"The Complete Idiot's Guide to Starting & Running a Coffee Bar," by Susan Gilbert, W. Eric Martin, and Linda Formichelli

Pros: Informative; comprehensive; entertaining; fun; well-focused
Cons: Not a one
Rating: 5 out of 5

First published 3/15/2006
Review copy courtesy of Alpha Books.

Mmmmm. Coffee. How many of us have a favorite coffee bar where we love to go for our favorite caffeinated beverage? And how many of us have combined this love of coffee drinks with the love of business, resulting in the desire to open up our own coffee bars?

Okay, I admit that I could never handle the wild hours and total stress of such an environment, but if I could I’d be awfully tempted. “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Starting & Running a Coffee Bar,” by Susan Gilbert, W. Eric Martin, and Linda Formichelli, provides so much of the information I’d need to do it successfully. Nothing is a guarantee, of course, but if you want to undertake something that big, you might as well arm yourself with as much research as possible ahead of time.

Creating a schedule is an inexact science. Based on your sales records and other data, you might want to schedule only 2.5 employees for the morning rush–but half an employee doesn’t work well because he’s unbalanced and falls over a lot.

One of the things that struck me most about this book is that it seems perfectly balanced. By this I mean that it covers all the general business angles of running a coffee bar, but it never loses sight of its coffee-oriented focus. While there’s certainly plenty of information that people running other businesses would find useful in here, you’ll never find yourself thinking that you could have gotten the same information out of a more generic business or restaurant business guide. Everything focuses on the particular application of principles to the unique issues and problems that face the owner and operator of a coffee bar. Even when discussing cross-promotion and various forms of publicity the book discusses things that are likely to work best with your products and services.

You won’t just find information in here on business plans, licensing issues, equipment, suppliers, staffing, and publicity however. There are guides to roasting beans (in case you want to create your own blends, or just want to understand what you’re buying), creating a wide variety of coffee drinks and related treats, and cultivating repeat customers.

In addition to the vast wealth of information, the attitude with which this book was written is fantastic. It’s practical yet positive, realistic yet optimistic. It livens things up with a dry wit yet never allows the humor to get in the way of the information it’s trying to convey. It will make you excited about even topics like marketing your business without ever coming across as empty cheerleading.

I quite enjoyed reading this book, and have to firmly remind myself after reading it that no, I really am not the kind of person who can go out and start such a business. Because after reading all of this handy and fascinating information, the prospect is delightfully tempting!

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