Hot Tips for Coffee Cart Owners

Do you own/work in a Coffee Cart?

Would you like your coffee cart to be more successful?

We generally define a coffee cart business as a fixed location or mobile coffee focused business that sells only pre packaging food if any at all. Primarily trading at outdoor events, or provides on site coffee for functions, parties and festivals.  Some examples include coffee carts in foyers of commercial office buildings or in parks as well as mobile coffee vans seen at events and outdoor markets.

Even if your business doesn’t fit that description exactly, read on as there will still be valuable insights anyway.  Additionally head to our other hot tips for business owners articles to get any other info more closely related to your business type.

Coffee Cart businesses are great because:

  • They can be mobile (whether in a van or not) and therefore avoid lengthy lease agreements or bad locations.
  • Rent is often cheaper if in a fixed location or as low as event specific attendance fees.
  • Licensing is much cheaper as no food licence is generally required in most states.
  • They require less staffing and other general resources than a bricks n mortar business.
  • Generally require less hours of work.  If mobile during events only or if in a fixed location usually morning weekday hours and no/less weekend work.  Offering a great work/life balance.
  • You can make significant income in short periods of time if you know what you’re doing.
  • If mobile you get to work at interesting events/locations instead of the same old spot every day. If in a fixed location that isn’t working you can simply find a new spot to park your cart to try something different.

But they can also be really challenging to run because:

  • If mobile it can be hard to find the right events to attend to maximise profit. Can take some time to establish relationships with your preferred style of event.
  • If in a fixed location peaks in business can be seasonal (during busy work months) and sometimes quiet/not worth opening in the quiet months (festive season).
  • Weather can sometimes play a cruel role in your profitability on any given day.
  • Because they require less staff they are also dependent on their owners being fit and healthy as often as possible, otherwise the business can’t run.
  • Managing stock of ingredients and packaging can be difficult as storage space is not always available near your location.

That’s why we’ve developed this list to help you navigate running a Coffee Cart.

Location/Event selection:

Fixed

  • Do your research on the location. Spend multiple days observing the level of foot traffic and where that traffic goes for their caffeine fix, who your competition will be.
  • Only commit to any form of lease agreement once you’re satisfied the location is worthwhile.  If not then agree to a trial period rather than getting locked in by a lease.
  • Ask the locals if they think a new coffee outlet is a good idea.  You’ll get valuable feedback on your potential competitors near by and begin building report with people in the area.
  • Understand the occupancy of the immediate vicinity.  just because its the foyer of a large office building doesn’t mean it will be busy.  Some large buildings can have multiple floors unoccupied for lengthy periods which will limit your potential success.

Mobile

  • Choosing which regular and occasional gigs to prioritise is crucial to making a food truck a success.
  • It’s best to aim for a balance between some regular weekly events and periodic cultural events as well.  The weekly events should be things like night/day markets or food truck nights.
  • The other events should be school fete’s, cultural festivals and music/arts festivals.
  • It’s important to choose wisely as there can be many different events on each weekend in a busy town or city.
  • Think about the location of each event and whether it is surrounded by residential or commercial density, access to free/cheap parking or public transport.
  • These things will all impact how many people end up walking past your business and potentially buying something.

Competition:

Fixed

  • Most important step in becoming competitive.  you either do what is available nearby better or you do something different that will generate demand.
  • Find out if any new construction and thus competition is happening nearby.
  • Check online reviews of nearby coffee outlets, recognise what you can do better.

Mobile

  • Before applying to events make sure you are not one of many coffee outlets.  If so so its probably better to find another event with less coffee available.
  • Understand the crowd.  Don’t go to an evening music event expecting to sell a lot of coffee.  Focus more on morning/day time events with less alcohol involved.
  • Keep your prices flexible if need be so competitors can’ simply undercut you.
  • A line up is always good but only if its moving.  Usually people will assume that the coffee van with the line up has the better product but if the line is slow to move they will just go somewhere else.

Strategy:

Fixed

  • Make better coffee than the other coffee carts, cafe’s and coffee chops around.
  • Make coffee faster than the the other coffee carts, cafe’s and coffee chops around.
  • Build rapport with your regulars, more often than not people will go to the place were they are greeted/served warmly and engaged.

Mobile

  • Same as above with a couple of extra points.
  • Use engaging methods to get people to order and then create that line/queue. This will let everyone else know that you are the one they should be getting their coffee from.
  • Coffee Van strategy is all about managing your calendar to maximise the number of profitable days and minimise the not so profitable one’s.

Menu:

  • Keep it simple.
  • Have a good bean.
  • Always have all alternative milks on offer, preferably at no extra cost. Soy, rice, almond and macadamia.

Service:

  • If you want repeat and referred customers make sure you always deliver great customer service.
  • Your regular customers will become your biggest advocates and provide you with free marketing.

Packaging:

As expected, we have a few recommendations here.  Keeping your costs low is important but so is finding the best products to fit your menu and business branding.

  • Our recommendation is for the Art Series single wall cups, available in two different uni-lid set ups.  They are bright, colourful and ever changing so they keep people interested and draw in new customers when everyone around you is using plain coloured cups.
  • We do have double wall cups available as well but they are more expensive and probably overkill to be honest.  you can always double cup the single wall cups for people ordering extra hot coffee’s and you will still be saving money.
  • Cup carry trays are useful for carts/vans near business places as people buying 2+ coffee’s on a run for the office is common.
  • If you do prefer the plain white of brown cups we can provide you with a FREE branding stamp to put your business name on each cup in a cost effective way.