There are very few services as popular as the internet. Historically, internet cafes have thrived as people looked to explore the World Wide Web. Nowadays, home internet connections are extremely common, making the need for internet cafés far smaller.
There are still potential markets, including travellers and younger people without computers, but internet cafes must diversify their services so as not to rely exclusively on people needing internet access. With careful consideration, and a close watch on what people need, there’s no reason why an internet café can’t succeed today.
What exactly does an internet café offer?
At a basic level internet cafés offer internet access for either a set fee or a monthly membership. They may also provide headsets (for Skype use), printing facilities and LAN gaming. In addition, most internet cafés will provide refreshments, typically both food and drink, along with tables so that these can be consumed when not using the computers.
What you offer will depend on your location, customer base and budget. It’s a very important decision to make; offer the wrong services, at the wrong price, and you’ll find it difficult to make any money.
Basic additional revenue streams
Internet cafés are so called because they traditionally serve food and refreshments to supplement the money made by renting internet access. At the very least, you should sell drinks (even from vending machines) as people using computers for long periods of time are likely to get thirsty, although a combination of the two is likely to be best. You may wish to offer subsidised rates for computer users, and allow people to come in off the street and buy refreshments without purchasing internet access.
In some countries, internet cafes also offer showers and lockers, creating a ‘pit stop’ type atmosphere and also offering plenty of opportunity for the owners to cross-sell additional services. If you can’t afford to serve food and drinks, considering partnering with a local food establishment that could provide provisions on a profit-share basis.
Diversification of core services
One of the main decisions you’ll make is whether to offer additional core services – these have become more important as greater numbers of people gain internet access at home and so don’t need to use internet cafes to access the internet. Computer repairs are commonly offered by internet cafes - you can advertise these services outside the business and help ensure revenue should users of your internet access services dry up.
You may also like to sell computers – this often goes hand in hand with computer repair businesses. This can be taken further, by selling web design and search engine optimisation services. These industries are all related; finding a mix that works well together allows you to stay afloat when one arm isn’t doing so well.
Importance of location
Location is very important when it comes to internet cafes – you need a combination of regular and ‘passer-by’ traffic. The latter requires a central location, most likely a town centre, where you’ll appeal to people who need to quickly check something online, or use up some spare time. For the former, effective marketing is essential, and you’ll need to understand your target audience (local business people, gamers, travellers) in order to appeal to them directly, whether this is on cost or services.
Location is also important with regard to your non-core services, as passers-by may see that you offer computer repair services and make a note to bring their own PC in at a later date. The same goes for the café side of your business – take away the internet access and you are still a business, so location is important to catch the lunchtime/breakfast crowd.
Buying the right equipment is essential, and is your biggest initial outlay. Make sure you tailor the equipment to the task – there’s no point buying £2000 gaming computers if all your customers do is check their email. By the same token, most customers won’t know the difference between one processor and a slightly better one, but their experience will definitely be worse if you have to buy a 15” monitor instead of a 22” model because you’ve blown your budget on processors. Think smart and keep costs low.
Computers aren’t the only equipment you’ll need. Budget for any cooking equipment (e.g. baked potato oven), networking equipment, UPSs, headsets for Skype, etc. There’s a lot you need, and this is why it’s important to work out precisely what your internet café will offer so you can budget efficiently.
As well as the cost of equipment you’ll also need to rent the property and pay for any DIY needs, such as increasing the number of outlets to ensure there’s sufficient power for your computers and customers’ laptops. You’ll also need to buy a timing system to work with your customers (so they can only use the internet when they’ve paid).
The total amount is varied and depends on the setup of the individual café – budget between £20,000 and £100,000. The most important thing is to know what you need beforehand so you don’t bust your budget. And if you have some money left over, this can be reinvested into the business once you know what works and what doesn’t.
Speed and bandwidth of connection
Your connection is very important, and will scale with the number of stations you have. If you allow wi-fi access via laptops, you’ll need a faster connection. 2mbps will be the absolutely minimum and will not be able to handle more than around five or six in-use computers. To encourage customer satisfaction, look at around 512kbps per customer, and try to go higher if possible.
Bear in mind this is for basic internet use. If your customers are streaming high-definition video or music they will require faster speeds. If you want to encourage gamers, you’ll need a much faster connection (20mbps+) that can handle multiple gaming sessions.
Don’t forget that speed is not the only quality you need to look for when choosing an internet connection for your internet café. You may find leased lines are more cost-effective, and yield a better result, than a standard business or domestic broadband connection.
Insurance and compliance
Insurance is important when running an internet café; basic cover such as professional indemnity insurance and public liability insurance is important, as is employer’s liability insurance if you take on staff.
Routine checking of electrical equipment (PAT testing) is also advisable; the law requires businesses to make regular inspections and take steps to address inadequacies e.g. stripped wire.
You should also be aware of any liabilities resulting from the content that users view on your computers; this should be something to include in terms and conditions that they have to agree to before accessing the internet.