If you’d asked anyone 10 years ago about how important technology was in running a successful café, they probably would have responded: not at all!

But today, we are increasingly seeing small businesses embrace technology to grow and be more relevant to their clients.


We spoke to Nathan Dunn, owner of Tuihana Café Foodstore, about what it means to run a cafe with technology at the heart of everything. He gave us five tips for growing your business using technology like Xero and social media.

The business

We are a Café Foodstore situated in Mt Eden, at the city end of Dominion Road in Auckland. We purchased the business four years ago when it wasn’t doing very well, and we have had the hard but satisfying job of turning it all around.

We cater to local clientele and also visitors who hear about us! Our food is a Kiwi/Maori mix. We have favourites such as eggs bennie and a delicious lamb burger, combined with some traditional Maori herbs like horopito and kawakawa. Our bread is made on site and is the traditional Rewana (sourdough potato) bread.

Embrace social media in multiple ways

I believe we’re one of the most tech savvy and social media active cafes in NZ. We are active every day on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, with big fan bases spread across those three platforms. Our staff have Instagram on their phones, so they can take a quick snap of something exciting. It immediately pushes out to the other platforms, through a custom software platform I developed. We also allow for mobile ordering, via SMS, email or Twitter DM. As far as I know, no other café allows you to order a flat white through Twitter. We also provide free WiFi in the café that requires no login codes, so it’s super easy for everyone.

We also use Xero’s online accounting software to manage our finances, so technology is really at the heart of our business if every aspect.

Invest in staff, listen to customers

Amazing staff. Staff will make or break a café. We also listen to our customers, a lot. Our regulars are a big part of our business, and some of them come in multiple times a day. If they are having a slow day at work, they want to come to the café for a pick-me-up. It’s up to our staff to create those personal, genuine connections, to keep our regulars coming back. We are constantly making changes and improvements based on what they think.

Be willing to make changes fast

Besides lots of exciting new food options, we try many different things in the cafe around marketing. The interaction with our customers via social media, and using cloud-based technology like Xero, allows me to see what’s working and what’s not, and adjust our focus to suit. The margins in hospitality are razor thin. If something’s not delivering, we need to change it, and fast. It may be too much wastage, or food priced incorrectly, so it’s far too late to do all these at the end of the financial year.

Use technology that speeds you up rather than slows you down

I do all the accounts, and have directorships in a handful of other businesses, so I am time scarce. Xero allows me to reconcile my accounts in about 10 minutes and see how we are tracking. Bank feeds and invoicing are also major features for us. We can quickly and accurately code up our transactions, and run weekly profit and loss statements to see how we are tracking.

The fact Xero is cloud based is a must for me. I’ve just been in the US for two weeks, and was able to do my GST return and file it from a hotel in Louisville, KY. This week I’m in Singapore, and I’m just as functional as if I was in NZ.

Find the metrics that matter and check them regularly

Xero allows me to be very efficient. I don’t have to spend a lot of time digging for the info I need. It’s all there, ready for me to analyse and act on. I do a lot of reconciling on my phone and iPad, and I run reports on my laptop.

By being able to do weekly and even daily profit and loss statements, we can see how we’re doing in real-time and make any tweaks. It’s important to do comparisons from previous periods (such as the previous month, or even previous years) to make sure we’re still growing. It’s not enough just to see money in the bank; this can be a false sense of security. So I would say the real-time visibility and being able to see exactly where we are at has allowed us to grow because we can respond to things much quicker.

Anything else you’d like to add?

If you’re not using Xero you’re setting yourself up to fail.

Check out Tuihana Café and Foodstore on Twitter @tuihanacafe and Instagram