How to run a successful coffee shop

Location is crucial, but it isn't everything. Running a successful coffee shop is also about venue atmosphere, customer service, employee management and transparent accounting. The most successful coffee shops target a specific set of customers and deliver a consistent experience. Finally, as with every small business, the head management must be personally involved with the hands-on, day-to-day activities of the coffee shop's operations.

Open your coffee shop in the right location. Target a local customer base. Get to know the neighbourhood and what types of people live there. In most cases, you will be able to choose the atmosphere of your coffee shop, because every locale contains many subsets of demographics. Make sure there are enough people in the area to patronise your business.

Scope out the competition. If another local coffee shop attracts a funky, young customer base, opt for a more austere atmosphere and target a different customer base or plan to out-funk the other place and steal some of their loyal patrons. Learn how much the competition charges for a coffee, a mocha, a triple latte, a slice of pie. You can charge more or less for your coffee products, but the overall experience should reflect the price-point value of your product.

Set up free access to wireless Internet for your coffee shop. This gets people in the door and gives them a reason to stay.

Make your coffee shop as comfortable as possible. The more inviting the atmosphere, the longer customers will stay and the more loyal they will become. Include plenty of seating, but don't cramp the space. Sofas and booths help as well. Plenty of traditional table seating is also necessary.

Offer food. This keeps customers in your coffee shop for longer periods of time.

Use "Buy Ten, Get One Free" stamp cards to give customers incentive to buy often. Each time a customer buys a drink or food item, stamp the card. When it fills up, he can turn it in for a free drink of any size.

Play the right music. If you find that customers come to your coffee shop to study, keep the volume down. Keep an eye on your demographics, and play the right music for the right crowd. Experiment with music tastes and listen to feedback. Once you find a style of music your customers like, try to stick with it. Your best bet is to pump in some customised satellite radio.

Keep everything clean, neat, orderly and self-apparent. For example, if you are set up to have customers bus their own dishes, place the busing containers in plain sight. Fix any broken or rocking tables as they develop problems. Keep the sugar and condiment station fully stocked. Make sure nothing is sticky for longer than a few minutes. Situate the order, pickup and payment counters in plain view.

Set employee schedules clearly, and hold employees to their commitments. Overlap schedules so there is always someone available to fulfil customer orders.

Keep supplies well stocked at all times, and do not stop serving anything because it is an hour to closing time.

Maintain transparent accounting. Run cash-outs at the end of every cashier shift to maintain accountability. Never keep more than £130 of petty cash in the safe.


Run promotions from time to time and advertise when possible.


Don't let things slide. Coffee shops can fail due to mismanagement. Stay on top of your business and get involved with actual operations.

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About the Author

Will Conley's writing has appeared in print and online since 1999. Publication venues include,, National Journal, Art New England, Pulse of the Twin Cities, Minnesota Daily and Will studied journalism at the University of Minnesota. He is working on four fiction and nonfiction books.