7 Ways to Run a More Successful Coffee Shop

Coffee is your passion, and having your own coffee shop is your dream.

But maybe you’re afraid your dream would turn into a nightmare, because you’re not sure how to manage a coffee shop effectively. As cafe management, you’re trying to balance employee and customer expectations, and sometimes they seem at odds.

How do you keep everyone happy? How do you make sure your coffee shop stays profitable? We’ve narrowed it down to seven tips to help you run a more efficient and profitable coffee shop.

1. Take cafe management seriously

Coffee might be your passion, but if you’re running a coffee shop, cafe management had better be your passion, too. You can’t bury your head in a bag of coffee and hope the shop will run itself. You have to learn how to manage a coffee shop.

  • Learn about the different management styles and be honest about your strengths and weaknesses.
  • Whether you take a class or use online manager resources, learn about how to be a good manager.
  • Be approachable and listen to employee concerns. Make a decision that’s fair, and stick to it. While you don’t want to lose an employee, you also don’t want to let a problem fester because you’ll lose more employees in the long run.
  • Have regular staff meetings to go over policies and concerns, but also to connect, try out new products, and have fun as a cohesive group.
  • Be clear about job descriptions, expectations, and mission. Write it down, make sure your employees have read and understood, and operate accordingly.

Clear communication of what you expect from your team, and why, won’t stop every problem that might come up, but it’s the absolute minimum foundation you need.

2. Your team should know what you’re selling

It’s not enough for you to be the coffee expert. You might have all the knowledge of what you’re selling, all the taste notes, and great recommendations for every coffee connoisseur.

Your employees have to know that, too. When customers ask questions or want recommendations, employee responses should be helpful and knowledgeable. That means you should not only train them and teach them about your coffee but encourage them to regularly taste your products.

Not only does regular tasting make your team more knowledgeable, but it helps them spot changes in taste or quality before customers do. It’s a way to handle quality control while also making your employees capable of helping customers.

Investing in training your employees is investing back in your business.

3. Show your customers you appreciate them

Customer appreciation days are common in many businesses, and they’re a great event-based way to highlight new products and services as well as celebrate a season or holiday.

But you can show customers you appreciate them without always having a big event. Some other simple ways to show your customers how you value them include:

  • Mark down the price of day-old pastries.
  • Offer samples of your products to educate your customers on coffee.
  • Use loyalty cards to earn free drinks.
  • Provide free wifi.
  • Have comfortable chairs and even a bookshelf so customers know they’re welcome to hang out a while.
  • Use their name as much as possible during a transaction.
  • Ask customers what they’d like, and adjust your offerings if necessary.

 Many of these do double duty, increasing sales for you while making customers feel valued. 

You know what doesn’t make customers feel valued?

When employees don’t make eye contact or acknowledge them at the counter to let them know they’ll be right with them. Or, when they aren’t recognized as regulars, have a cold and impersonal transaction experience, and feel rushed to leave by employees who wipe tables or mop floors around them before closing time.

If you put the time and effort into events and practices to make customers feel valued, you need to train your employees on what to avoid as well, or you’ll negate all your effort.

4. Show employees you appreciate them

Your team is valuable. The cost of replacing an employee, both in time and dollars, is high. Show them you appreciate them by:

  • Using flexible self-scheduling wherever possible so they have more control over their work-life balance.
  • Allowing them some fun with creative tip jars that encourage tips.
  • Celebrating special events in their lives.
  • Incentivizing good work and employment longevity.
  • Paying well, and looking for employee benefits you can provide, whether they’re typical or unusual.

There are many ways to show employee appreciation; you can’t do everything, but you need to do something.

5. Be a true third place

Starbucks gave us the idea of a third place, a place that isn’t home and isn’t work, somewhere different where you’d like to hang out for longer periods of time. It’s a place you feel welcome and comfortable in.

How do you make your coffee shop a third place?

For starters, customers have to feel appreciated, which we’ve already covered. But you can make your shop more welcoming, too.

Change the ambiance so it fits the season and time of day. People respond to environmental cues—so you can make your coffee shop more welcoming with a change in decor, lighting, music, and even menu based on what your customers are experiencing elsewhere. 

Keep your shop clean, and train your employees to clean and tidy up regularly throughout the day.

Being a third place is all about customers feeling safe and welcome. Making this part of your typical cafe management will help.

6. Use automation wherever possible

Brian Jackson, owner of the Mighty Missouri Coffee Company in North Dakota, can attest to how the right automation tool has made a difference when it comes to employee scheduling and his cafe operations. 

“When I Work has helped better connect our team as an all-in-one resource for our team members to communicate,” he said. “For our coffee shop, we’ve eliminated annoying mass texts so we can always be on the same page.” 

Automation saves time and money, and, as Jackson learned, keeps your team better connected. There are several tasks you could automate:

  • Supply orders—set up automatic reorders based on your historical data.
  • Point of sale—use a system with a built-in tip option.
  • Social media marketing—plan ahead a month at a time. Set up your marketing, coupons, and special events for the coming month and schedule the posts to run.
  • Employee scheduling—use a tool like When I Work to make it easy to build the work schedule and integrate it with your time clock and payroll. Plus, it comes with flexible self scheduling and lets employees swap shifts on their own without having to come to you.
  • Cafe operations processes—invest in technology that helps you with every time-consuming procedure.

Automation behind the scenes gives you the time to be personable at the front counter, which means that skipping automation directly affects your customer and employee experience.

7. Optimize your ordering area

You have a small area of space and time to get your customer’s attention, and it’s while they’re at the counter placing their order. You can optimize that area for maximum profit in a few ways.

  • Don’t fill it up with too many signs. If there’s too much to see and read, customers tune the whole area out.
  • The only signs you should have should be professional, easy to read and understand with as few words as possible, and should point people to ordering drinks that have high-profit margins.
  • Only place high-profit items in the ordering area. Lower profit items, like bags of whole beans, can be placed elsewhere.
  • Make add-ons easy to see so that upselling (e.g. asking if they’d like a bagel with their coffee) is easier and more natural for your employees.

People have limited attention spans, and at peak times, the ordering area of a coffee shop is hectic. Keep it simple with all things pointing to maximized and streamlined sales.

Using all of this, track your data and plan accordingly.

Your coffee shop is generating a lot of data.

Peak customer hours. Employee turnover and absenteeism. Wasted inventory. Popular items. Activities that consume the most time. Seasonal beverage trends. Preferred vendors. Common employee conflicts.

Are you tracking this kind of data? Do you have a cafe management system in place to track it? It’s difficult to make projections or even plan month to month if you’re not referring back to the data your shop has already generated. This is the only way you learn what your customers prefer, what supplies you should order, and how your hiring process is working.

The longer your shop is in business, the more fine-tuned your data will be. A data-driven coffee shop is going to be more efficient and profitable than one that keeps doing the same thing without paying attention to whether or not it’s working. 

Tools, like When I Work, come with dashboards and automatic data tracking built-in, regarding your employees and staffing needs. Other sources of data will be in your bookkeeping and ordering systems. Periodically survey your customers and read online reviews to get even more data to be more efficient in your cafe management.

Before you get too far down the road, it’s important to determine what data you want to track and get those systems in place. While there are lots of general tips to help you get started, in the long run, it’s your own data that will show you the direction to go.