The Importance of Coffee Shop Atmospherics

Attracting customers to your business requires a delicate balance of factors that entice and engage them. In fact, the right atmospherics can play a key role in boosting your foot traffic.

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 the best POS system, forming an actual company, and everything in between.


What Are Atmospherics?

Atmospherics are the characteristics of a space that a business can control and use to create a specific atmosphere for its customers. The right atmosphere will not only entice and engage customers, but also encourage them to spend money at a specific establishment. 

One study showed that a coffee shop’s product only accounts for 48% of a customer’s emotional connection to the business. That leaves the remaining 52% up to other factors, such as the cafe’s environment. Written by coffee professionals, this guide will help you understand and implement the right balance of atmospherics in your coffee shop. 

Philip Kotler, often called the “father of modern marketing,” first developed the concept of atmospherics in 1973 as a marketing strategy. He believed that, in some cases, a business’ location can prove more important than its product. Retail stores exemplify the use of atmospherics as a marketing strategy. From the layout of their merchandise to their lighting and music, these stores invest a great deal of time and money to perfect their customers’ physical experience.

Creating an ideal atmosphere for customers requires focusing on six key factors:

  • Design: The design aspect of atmospherics relies on the use of a cohesive theme and color palette throughout a retail space. Target provides a good example of this with its consistent red and white theme used throughout its stores and universally associated with its brand.
  • Layout and Fixtures: The tables, chairs, and other fixtures you choose all contribute to the overall atmosphere of your space. Your layout — everything from menu and table placement to where customers order and pick up drinks — also informs this. Specifically, your layout tells customers where to go while drawing their attention to the products you want to sell. Setting bags of coffee or merchandise in a customer’s line of sight as they place their order, for example, can increase the likelihood they’ll purchase more than just a cup of coffee.
  • Lighting: Lighting has the power to completely change the mood of any space. Whether you choose bright or dim lighting, the atmosphere it creates can help you make your shop more inviting. For example, Starbucks stores typically use darker lighting to create a cozy environment. In contrast, Stumptown Coffee Roasters and Blue Bottle Coffee locations use brighter lighting to create a more energetic atmosphere.
  • Sound: Think about the last time you visited a store, restaurant, or cafe. What kind of music did you hear? Was there any background noise? Most likely, these sounds influenced your mood within the space. Whether you play calm, upbeat, modern, or older music, it all influences the feelings customers will have as they spend time in your business.
  • Scent: The smell of coffee or fresh pastries can entice customers in from the street and encourage them to buy whatever product they smell. Pleasant scents also can keep them lingering around your cafe for longer periods of time. The scents used in stores during the holidays offer a great example of this. As people walk into a retail store targeting holiday shoppers, they almost always encounter the scent of pine, spice, or vanilla. These classic holiday scents not only help customers capture the holiday spirit, but also may encourage them to make a purchase.
  • Human Interaction: While human interaction represents one of the most important atmospheric factors, it’s one of the hardest to control. It’s also easy to overlook when planning key aspects of your business. Yet, the way your staff receives and cares for customers in your cafe informs how they think about your brand and how they feel within your space.

Three other characteristics you may not immediately think about also can positively or negatively influence a customer’s experience in your coffee shop. They include:

  • Mobile Technology: An app or digital loyalty program can place your brand directly into the hands of consumers on the mobile platforms they already use. While this may not seem like a direct route to creating an ideal atmosphere for customers, it can certainly influence their connection with your brand and give them a reason to return. Some Coffee-shop POS systems can run a loyalty program for you. 
  • Temperature: Are your customers physically comfortable in your space while they enjoy their coffee? The temperature of your cafe can mean the difference between a customer staying and spending more money or taking their drink to go.
  • Parking Availability: Providing adequate parking for both short- and long-term visits to your establishment can help ensure customers have a positive experience. You don’t want customers to circle the block in search of a place to park but never find one.

Why Does Atmosphere Matter?

In the coffee world, a cafe’s atmosphere informs the customer experience more than many business owners realize. All of these atmospheric factors are important because they can help you increase your brand exposure and recognition.

Enticing characteristics like scent and the general mood of your establishment, for example, often increase foot traffic and sales. A strong design and layout also will help people remember your business, which may encourage repeat customers. From your chairs to your espresso bar, atmospherics can noticeably affect how customers enjoy their beverages within your establishment.

Tips for Improving Your Coffee Shop’s Atmosphere

Whether you’re still in the planning phase for your new business or looking to refresh your current space, here are four tips to help you create a truly inviting environment:

  • Engage a Professional Designer. Hiring a designer can help ensure you develop an effective and cohesive space that represents your unique vision. They also can provide expert guidance as you choose your furniture, light fixtures, and layout.
  • Be Consistent. Every design decision you make should convey the personality of your business. Staying true to your chosen theme will increase your brand recognition by creating a memorable aesthetic that communicates your unique vision.
  • Listen to Customer Needs. Your business is your vision. Yet, listening to your customers’ wants and needs with discretion can help you build a space that encourages repeat customers and a sense of community.
  • Change the Lighting. Creating the mood you want in your cafe often starts with adjusting the lighting. You can do this by replacing bulbs, installing dimmers, and changing light sources to lamps or candles in the evening.
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Recommended: Here are additional tips for managing your cafe and some great ideas you can try out.

Leveraging the “Coffee Shop Atmosphere Effect”

An unintentional factor working to your advantage is that coffee shops create an atmosphere other businesses — including office buildings — try to emulate. If you’ve ever spent an afternoon working from a bustling coffee shop table, you’ve likely experienced the “coffee shop atmosphere effect.” Many people believe the background noise and energy of these spaces prompt them to get more done than when they work from their office or home.

By harnessing this atmospheric effect, you can encourage customers to stay in your establishment longer and refuel on your delicious coffee and treats. 

Here are a few ways to leverage this special effect to your benefit: 

  • Provide Plenty of Comfortable Seating. If you want customers to stick around for a few hours, make sure they have a comfortable place to sit.
  • Keep Your Music at a Moderate Volume. Music influences an environment, allowing people to focus without distracting them too much. Make sure your music never grows too loud or too quiet. Creating playlists for your cafe or setting parameters for your employees’ music selections can help with this process.
  • Offer an Optimal Workspace. Make sure you have everything your customers need for a productive work session. This typically includes items necessary to operate laptops, such as a strong Wi-Fi connection and plenty of electrical outlets.

Coffee shops provide a place to gather, work, and drink. Smart use of atmospherics can not only help you attract more customers, but also create a space in which they’ll savor both their coffee and their experience in your establishment.

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