We all have our favorite spot to grab our morning cup of coffee. Maybe it’s a local chain with affordable lattes and friendly, reliable staff. Maybe it’s an up-market café featuring sustainably sourced beans and top-notch Arabica. Or maybe it’s a cozy, family-owned bakery and coffee shop at which you’ve been a loyal patron for years. To many, a good coffee shop can be just as much a respite from the cold and stressful outside world as one’s own living room, providing a safe haven to rest, recharge, and get organized – and, for those who work from home, an ideal makeshift office space that’s a perfect spot for productivity.
The combination of readily available, hand crafted beverages, a warm and inviting atmosphere, and overall convenience make coffee shops some of the most versatile businesses in the food and beverage industry. They’re a perfect venue for business meetings, first dates, studying, reconnecting with friends, and so much more.
But what is it that makes your favorite coffee shop so unique? What qualities do you look for when trying a new place, and what is it that brings you back again and again? We did some research and, after talking to dozens of friends and coworkers, we came up with a list of the five most important qualities for a successful coffee shop.
1. The coffee menu
If the coffee you serve is poor quality, weak or, worse, burnt, you’re sure to lose customers more quickly than you attract them. Bite the bullet and carve out a little room in your budget to purchase top quality coffee beans, and go organic if you can. It’s best to grind your beans in-house in order to make sure your coffee tastes fresh. Some of the best coffee shops in the world will grind their beans up to several times a day.
When deciding on a coffee menu, keep your nearby competition in mind. Better yet, try to carve out a niche: Maybe you’re the ultra-custom coffee shop with 28 different homemade syrup offerings, or maybe, instead, you only offer drip coffee, cold brew, and a limited selection of espresso-based drinks (with exceptional latte art, of course). Whatever you choose, make sure your baristas are well trained and capable of making every single drink on the menu to perfection. And don’t forget to provide a variety of dairy alternatives for those with lactose sensitivities (soy and almond milk are critical; try oat milk or coconut milk if you’re feeling fancy).
2. An inviting, relaxing atmosphere
Seating. Lighting. Music. Décor. All of these elements must be complementary, working in unison to create a singular “vibe” that your customers can immediately recognize. This is your chance to be creative. Pick a core theme, and make sure that this theme comes through in every single piece you curate for your coffee shop. Customers will be confused and put off if they enter a café called “Rock On” only to find antique wallpaper, rustic wooden furniture, and reggae music playing in the background.
On seating: Make sure you have enough of it, and a variety of options. You’ll have customers who come in to read their morning paper (undisturbed) over an Americano. Make sure there’s a comfortable and sufficiently lit armchair tucked in a corner. You’ll also have customers stopping by with laptops, pens, and spiral-bound notebooks to prep for the Bar exam or work on a novel. Make sure there are spacious tables with functional, upright chairs to accommodate these types. If you have a small space, think creatively in order to fit as much seating as possible without cramping the environment.
In terms of background music, keep your playlist advertisement-free and unobtrusive, at a volume low enough for conversation to flow with ease. Soft music, neutral colors and natural light is the best formula for a pleasant atmosphere. Cleanliness is critical, too – make sure your staff are sweeping floors and wiping down tables on a regular basis.
3. Food (a variety of choices)
Most coffee shops aren’t expected to carry a full, multi-course lunch menu, but it’s a good idea to have some homemade baked goods, snacks, and perhaps a sandwich offering or two on the menu. What you can prepare will depend on the limitations of the space. The best coffee shops offer food that compliments their coffee menu, but doesn’t overwhelm it. Try a mixture of sweet pastries and savory choices, with at least one “specialty” (like a killer grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup). Make sure a couple of health-conscious choices are available, too. Along these same lines, it’s a good idea to offer non-coffee beverage choices, such as sparkling water, fresh-squeezed juices, sodas, and iced teas.
Any food offered at a coffee shop should be equally as fresh as the coffee itself: same-day preparation is key. And in order to really impress your customers, experiment with sourcing food and ingredients from local vendors and other small businesses (collaborating with a popular downtown bakery will mutually benefit both your shop and theirs).
4. Functional amenities
Since one of the most common reasons people like to spend time at a coffee shop is to maximize productivity, it’s important to make sure your space is set up with all the tools needed to get work done. This includes an easy-to-use Wi-Fi connection with decently fast Internet, plenty of electrical outlets that are conveniently located near seating, and pristine bathrooms. As with the rest of your space, bathrooms should be cleaned 2-3 times per day at minimum.
If your space has limited electrical outlets to start out with, consider working with an electrician to change this. Make sure to test your internet connection daily and resolve any problems that may arise before your customers notice it. A poor internet connection will send loyal patrons away faster than a stale croissant.
5. Friendly baristas
Our final critical characteristic of a top-notch coffee shop has to do less with the physical items consumed and utilized, and more with the overall “vibe.” It comes down to your staff: A friendly, upbeat, and highly trained barista will keep customers returning every single day. Make sure your staff are trained and managed by someone with several years of experience, and try to keep shifts organized and regular. There’s nothing better for a customer than walking in on a busy weekday morning to be greeted by name with their beverage of choice already in progress at the hands of their favorite barista. Attentive, conscientious staff are worth their weight in gold (and – don’t forget – a little humor will go far when smoothing over any difficult situations).
Author: Emily Feary