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Catherine Hofmann Posts

Design a Great Coffee Shop Experience

I am in the process of transcribing, digitizing, and archiving 10 years worth of the notebooks. It’s laborious but a lot of fun to revisit old ideas, observations from Raleigh and beyond, and the evolution of my beliefs.

Last night I noticed that each notebook contains at least one spread dedicated to the analysis or improvement of coffee shops. There are notes from Raleigh, Prague, Chicago, Savannah, Asheville, Berlin, Puerto Rico, Seattle, Bar Harbor, Boston, and on and on. Even my preliminary pitch and ideas for a consulting job with Helios in Raleigh–but I was too late, he shut down last winter.

Once I find a  coffee shop I love, I’m a customer for life. The design of the coffee shop has a lot to do with it, and I don’t mean the furniture, colors, and fixtures. How customers are treated, how they are forced to move around the space, and how easy it is to make decisions affect the entire experience.

Here is a brief list that I want to share with all the cafe owners and managers out there. (This list can also apply to other retail experiences.) My favorite spots have a good mix of these qualities, especially #6.

  1. Pay your employees well. Rude employees are the aren’t the norm for cafes, just cafes where they are working for $2 per hour, plus tips. A living wage will keep your employees happy, and quality customers will support a change to higher prices. If employees are rude, get rid of them.
  2. Signage. Where do I order and pay? Where do I pick up? What’s on the menu? How much does that cost? — No customer should have to ask these questions! Install a menu board, print paper menus, hang a sign. It will also stop the time-consuming hemming and hawing at the counter. (Bonus points for illustrations.)
  3. Flow. Think about each decision point and how customers move after each decision. Long lines at peak hours, customers milling about waiting for their order, and others adding cream, sugar, honey, cinnamon, and whatever nonsense to their drink. Don’t make customers double back on the line after they pick up their drink to get a to-go lid.
  4. Clean.  Clean. Clean. Especially in high-traffic areas. Especially at the condiment bar. Especially where customers can see. And always wipe down tables when customers leave. (Cleanliness is tied to #1. Nobody cleans well for $2/hour!)
  5. Be Consistent. Set up a training program to ensure everyone is making the drinks the same way, to the same standards. A medium almond milk latte with hazelnut should taste the same way every time, no matter who makes it. If a menu item isn’t up to your standards, don’t put it on the menu. (Or, if your drip coffee is terrible, make sure it is consistently terrible. People will come back for that.)
  6. Build Community. Cafes are our 3rd place. Encourage interaction, host events once in awhile, and give back to the neighborhood.
Illustrated Coffee Menu from Prague
I can’t speak Czech, but I had no problem pointing to items on this illustrated menu. Illustrations are also great for customers who don’t know the difference between espresso drinks. (Photo by CRH)

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PARK(ing) Day in Philadelphia, Roots in San Diego

I love PARK(ing) Day because it showcases how quick, cheap, and mobile solutions can vastly improve our quality of life. By reducing vehicle speeds and reclaiming streets as people spaces, these temporary parklets build community and prove that a tiny respites from city life is welcome.

Philadelphia’s PARK(ing) Day includes 52 businesses, designers, and organizations co-opting asphalt for tiny parks. You can see their google map here or download their printable guide: Park(ing) Day Philadelphia 2015_Map.

This strong showing is just another notch in Philly’s belt. There is a history of activating underutilized spaces with community initiatives as seen through the work of the Philadelphia Horticultural Society, Grounded in Philly, the Mural Arts Program, and the Philadelphia Orchard Project. If you know of any more organizations, please comment below!

Here are a few parklets seen on my morning walk:

IMG_4467 copy
Zipcar has a pumpkin-painting station and real turf

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Using Design to Address Homelessness through Transitional Housing

Last spring Activate14–an outreach initiative I co-founded–jumped on the tiny home craze in an effort to address Raleigh’s underserved homelessness community. We wanted to prove our belief that good design is accessible to everyone and can radically change a community.

The transition out of homelessness is more successful when services like job training, medical attention, and other support are provided through temporary housing, rather than providing services alone. The housing community model allows someone to build a steady job and income without worrying about their safety, belongings, and where they will find shelter.

Not surprisingly, a transitional housing community is more cost-effective than letting the homeless stay on the streets. Increased hospitalization, overnights in jail, and emergency shelter cost taxpayers upwards of $40,000 per homeless person per year. Imagine the savings if we could transition people from homelessness to self-supporting lives through $1,500 to $30,000 tiny homes with community space. 


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The Case Against Major-League Sport Stadiums in Urban Areas

Before leaving Raleigh, a conversation emerged around bringing a major-league sports team to the capitol city. Several people–all men–thought a football or basketball stadium near the amphitheater would be THE BEST THING EVER.

Let me tell you why it’s not:

1. Stadiums are dead zones. The NBA plays 41 home games per year, the MLB has 81 home games per year. What happens the other 324/284 days? Not much, maybe some concerts and big college games. And that’s not just an empty stadium, that’s empty parking lots, shuttered retail space, and a lot of dead sidewalk.

Have you been near a stadium during the day? I’ve seen Indianapolis, Charlotte, Seattle, Philadelphia, and Minneapolis stadiums first hand. It’s terrible. Parking takes up 3x as much space as the stadium itself. Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis covers 6 to 7 city blocks for the stadium, parking, and landscaping. These megablocks have poor walkability scores and rarely, if ever, include ground-floor retail.

Erik Weber has a great post on specific stadiums.

Dodgers Stadium (pink) and parking (orange)
Philly Stadiums (pink) and parking (orange)







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