Tips for community cafes

If you are planning to set up a community cafe or if your organisation is already running a community cafe and are looking to improve it, check out the community business success guide. Don’t miss our ‘menu’ below which lays out the main ingredients for success.


Establish your business objectives: Is the cafe an integral part of your community activity, or is it a social enterprise with the aim of generating income to support other charitable or community activities?

Be clear about how your objectives fit your charitable or community organisation’s objectives: Consider whether you need a new legal structure.

Spend time in a community cafe that works: You will learn a lot in a short period.

Make sure you know how you will involve your community: Through things like volunteering, activities and training opportunities.

Have a clear understanding or your business and cashflow: This will usually be inthe form of a business plan and cashflow forecast.

Understand your community and customers: How do you differ from other cafes? What makes you unique? Are you targeting similar or different customers and/or members of the community? Will there be any implications for opening times and daily or seasonal variations?

Seek advice before purchasing equipment: Many community cafes are set up with the wrong or unnecessary equipment. Keep it simple: refrigeration, stainless steel work surfaces, cookers, grills and a decent coffee machine.

Have adequate insurance in place: Hold and comply with any licences needed – for example, the sale of alcohol and/or providing live music.

Understand the regulations for good food hygiene and health & safety: Provide clear procedures for staff and volunteers.

Main course

Keep the menu simple: Avoid it being too extensive. Monitor your sales and update you menu to regularly reflect customer demand.

Market your cafe effectively: Be clear about how you attract and retain your customers and whether you need distinctive branding.

Always price to your market: Understand the prices that customers are prepared to pay. Use this as a basis for calculating what you should be spending on ingredients which should be about 25% of the menu price if you are VAT registered, or 30% of menu price when you are not.

Know your actual gross profit: Make sure you know your target gross profit and manage it on an ongoing basis, keeping stock and wastage levels to a minimum. You should be aiming for an overall gross profit of over 55% and 70%.

Ensure you understand the potential implications of VAT: Be aware of the threshold for registration of VAT and the accounting and pricing implications.

Ensure you have the right staff: Staff with the relevant skills, roles and responsibilities as well as operational cover for the opening hours.

Quality and consistency of service and food: The quality and consistency of both the service and food are absolutely essential to the success of a community cafe. This includes having clear and effective controls and practices.

Ensure you have reliable and good quality suppliers: Ensure you are paying the right price for your supplies. Avoid committing to minimum monthly orders.

Keep good bookkeeping and accounting records, and effective cash procedures and management accounts: Use an electronic till and reconcile once a day.


Consider broadening your offer to include buffets and events: These can often bring in higher gross profits and help to support the overall business of the community cafe.

The cafe and its environment should be clean and attractive to customers: Keep the decor as simple as possible.

Speak to customers on a regular basis: Ask for feedback on food, service and venue.

Provide service with a smile: It is very important that customers feel valued and are provided with polite and attentive service.

Read more about Getting Started