You’ve created the café of your dreams, signed the lease and opened your doors. And then that first customer comes strolling in off the sidewalk, ready to give your brew a shot. What kind of experience is she going to have? Let’s hope the overall experience is enough to keep her coming back—maybe even enough to make her your first regular.
Maybe it’s obvious, but if you want customer loyalty, you need great coffee. That means coffee grown from 100% Arabica beans—the best coffee beans on the planet. Grown at higher elevations, Arabica beans need a lot of love—they require more moisture, rich soil, shade and sun than Robusta beans. Arabica beans have a gentle sweetness about them, and a soft mouth feel that you just don’t get with other beans.
The Right Equipment.
The right coffee grinders, brewers and airpots can help make your coffee standout as compared to your competitors. Equally important is your skill (or your employees’) as a barista. You can have the best grinder on earth and still fail entirely at that elusive perfect espresso if you don’t have the knowledge and guts required to pull a great shot.
Office Space (with free WiFi)
Let’s face facts—many of your customers are showing up to use your café as free office space, a rapidly growing phenomenon known as the “third place”. Counterintuitive as it may seem, this is a trend you may want to encourage, because it secures you the holy grail of any restaurant owner: a group of regulars who come to consider you a crucial feature of the neighborhood. In a study of coffee shops as third places conducted by Lisa Waxman, Ph.D., at Florida State University, a positive correlation was shown “between length of patronage and their sense of attachment to their community.”
What’s the bottom line? Think of yourself as an office: keep it clean, comfortable and free—especially the Wi-Fi.
Support Your Local Community
Speaking of community, always remember that just as you’re a local business, hoping for those local dollars, you’re surrounded by other businesses just like you. So why not support them? Sell bagels from the fantastic bagelry three blocks away; use milk from a neighboring farm; have the local silkscreening company design your T-shirts. You’ll score points in the eyes of your community-oriented customers, who will see you as committed to the neighborhood.
Hire Good People
They say you can teach a skill, but not an attitude. Baristas with fantastic skills and a gift for making customers happy are rare, but if you’re forced to choose, go with customer happiness. Making good espresso may be an art, but at least it’s an art anybody can learn.
Filter Your Water
This matters more than you think—a cup of coffee is actually 98% water, so it has drastic effects on taste. Make sure your water is well filtered, and pay close attention to its mineral content.
Consider Your Ergonomics
Peter Baskerville, founder of over 15 coffee shops, stresses the importance of ergonomics. “Cafés need to process thousands of transactions per day to be sustainable. If the coffee making area is not ergonomically designed, order taking and payment are not efficient or effective.”
Keep It Simple
We know you have to sell other products—food, apparel—to keep afloat, but don’t go overboard. Forbes magazine recommends you “cover the necessary categories, but with limited offers in terms of flavors, sizes and product offerings.
Is it cliché? Sure. Does it work? Absolutely. Particularly if you punch off a bunch of visits right out of the gate, so the customer gets a free drink on his next visit. Now he’s yours for life.
Personality Goes a Long Way
The very best thing you can be is yourself. Your customers want their local coffee joint to have its own distinct personality, they don’t want a place that’s just aping the other shops. So put some heart into it.