Learn How to Start a Cat Cafe

Kitten on the table at a cat cafe
Kitten on the table at a cat cafe. Shinya Sasaki/Aflo/Getty Images

Are you looking to start an unusual animal business? You should consider the cat cafe, a business mash-up that crosses a coffee shop with a pet adoption center. Patrons of cat cafes pay an hourly cover charge to play with cats while enjoying lattes and bakery items.

The cat cafe is one of the hottest animal business trends of the past decade. The first cat cafe was established in Taiwan in 1998, and the concept became wildly popular in Japan around 2004.

  Since then the trend has gone global and there are now cat cafes across Asia, Australia, Europe, and North America.

Cat cafes really began to take off in the United States in late 2014, with both pop-up and permanent locations appearing in many major cities such as San Francisco, New York City, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Portland, Seattle, and Dallas. So how can you become a part of this hot new niche market? Here are some of the steps for starting your own cat cafe business:

Choose a Business Name

The name you choose for your cat cafe will be prominently featured on all advertising materials, business cards, legal documents, lease agreements, websites, social media accounts, and signage. It is a very important part of your business, so try to choose something memorable and unique. A brief internet search of cat cafe names ranged from the very simple (The Cat Cafe) to the amusingly creative (Crumbs and Whiskers).


Create a Business Plan

The business plan should cover all aspects of your start-up. Be sure to consider all the things you will need to launch a business including legal documents, bank accounts, tax ID numbers, business licenses, and more. There are many websites devoted to the process of creating detailed business plans for new ventures.

You should also create a team of expert advisors to help you with the process.

Research Local Regulations and Restrictions

It is extremely important to learn about any health regulations that might affect your ability to have animals and food products in the same area. Your city or county might require you to maintain separate dining and cat access areas. You should also be sure to ask your local agencies about the licenses and zoning permits that will be needed. They will also control the occupancy of the cafe (how many patrons will be allowed in the cafe at one time).

Determine Your Model of Operation

Most cat cafes charge an hourly cover rate to enter the cafe and interact with the cats in residence. Some offer complimentary drinks or light snacks in this model, while others charge visitors for refreshments. A few cat cafes offer cat access at no additional charge when the customer purchases food or drink. 

You will also need to determine whether you will allow walk-in traffic or if you will have a reservation-based system. Most cat cafes are so popular that a reservation system is necessary, especially during prime hours. Some cafe owners also allow patrons to rent the entire space for private parties.

Secure a Location

It is important to find a location for the cafe that will be easily accessible for patrons, preferably in a highly visible area with plenty of free parking. You will also need to find an architect or designer that can update the space to accommodate the patrons and the cats comfortably. Be sure that you create an area away from customers where cats can retreat to relax, eat, or use a litter box.

Partner with Local Cat Rescue Organizations

It is a big plus if cafe customers are able to apply to adopt the cats and kittens that they meet during their visits, and your business will benefit from being affiliated with rescue groups in the community. Establish relationships with local animal rescues and shelters to populate your cat cafe. You will probably need 10 to 15 cats on average, depending on the size of the cafe.

You should also establish an account with a local veterinarian to provide any necessary health exams or treatments for the cats.

Determine Menu and Pricing

In addition to determining whether there will be a cover charge to access the cafe as mentioned previously, you must also decide what food and drink items will be offered for sale. Will you serve drinks only? Will you serve any alcoholic beverages? Will you offer light snacks, bakery items, salads, or sandwiches? Will you offer complimentary or unlimited drink refills? Will you prepare items on site or bring them in from other restaurants?

Create a Website

A website is a critical part of any pet-related business. Take the time to develop a quality website that features an online reservation system, profiles of the cats currently at the cafe (with photos), an email newsletter sign-up button, links to your social media accounts, a blog, directions to your location, pricing information, and an area to purchase branded items. The website should also feature several high-quality photos of menu items, the seating area, and the cat play areas.

Develop Merchandise

Be sure to develop some merchandise (like shirts, hats, or other gift items) that feature the cafe's name and logo. Cat cafes are a big tourist draw and sales could be very strong for souvenir items. Some cafes also sell pet products like beds, collars, and carriers.

Launch an Advertising Campaign

It is important to get in touch with local media outlets to promote the news that the cat cafe concept will be coming to your area. Local television spots can drum up a lot of public interest, and targeted social media ads can also be highly effective to get the word out. Be sure to develop an eye-catching logo to use on your business cards, print and social media ads, and employee uniforms.