Café Loustic | What it is like to open and run a coffee shop in France, Part 1
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What it is like to open and run a coffee shop in France, Part 1

10 Jul What it is like to open and run a coffee shop in France, Part 1

The difference between running an espresso bar in France and an Anglo-Saxon country

Those who think that France functions “just like another Western European country” are those who will be endlessly frustrated and exasperated by this beguiling land. There have been countless books and blogs dithering on the subject of the culture clash of being new in France; as a foreigner living in France for the last 12 years, here’s my 2 cents, an espresso bar owner in Paris.

The French generally only come to cafés when they can linger, or when they have a meeting  of some type (personal or professional). The famous ‘pause café’. My clients do not come everyday. Most don’t even come every 2 or 3 days. They do not order ‘to go’ (in fact, less than 10% of our coffee sales are take away, compared to between 40-100% in Anglo-Saxon countries. The fact that coffee is not treated like fast food is something I appreciate. 

The reality of trying to run a coffee business in this environment however is another matter. There are 2 problematics. The number of coffees top-flight espresso bars sell in France is vastly inferior to that in cafés based in London, major US or Australian cities. I estimate the busiest Parisian bars are selling about 250 coffees a day. I was informed that the quietest cafés in backstreet Brooklyn average around 300 a day, the figures in inner-city Anglo-Saxon cities averaging more like 600-1200 a day, and some way beyond that (2000+/day at New York Grand Central Station). So as you can see, we in Paris have a vastly inferior debit.

Secondly, the French, like the Italians, are highly ritualistic. Everything is organised around the school calendar. Napoleon wanted to organise France like the army and vestiges of this organisation remain over 200 years later. School holidays therefore tend to be difficult times for a business owner in Paris, and no more so than the 2 month summer holidays when Paris empties out (parents and kids). Just so you know – the statutory minimum amount of paid leave workers are entitled to is 5 weeks per annum. As the minimum work week is 35 hours/week, any time worked over this amount is accrued as annual leave – so this means some workers have accrued up to 10 weeks leave per year! Which therefore explains their prolonged absence during the summer months.

In this context, summer turns into a nail-biting experience for me, as the owner of an espresso bar. Business can drop as much as half after the Bastille Day public holiday on 14 July that heralds the start of the mass departure of the hordes towards their country houses, families, or beaches. France is, after all, the premier tourist destination in the world. Fine. But my rent still ticks over, and my bank still debits my loan instalment. My personal charges don’t diminish either. I often joke that I, as a business owner, earn less than my employees. In London, a coffee business remains stable roughly 12 months of the year. Not so in Paris.

It’s the Weather, stoopid

A friend of mine who was one of the early coffee shop pioneers in this city told me his first instinct was to look at weather forecast every night to see what his following day’s/week’s takings were going to be. This has proved to be THE most influential indicator of my own business takings. Basically, Loustic is down a small side street, no trees, in the old ‘medieval’ Paris. There is no terrace (outside seating) as the pavement is only 1.5 metres wide. It is a cozy, winter café.So if it’s rainy or cold, we’ll do well. If it’s sunny or hot, chances are that we’ll be quieter as Parisiens prefer to sit in a park with a sandwich and an Evian.

2 Comments
  • Thierry
    Posted at 12:36h, 11 July

    Analyse intéressante… Ce qui explique aussi pourquoi il est si compliqué d’éditer un magazine sur le sujet…
    Step by step… on y arrive.
    See You Loustic
    Thierry

  • Brandon O'Shea
    Posted at 05:14h, 13 July

    Very happy to see this post and interested in the next part as I’ve always wanted to open a cafe one day. The service i received and the cozy feeling i had when i visited your cafe was awesome. Ben (who i heard is no longer there sadly) was brilliant and Laure (who i learned was a visiter in my home town Calgary, Canada) were very friendly and helpful to me!

    Can;t wait for the next time, Best wishes!

    Brandon O’Shea