5 Common Mistakes to Avoid When Starting a Coffee Shop

656 million cups of coffee are consumed per day—and not just at home. According to the National Coffee Association, out-of-home coffee consumption is up 16% since January 2021. Translation? The coffee shop market is thriving. If you’ve been dreaming of opening your own coffee shop business, now is the time. 

But before you can start brewing, there are a few common mistakes to avoid when starting a coffee shop. Take note of these mistakes and how to avoid them in order to set your coffee shop up for success. 

Less than ideal location 

It’s no secret that location plays a critical role in the success of a coffee shop. People visit coffee shops to work, grab a quick drink, or meet up with a friend, and the location is a major factor in a customer’s decision over which business to go to. When you’re starting a coffee shop, don’t make the mistake of thinking location doesn’t matter. 

Consider choosing a spot that’s in a bustling area with either plenty of foot traffic or is close to other businesses. If your location isn’t in a walkable area, at least be sure that there are plenty of parking options. 

While you don’t always have control over the location and any inconveniences associated with it, what you can control is the experience you provide to your customers. 

If your coffee shop’s location is less than ideal — for instance, maybe there’s a lack of parking — think about ways you can make the experience better for customers. Maybe you could make a deal with a nearby business to share parking spaces. Or perhaps you could offer a discount to customers who walk or ride their bikes. The key is to create an experience that makes the visit worth it for customers, despite any other inconveniences. 

When it comes to your coffee shop’s menu, coffee should be the star of the show. But there are some other considerations to keep in mind.

Here are a few common mistakes coffee shops make when it comes to their menu: 

  • Menu is too complex 

  • There aren’t any dietary considerations 

  • Food becomes the focus 

Sometimes, less really is more. When customers are presented with too many options, it can be overwhelming and lead to choice overload — a behavior that occurs when there are so many choices it becomes difficult for the consumer to make a decision and they end up choosing nothing at all. 

If you have too many coffee drinks on your menu, it makes it harder for customers to make a decision. It’s best to keep the menu smaller so you can focus on your signature drinks, especially when you’re just getting started. You can always expand your menu later once you’ve proved your concept. 

Another common menu mistake for coffee shops is not offering dairy alternatives for your coffee drinks. While the number of drinks you offer may be limited, you still want to make sure a broad audience can enjoy them. This means you need to accommodate dietary needs and make sure your drinks can be adjusted to fit a variety of requests. 

When it comes to food, stick to offering a limited menu or a selection of already-made pastries so you can focus on what you’re good at — brewing great coffee. When too much focus is put on food products, it’s easy to lose sight of what people are really visiting your shop for and that’s coffee. 

Lack of concept

There are over 37,000 coffee shops in the U.S. as of 2020. Customers have a ton of options to choose from, so it’s up to you to convince them to choose yours. One common mistake coffee shop owners make when they’re just starting out is not having a solid concept or brand positioning that is targeted to their ideal customer

In order to stand out and appeal to customers, your coffee shop must have a clear concept or differentiator. What makes your coffee shop unique? Do you brew your own beans? Are your ingredients sourced locally? Whether there’s a visual theme or your menu has a specific focus, everything from the business name to the decor and even the type of music you play should tie into the overall concept. 

Not remote work-friendly

According to a survey of remote workers conducted by FinanceBuzz, 58% of people said they worked from a coffee shop in the past year. As the remote workforce continues to grow, remote workers will need a place to set up shop whenever they want to get out of the house, and coffee shops are the optimal option. 

Simply put, if you want to accommodate this growing customer group then your coffee shop has to be remote work-friendly. 

To start, strong WiFi is a must. There’s nothing more frustrating for a customer who’s trying to work than when the WiFi goes in and out and disrupts their workflow. The WiFi password should be clearly displayed somewhere in the store, either by the counter or on the menu, so customers can easily order their coffee and get right to work. 

There should also be a variety of seating options and plenty of lighting, whether that’s natural light or lamps at the tables. 

While your goal is not to turn your coffee shop into a co-working space, it can be a mistake not to optimize your shop for remote workers when flexible work set-ups continue to be a trend for small businesses.

No marketing plan

While coffee itself doesn’t typically need much marketing (when was the last time you had to convince someone to drink the caffeinated beverage?), you can’t just hang up a “Now Open” sign and wait for the customers to flock in. Another common mistake when starting a coffee shop? Not having a marketing plan in place. 

When you’re just starting out, get the word out to the community to let them know you’re open for business. Create a website, post on social media, and reach out to the local media to generate some buzz. Your coffee shop’s marketing plan doesn’t need to be extensive, but you should at least have a few tactics to try when you’re new to the coffee shop scene. 

By avoiding these common mistakes when starting a coffee shop, you can open your doors knowing that you’ve set your business up for success. 

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Sam Lauron