Does anyone else do more of a bistro style cafe like me? We have to. We couldn't sell enough coffee and specialty drinks in our area to pay the bills. But selling food is a far more dangerous game. All that aside, what are some of your favorite foods or sandwiches you sell or sold in your bistro? If this is too off-topic, feel free to move the discussion. 

Our current best selling signature is the "Smokin' Turkey Melt". Pesto mayo, smoked turkey, bacon, red onion, and gouda cheese on sourdough that we panini. We sell it for 4.70, and sell tons of them. 

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I wsh... our city wont let us have a grill because of zoning issues (even tho theres a diner right across the street...thanks jersey) how many sq feet is your bistro?

I took ownership of our current Downtown location 11/1/2007. At that time it was called "Paradise Cafe and Espresso Bar". We bought it from the 2nd owners. It was started as a cafe by the original founders (who retired not failed) and the 2nd owners attempted to bring in quality coffee and espresso and added the "and Espresso Bar" to the existing name. When we bought it 50% of revenue was from breakfast (made to order killer breakfast sandwiches and various quiches) and lunch (home made soups, cold and pannini sandwiches, salads).

 

Initially we continued the same model with close to 50% of revenue coming in between 11am and 1pm. As a fairly advanced home chef we had things like twice smoked salmon salad pannini with sharp cheddar, huli huli and kalbi beef wraps side of macaroni-potato salad (that's Hawaiian with my kicked up flair and people loved it and some ordered bulk for their home picnics etc.), sandwiches made with real meats - smoked real turkey breast and roast beef and black forest hams we sliced ourselves etc. High quality food to go with high quality coffee. Even back then our sandwiches were more than $4.70 some around $10! And we staffed 5 people to cover the lunch rush.

 

Then one fateful Friday in November 2008 an event ocurred that sent food sales crashing. Friday food sales from 11am to 1pm $350, Monday morning following the stock market crash lunch service all of $17.50. Seriously, $17.50 with FIVE people on staff. And it never recovered. Oh moments and glimmers here and there but how do you staff for a lunch rush that happens once maybe twice a week? You can't. And the final December 2008 payroll was only made by me tapping out my last personal credit card with any head room.

 

We tried many things to bring food sales back and finally realized, why? We wanted to be about coffee in the first place. So now over three years ago we quit ALL food except for our in house baked pastries. We put full focus on coffee at the absolute highest level delivered with the best service.

 

Result? August 2008 revenue before the stock market crash $11,664.96. August 2013 with no food just world class coffee and tea and support pastries $20,286.70.

 

Pick your poison and do it well. Compete on quality not price.

Awesome story about the challenges of changing with demand. It's been a roller coaster with us. That 4.70 sandwich is set to a 25% cost of goods. I find that to be an awesome profit margin. But some of our sandwiches we charge several dollars more. No one ever complains about the prices anymore, because they get what they pay for.

For us, I have seen a noticeable shift in sales from food to more drinks. I really like that shift because coffee and dry goods keep better...and we control waste much more efficiently. When we opened our new location with a drive-thru, we had no idea what to expect. We where going from a location with relatively minimal visibility and accessibility, to a location that was extremely visible and accessible. First month open was a blur. And, although coffee sales where very nice, most of our initial sales came from enormous lunch rushes that produced 600 dollar hours. And...never saw this coming...smoothie sales. We must have sold close to a thousand smoothies since opening here.

But, the last couple of months food sales have dropped, and drink sales have picked up. It's the change that I've been desiring for a while. I can't wait till fall really hits us so I can begin observing the sales data. Currently our food sales consist of about 58% of all sales. 

But there are other sandwich ideas I have been afraid to try because of cost. Like a really high quality mediterranean wrap. I took it off the menu, because I wasn't sure if anyone would be willing to pay close to 10 bucks for it.

As Mike illustrated, it will be more profitable and less headache if you concentrate on the coffee.

Food is great, and if you want to be a restaurant that serves good coffee, that's a wholly different business model. But as a coffee shop, the core should be your focus. Pick a time, and make a wholesale change. If you do it in bits and pieces, it will piss people off. If you want to heal that wound, you have to pull off the Band-aid and get some fresh air on it.

Hello, we seem to be in similar position, however as you say selling food is far more dangerous game. Since we do not have full-fledged kitchen we cannot use raw meat or eggs or nothing like that. Even so, we have become rather popular lunch stop for people who work nearby and have 30 minute breaks, which much less than you need to stop at restaurant and we can do these in less than 10 minutes. Still, that is not what we imagined in the beginning and it slows service considerably, so not too happy about it, but you have to do what you have to do.

Anyway, we do mostly rather classical cafe meals, most popular seem to be ham and cheese toasts (which is sad, this is the single most common combination around here...guess customers choose it because it's familiar), close second is tortilla paninied with chicken meat and salsa and third is caesar salad (with dressing from bottle, I can make honest-to-god real delicious caesar dressing a this is NOT IT, but that we can't make or use, still we were told several times that this is best in town...go figure...).

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