New cafes are opening in Singapore at a faster rate than you can say “let’s go cafe-hopping”. Many people dream of opening their own cafe one day. But in Singapore’s competitive food & beverage industry, is it really that easy to start a cafe?
We had a chat with Miss Daphne Goh – owner of Assembly Coffee, one of our favourite coffee shops in Singapore – to find out more about the challenges of running a cafe. Before you jump on the bandwagon, here are 10 things you should know before opening a cafe:
Read: From rental, to interior design, labour cost, and kitchen equipment, here is a rough guide on how much it costs to open a cafe in Singapore.
#1 THE OWNER HAS TO BE HANDS ON
Clearing tables. Checked. Washing dirty plates and cups. Checked. Serving tables. Checked. Dealing with difficult customers. Checked. Getting your hands full in the kitchen. Checked. Working a full 12-hour shift and on weekends. Checked.
Unless you are hiring someone to run the operations, you have to be responsible for everything in the cafe. Not only do you have to set an example for your staff, you have to present to make sure that everything is running smoothly and to troubleshoot immediately.
#2 A MOUNTAIN OF PAPERWORK AND ADMIN STUFF
From settling the payroll, to rostering the work schedule for your staff, to filing the accounts for the cafe, there are a lot of paperwork that you have to do. These are the boring back-end stuff that you do not see.
#3 YOU HAVE TO DO ENOUGH RESEARCH ABOUT WHAT YOU WANT TO SELL
These days, consumers are very discerning and savvy; they know exactly what they want. In short, you can’t expect to serve mediocre food and drinks and get away with it.
Recipes don’t just appear out of nowhere. They are only possible with many trials in the kitchen. One of the common misconceptions about opening a cafe is that most people think it is more important to focus only on the design and interior.
#4 DEALING WITH SUPPLIERS WILL BE YOUR WORST NIGHTMARE
Your supplies don’t just appear magically. Dealing with suppliers is a skill on its own. Sometimes, suppliers will leave you hanging by not showing up, and that is when you have to think on your feet and figure out how to react.
You risk incurring the wrath of your customers when you do not have enough ingredients, you risk bearing the increased food cost due to the shortage of ingredients, and all these will eat into your (already very thin) profit margin.
#5 YOU HAVE TO BE AT THE CAFE EVERY DAY
Running a cafe is not easy. Period. You have to be at the cafe every day and you will be working so hard that you would question yourself about the heavy commitment and if it would be all worth it.
#6 YOU WON’T HAVE MUCH FREE TIME FOR YOURSELF. THERE IS NO ROOM FOR SELF DEVELOPMENT
Because you are working at the cafe practically every day, you don’t have much free time for yourself or your loved ones. That means no afternoon tea dates with your friends, no vacations, no free time for anything. When you have a rare day off, chances are you will be repaying your sleep debts. Or preparing for the next day of operations.
#7 IT IS DIFFICULT – OR ALMOST MISSION IMPOSSIBLE – TO HIRE GOOD STAFF
Being a chef or a server is not exactly glamourous. Neither does it pay well. Very few people want to work in the food & beverage industry and one of the main challenges of opening a cafe is always finding good staff.
Naturally, people come and go, and it is difficult to find – much less, retain – good staff. Most part-timers are not committed, so you can suddenly find yourself in a situation whereby they disappear at the eleventh hour and not turn up at all.
When you can’t find enough staff, you have to end up doing even more things on your own. And your customers won’t care if you are short-handed. They are only concerned if they can get their food promptly.
#8 MOTIVATING YOUR STAFF – EASIER SAID THAN DONE
Equally challenging is the task of motivating your staff. So you think you are the boss and the staff have to listen to everything you say, right? Not exactly. When your staff are unhappy or feeling demoralised, it is your job to motivate them and make them continue to fight along with you. Maintaining staff morale is easier said than done.
#9 DEALING WITH DIFFICULT CUSTOMERS IS PART AND PARCEL OF LIFE IN A CAFE
As with other businesses, dealing with difficult customers is inevitable. The customers may not always be right, but they sure as hell will make things difficult for you.
#10 YOU WILL BE CONSTANTLY WORRYING ABOUT MANY THINGS
Every moment, the owner of the cafe is worrying about something. Be it operations, staff rostering, dealing with suppliers, updating the various social media platforms, testing new recipes in the kitchen, maintaing staff morale, interviewing new staff, paying the bills – there are things that you have to constantly think about and your mind never really gets to rest.
If you are planning to open a cafe, read our guide on How much it costs to open a cafe in Singapore..