Tried-and-true strategies for keeping café costs in check
By Levi Andersen
There are three ways to make money from a café: sell more, raise prices, or lower costs. While selling more is always worth pursuing, raising prices can be tricky.
So, the fastest way to make your church café more profitable is to lower costs.
Start tracking product waste and promote consistent measuring. Require your baristas to pour every bit of leftover milk into one container and excess made product into another. See how quickly it adds up. This eye-opening exercise helps them understand how precise measuring can make an impact.
If you serve espresso drinks, lattes are very consistent in how much milk they need. It only varies because of extra flavors or shots, what type of milk you’re steaming, or if they want it extra foamy. Those three variables aside, you should be using the same amount of milk for each drink; so, why not identify how full your steaming pitcher needs to be each time?
I use my steaming pitcher’s spout as a gauge for measuring. If I fill my 20-ounce steaming pitcher right to the base of the spout, then I know I will have too much milk left over. Consider buying a 12- and 20-ounce pitcher for this exact waste issue. It could save 5 ounces of milk (at $.03 per ounce) each drink, each week, over years. That’s a lot of “moo-la!”
Use shelf-stable products. Depending on the brand, powdered beverage mixes can last for a long time — usually, 12 to 16 months. Liquids might need to be refrigerated.
Also, many blended iced coffee mix powders already have powdered coffee in them, negating the requirement for espresso machines. For chai teas, some baristas prefer a liquid base. Many churches buy shelf-stable Oregon Chai Super Concentrate; just add hot milk or, for iced versions, ice and milk. Big Train powder chai has a loyal following of consumers nationwide.
Instead of liquid bases for frappes, you can easily find hundreds of powder options. These won’t be sitting in your refrigerator during the week when you have no ‘customers’ buying them.
What other costs are you giving away? When I worked for Caffe Ladro in Seattle, WA, we didn’t double-cup or put a sleeve or lid on any drink. If you wanted a lid (even for an iced drink), you had to grab one from the cream station. A few things about this approach made an immediate impact:
• Not all people even wanted a lid, which lowered supply costs per drink.
• It sped up our service times because we didn’t have to hold a drink in front of the customer and ask: “Do you want a straw? How about a sleeve? No sleeve, but a double-cup, you say? OK, we can do that.”
• It seemed to make people more comfortable with bringing in their own to-go cups because they saw that we really cared about waste.
Do you accept credit cards at your church café? You should! How many folks carry cash anymore? Lowering credit card transaction fees can be an instant lift. Square Up [ www.SquareUp.com ] offers multiple device options, including a white square accessory that connects easily to mobile devices. No setup costs or monthly fees; only a small withholding when a credit card is used.
You can also use it to manage inventory and see what is going on at the shop, even while away. And, if your café is cash-only, you can use it for free.
Whether or not you can charge customers to use credit cards varies, legally, from state to state. One way to get around charging surcharges is to simply offer a lower “cash price” versus “credit card price.” Consult your credit card company or legal team for more information.
Take advantage of sampling programs. Curious about a new frappe, pancake or fruit smoothie mix? Many beverage mix suppliers offer samples to make it easy to decide on new products. Just reach out.
Calculate your margins. DaVinci Gourmet has a Drink Profit Calculator that helps café operators figure out costs per serving. It includes preformatted, editable beverage ingredients costs.
Use coffee? Enter the price per pound. Based on drink size, it figures out the cost per cup.
Have milk? Enter the price per gallon. Enter the price you’re thinking of charging for the drink, and voilà! The profit margin is calculated.
Once you know the cost per cup for every ingredient, you can make better decisions. For example, if your organic coconut milk is twice as expensive as your 2% low-fat milk, consider charging for the difference in cost — $.50 more for coconut or soy milk, for example.
Levi Andersen is a seasoned barista, coffee stand owner and host of the Audio Café podcast. Currently, he is the Beverage Product Specialist for Kerry, concocting recipes and menu strategies for foodservice and café operators serving DaVinci Gourmet, Big Train, Oregon Chai and a few other global coffee brands. Andersen attends marketplace tours to taste emerging trends, and speaks at beverage industry events.