How to run a café

31 December 2019, 15:46 PM
  • Angela Youngman looks into the tools behind the scenes at successful cafe venues
How to run a café

With leisure and experiential trends dominating the speciality food sector, it is no surprise that cafés are proving to be a popular add-on facility within speciality food stores. Claire Burnett, co-founder and chief chocolatier of Chococo says, “I always wanted to create an integrated chocolate experience for our customers to enjoy fine chocolate in all its forms, so when the unit next to our Swanage shop came up for rent, we snapped it up, knocked a hole in the wall and opened our first chocolate café!”

It proved to be a very successful move, and Chococo has now expanded to create three more Chocolate Houses in Winchester, Exeter and Horsham. Each one is a combination of chocolate shop and café selling handmade chocolates, hot chocolates, sweet and savoury bakes, some of which are provided by local artisans, thus enabling the company to link into the wider community. Further expansion of the concept came this year with the launch of a new Chococo Gelato.

Try before you buy
“The Chocolate Houses are an incredibly useful resource to test out new products and concepts. We often test out new flavours of chocolates in the Chocolate Houses so we can gauge customer reactions,” Claire states. Chococo’s experience highlights how beneficial cafés can be for speciality food retailers. Providing a café on site immediately creates an opportunity to test out potential new products, thus minimizing risks. Customers are happy to provide comments, and test out something new, knowing they ultimately have the option of taking some home. Lucy Gatward from Better Food Bristol says, “Having a café works well – we are able to showcase products using them in café recipes. We recently started to sell kimchi made by our central kitchen. We regularly make our own jams, pickles and chutneys, using produce gluts, which is used in café dishes and sold in the stores.”

According to Nicky Goldsack, manager of tea rooms, “Wilkin & Son’s core business is making fine preserves, and the tea rooms provide an opportunity to showcase those products. The introduction of a range of fruit gin liqueurs has given people an opportunity to enjoy the cream teas and afternoon teas with a glass of liqueur and bubbly; making a tea a very special occasion. Customers taste the products – sauces with the cooked breakfast, marmalade or jam with scones and a choice of fruit gin and vodka liqueurs. There is instant gratification – you try, you buy – no delay. All new products are available for sale in the tearooms before they reach the national retail outlets.”
Michael Dart of Darts Farm Shop works similarly: “The Darts Farm chefs champion food from the Food Hall – it’s their larder. It’s also a shop window, providing restaurant customers the opportunity to sample various products before they buy.”

Marketing opportunities
For enterprising retailers, the in-store café offers lots of marketing potential through the provision of cookery demonstrations, food-related talks, and themed events. It also offers the opportunity to ensure the store becomes part of the community, encouraging a greater number of repeat visits and developing stronger links within the local area. Darts Farm regards the provision of a restaurant and café as an integral part of its overall trading concept, since it encourages people to stay longer. Over in Liverpool, Squash is a community store with its own café. People come to buy in-store and often stop for a meal. This enables them to try something different, learn how to recreate it and buy all the items while in store. It is part and parcel of the company’s aim to make shopping an enjoyable experience, with opportunities to talk and discuss food.

Sustainability and the environment
Paying attention to issues like sustainability and environment are increasingly forming a crucial part of the operation of any in-store café. Modern customers are increasingly prepared to criticize and challenge the way cafés are operated. Savvy retailers are definitely taking note of the opportunities this presents. Offering a takeaway service for customers wanting to use their own recyclable cups encourages repeat business, and reduces costs as the customer has provided a cup. At Darts Farm, customers can claim a 25p discount off takeway drinks if bringing their own reuseable coffee cup. Lucy Gatward from Better Food Bristol says, “We use wheat straws, we have incentives for customers bringing in their own cups, and we charge a levy for all takeaways that go in single-use coffee cups (which we donate to the Soil Association). Our deli cardboard sandwich and salad boxes are home compostable. We are about to be part of a pilot scheme to encourage customers to bring their own containers for all takeaways.”

Over at Tiptree Tea Rooms, Nicky Goldsack says, “Recycling and minimizing waste has always been important. More people are in the habit of bringing their own shopping bags, but we do have reusable bags that can be recycled for jars of jam if required. Paper and cardboard packaging is used for the sale of cakes, and Tiptree products have always been free from artificial colouring and preservatives.”

Chococo is equally adamant about the need for sustainability. “We use compostable wood pulp bags and corn starch cellophane instead of normal plastic in our shops and cafés. We only have compostable takeaway drink and gelato cups, offer discounts for anyone who brings in a reuseable cup for takeaway drinks, provide paper straws and wooden spoons for gelato and we are very happy to give our coffee grounds to customers if they want them for their gardens,” says Claire Burnett.

The use of cutlery and crockery that can be washed and reused time and time again has always been a feature of café culture, adding that extra pleasurable dimension making visits to an in-store café much more relaxing than simply opting for fast food, even if it is eaten on the premises rather than taken away. Environmental concerns are not confined to the presentation of the food. Many in-store cafés are reflecting current trends by introducing greater amounts of healthy food and drinks.
“Our cafés serve fantastic smoothie-style fruit juices, and good quality ‘on-trend’ drinks like kombucha,” comments Lucy Gatward of Better Food. “We sell other Fairtrade and organic drinks in cans and bottles. We have a water filter machine in each store (we’re part of the very brilliant Refill scheme, pioneered from Bristol and now rolled out far and wide, as far as Europe and Japan). We encourage people – whoever, they don’t need to be customers – to use these machines so everyone has access to water on tap,”

Getting the message across
Being too selective in terms of products, or too focused on a particular social group, reduces the attractiveness of a café. It is important to attract the widest possible customer base, ranging from coffee-loving Millenials to traditional customers wanting classic tea and cake, in order to maintain long-term profitability. Extending and adapting menus to attract different types of customer is common. At Tiptree, for example, the company automatically retains some of their popular traditional specialities such as the cream tea, while introducing new products like pear, stilton and walnut salad. The recent introduction of fruit gin liqueurs with Prosecco, as part of a cream tea, has made the traditional speciality appealing to fun lovers of all ages.

Tiptree has noticed that its clientele changes slightly according to the time of day, as Nicky explains, “Traditional Tiptree customers tend to eat out and shop on weekdays while the younger customers enjoy family time at weekends. They all enjoy good food with great service. The tea room at Barleylands has a number of family attractions on site and has a special child friendly area in part of the self service tea room.”

Over at Chococo, Claire says, “We have a friendly, welcoming environment and we are lucky that we have a broad range of customers who enjoy that. Obviously the offer we have helps. For example, we cater to coffee-loving Millennials by offering great quality coffee, young mums who enjoy our coffees and hot chocolates while catching up with friends, office workers looking for a quick lunchtime treat, ‘silver surfers’ who appreciate our unique chocolate afternoon tea and cake options through to families looking for a post-school gelato treat with their kids. “We also support our locations by promoting them, the products and services we offer through all our marketing channels such as our website, social media and monthly newsletters.”

Keys to success
Above all, whatever the style and trends being followed within an instore café, retailers are unanimous as to the crucial reasons for ensuring success. Lucy of Better Food says simply “Great food and good ambiance”, to which Tiptree’s Nicky Goldsack adds, “Good service, great food, a warm welcome and quality products that people trust.”

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