How to Build Community in Your Coffee Shop
Since their inception, coffee shops offered a space for community gatherings. Commonly referred to as a “third place” — a location between home and work — these community spaces often host meetings of various types and give people another place in which they can spend time comfortably.
If you want to turn your coffee shop into a community space, read on for tips from coffee professionals on how to encourage customers to feel at home in your cafe.
Recommended: Read our full, in-depth How to Start a Coffee Shop Business guides, inspired by coffee professionals, they will help make your coffee dreams real, from sourcing beans to hiring baristas, choosing a POS system, forming an actual company, and everything in between.
Start With Your Company Culture
Put your employees first. They’re a gateway to your business, representing your company culture to customers. Unhappy, grouchy baristas make the ordering process unpleasant and also can signal an unhealthy or negative workplace. Keeping your employees happy not only promotes a positive work environment, but also a positive customer experience that brings patrons back again and again.
While creating a workplace that benefits both your employees and customers can seem like an overwhelming task, check out our guide for more information on how to build and maintain a positive work environment.
Tap Into the Emotional Experience of Buying
As an entrepreneur, it’s your job to tap into the emotional experience of buying in order to sell your product. This experience is what drives consumers to choose between competing businesses — an especially important factor given the saturation in the coffee market. If you can promote feelings of positivity and satisfaction in customers’ minds about buying products from your cafe, that experience will help you build a sense of community around your business.
For example, you can spark positive, community-building emotions by:
- Offering customers moral incentives, such as donating a portion of your profits to a local charity, to help them feel even better about their purchase.
- Encouraging customers to take time to understand your menu and try new things, like introducing them to Third Wave Coffee.
- Creating a positive buying experience supported by your entire team — from the time a customer places their order to the time a barista hands them their drink.
Focus on Customer Engagement
Another strategy for cultivating community in your coffee shop involves actively engaging your customers in ways they enjoy. Here are a few tips to help you do so:
Turn Customers Into Regulars
Coffee shops rely a great deal on walk-in foot traffic, but they rely even more on customers who patronize their business on a daily basis. Building relationships with your regular customers is an important step in cultivating a community with the people who keep your business afloat. To help turn your customers into regulars, you can:
- Ask for Their Name. On a customer’s first or second visit, introduce yourself, ask them their name, and encourage your staff to do the same. This makes a customer feel seen and gives them a reason to return to your business.
- Associate Drinks With Individual Customers. Remembering a customer’s drink — even once — can turn an average customer into a regular and encourage them to return for their favorite drink as well as the hospitality.
- Get to Know Them as People. Customers come for the coffee, but they come back for the warm reception. Asking your customers questions can make them feel more like a friend instead of just a patron.
Host Community Activities
These activities will attract customers during the days and times they wouldn’t normally visit your business. They also can help solidify a customer’s sense of belonging and acceptance in your establishment while promoting positive associations with your space. Here are a few activities to consider:
- Offer Special Events. Planning events in which your customers can participate will help bring your community together in a new, exciting way while boosting sales during different hours of the day. Think about open mic nights or poetry readings that can attract customers to experience local artists.
- Conduct Coffee-Related Events. This approach will engage customers with both a community activity and your product. Public cuppings, tastings of new products (e.g., foods, specialty drinks, and new coffees), or latte art competitions all make great coffee events.
- Celebrate Holidays. This goes well beyond the usual holidays. Look up national coffee or pastry days and offer specials on those days to give your customers an excuse to indulge. For example, offer a 10 percent discount on all coffee drinks on National Coffee Day. Or, on Earth Day, offer a 10 percent discount to customers who bring in their own cups.
For more inspiration, check out this article on compelling event ideas for coffee shops.
Offer Loyalty Programs
These programs give customers an incentive to patronize your business multiple times in order to gain discounts or deals on your products. They also ensure customers feel appreciated for their business and can sometimes turn customers into regulars. Here are some easy ways to establish a loyalty program:
- Use Punch Cards. Offer your customers a way to earn a free drink when they buy 10 drinks (or any number of drinks you choose). Your employees can punch (or stamp) a customer’s card for every drink purchase.
- Load Loyalty Cards With Redeemable Points. Rather than a punch card, give your customers a loyalty card that collects free drink points as they make purchases or add money to their card.
- Record Purchases and Award Points on Your Point-Of-Sale (POS) System. Companies like Square provide this service with the purchase of their POS system.
- Offer a Free Drink With Every Bag of Beans. Many coffee shops offer free drip coffee with the purchase of a bag of beans. Alternatively, you could offer customers a free drink of their choice when they buy a bag of coffee on a specific day of the week. Fridays work well because customers may want to stock up on coffee before the weekend.
Build out Your Space to Accommodate Communities
Restaurants and other businesses often use elements of their atmosphere to help market themselves to customers. This includes the curation of everything from the physical space to the music, lighting, and product placement. Here are four ways to help you make your cafe an attractive destination for individual customers and community groups:
- Ensure You Have Plenty of Power Outlets. You need enough outlets to accommodate customers looking to work from your shop as well as business meetings taking place there. These interactions typically require a purchase and, if customers stay long enough, can lead to several purchases throughout the course of their stay.
- Offer Appropriate Seating. Make sure your coffee shop has enough space to comfortably accommodate large groups as well as individuals. If you want customers to feel at ease in your space, adequate seating that allows a variety of people to sit and enjoy their coffee will encourage them to spend time in your establishment.
- Take a Thoughtful Approach to Music. While it’s a great atmospheric tool, music requires a delicate balance. Ideally, your music should support the general theme and feeling of your coffee shop. Keep it at a moderate volume and avoid anything too abrasive. You also may want to establish music guidelines for your employees or enlist them in creating playlists that contribute to a positive ambiance.
- Adjust the Lighting to Your Cafe’s Design. Depending on your chosen atmosphere, you may use warm, cool, bright, or dim lighting in your coffee shop. However, your lighting should match your intention and adapt throughout the day based on that. If you serve beer and wine in the evenings, for example, dim the lights and place candles on the tables to create a bar-like ambiance.
Building community in your coffee shop is all about making the people who pass through your space feel comfortable and welcome. This includes customers, employees, and everyone in between.
Recommended: For more tips on making your cafe space better suit your customers needs and interests, check out our article on the importance of coffee shop atmospherics.