Every few months I get an email from someone who wants to open a tea room. They ask me where to buy teacups, find a good recipe for scones, or what to charge for a pot of tea. While these are all important considerations, they’re the end of the process, not the beginning.
Since 1998, I’ve administered two tea chat groups – Teamail and Tea Entrepreneurs Association. One of our most frequently discussed topics involves the challenges of running a tea room. Based on those discussions, here are some things to think about if you’re considering starting up a tea room business:
- Before opening your doors, you must comply with local licensing, building, and utility ordinances regarding sink configuration, water temperatures, permissible food preparations, training and certification in food handling, electrical standards, signage limitations, occupancy capacity, and accessibility requirements. The tea room must remain up to code at all times.
- You’ll need to calculate how much square footage you require, design floor plan and traffic-flow layouts, create tea and food menus, identify what supplies you’ll use and source trustworthy suppliers, hire, train, and keep good employees, and maintain business hours that accommodate both customers and staff – along with the willingness and ability to make changes to any of these as necessary.
- Then there’s financing. You must have sufficient funds to cover all operational costs – rent, utilities, furnishings, advertising, employees, inventory, “shrinkage” (also known as “theft”) – through at least the first year in business. Setting prices that are fair to both owner and customer is crucial.
- Your tea offerings should be tailored to the demands of your clientele so you stock neither too many nor too few. If you attract a lot of tea “foodies,” you’ll want a sizeable, and changing, selection of teas to keep them interested – fifty or more, including premium single-source teas. You may not need to carry such a wide variety of teas if your tea room focuses equally on food service. I know of many successful tea rooms that have fewer than twenty teas on their menus – one even offers only six teas! Some customers will want to try new teas, while others are less adventurous and may be overwhelmed by too many choices. Adapt your inventory to your specific customer base.
- More and more tea-biz owners are deciding against tea service in favour of retail-only – or “dry leaf” – shops. This requires less physical space and usually fewer permits. You will, however, need a significantly wider inventory of teas and tea ware, as well as a deeper knowledge of tea in general and of each individual tea.
- And, of course, tea-biz owners need a strong knowledge of tea. Learning about tea is an important investment of time and money. Tea Association of the USA currently offers the only recognized certification program for tea professionals, from beginner to advanced.
But before you even get started, I recommend that you take a job at a local tea room or tea shop. You’ll acquire some experience, gain some knowledge, and get a feel for whether or not you really do want to open your own tea business – and whether or not you’ll need to buy all those teacups.
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