucrative – provided you’re prepared and plan ahead.

 

Sources:

ncass.org.uk, How to start and run a mobile bar business:

https://www.ncass.org.uk/resources/start-and-run-a-catering-business/guides/starting-a-mobile-bar-business/

S Jones Containers: https://www.sjonescontainers.co.uk/

thestartupmag.com, Micro-pubs and pop-up bars: should entrepreneurs take them seriously?: http://thestartupmag.com/micro-pubs-and-pop-up-bars-should-entrepreneurs-take-them-seriously/

Billetto.co.uk, How to start a pop-up restaurant: https://billetto.co.uk/blog/how-to-start-pop-up-restaurant/

Eventtbrite.co.uk, How to start a pop-up restaurant that brings home the bacon: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/blog/how-to-start-a-pop-up-restaurant-that-brings-home-the-bacon-ds0c/

Bighospitality.co.uk, How to run a pop-up restaurant: https://www.bighospitality.co.uk/Article/2011/04/05/How-to-run-a-pop-up-restaurant