I’ve worked in the coffee industry for almost ten years now. A lot of my experience is in coffee shops ranging anywhere from back of house cooking, barista, managing, menu design, and anything else that needed to be done. One of the things I love about roasting is being able to work with owners of coffee shops to help them succeed. I’ve decided to start a mini series on how to start a successful coffee shop.
Hours of Operation Matter
This topic is first because I think it’s SO important. Your customers should be able to describe when you’re open in one sentence. “They’re always open!” is best. This typically translates to 6am-11pm, or at a minimum, 7am-9pm. The reason I pick those hours, specifically, is because you are able to successfully serve your entire market. You want to be a favorite place for your customers to come anytime they want to.
Your customers will generally fall into one or more of these time buckets:
6-8am: Commuters. They want to pick up something on their way to work. Typically having quick grab and go items is best (such as bagged up scones, egg sandwiches that are quick, etc.). You want to be fully staffed at this time of day, because the trick with keeping this crowd is speed of service. If you make them late to work, you will lose their business.
9-11am: The Breakfast Club. This is when people get together for breakfast meetings. This has a broad audience. You have your students meeting for coffee, your groups of moms getting breakfast together, and you’ll get your businessmen shooting the breeze or conducting business. This is also a common time to see solo workers who order a single cup of refillable coffee and commandeer a table for several hours. The customers who come in at this time of day are not generally quite as time-conscious.
11am-2pm: Lunch rush. I think this is pretty self-explanatory. The part that is less intuitive is this: typically there’s some mixing between your commuter crowd and your lunch crowd. This is the biggest reason you want to be open in the morning for your commuters. They’ll spread the word at their offices that you’re a great place to go, and they’ll come to you themselves. Again, this is a time where you want to be fully staffed and ready to pump out orders quickly, people don’t like to be late for work, and word spreads that you’re not a viable lunch stop if they are.
3-4pm: Cleaning time. It’ll be pretty dead at this time. You may be tempted to close. But why? You’ll be cleaning, restocking, ordering, etc. anyway. You’ll probably get a couple of orders some days. Not to mention the late lunch meetings or the early dinner meetings. Closing won’t really gain you much, but it has the potential to cost something.
5-8pm: Dinner rush. At coffee shops it’s not usually quite as busy as at a casual dining restaurant for dinner unless you are serving meals that are heartier than the typical paninis and soup. You will most often see a lot of takeout, some dates, some solo diners getting some work done, some dinner meetings, etc.
7-9pm: Coffee date time. This is the time of day when most people who work 9-5 can meet up with a friend for coffee. Sometimes they’ll get food, maybe just a snack, but they’ll certainly order some sort of beverage and sit for a while to catch up with their friends.
9-11pm: Ok, why do I insist on you being open until 11? My primary reason is that being open until 11 allows conscientious customers to be comfortable enough to actually come to your coffee shop for their coffee date. Closing at 9 probably allows them enough time, but it does leave some question if it’s someone they haven’t seen in a while. You’ll also be a great spot for dessert after dinner or any other type of afterparty following an event. The other market you’ll win here are students. Granted, they probably won’t be ordering very much at this time of night, but they also probably won’t mind if you start cleaning up a little early.
Don’t close in the middle of the week
I know that you have other obligations and you probably have some good reason for wanting to close on Mondays. It’s just one day of the week so it shouldn’t matter, right? Well, no. Coffee shops are a habit. Being closed on a Monday forces your most loyal regulars into a new habit. They come to your coffee shop every day to get that almond milk latte just the way they want it… except on Monday, when they go to your competitor. Not to mention the friends reunion that was supposed to take place at your coffee shop–they’ve never been to your shop… they’ve planned it for weeks… they’re so excited… you’re not there…? I’m speaking from experience. I’ve actually been that customer. I was so disappointed I never bothered to figure out when they actually are open.
In my experience, the only acceptable day to be closed is on a Sunday. Other than that, your customers pretty much expect that you’ll find a way to be open. Hire a manager, hire competent staff, whatever you need to do. Your regular customers may empathize with your decision to be closed on a certain day or only open at unusual times, but that doesn’t mean they’ll completely move their life around to accommodate your schedule.
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Next in the series: Location and Demographics