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.
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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!)
- 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.)
- Build Community. Cafes are our 3rd place. Encourage interaction, host events once in awhile, and give back to the neighborhood.