Tell me about your dream cafe/coffee shop?
March 7, 2014 3:27 AM   Subscribe

I have an opportunity to rent a large-ish cafe/coffee shop/restaurant a few moments walk from the local small town railway station, out the front of the tourist bus stop. What would you do to make it wonderful?

The business has been neglected by an absent owner for several years, leading to abysmal yelp reviews. I would be starting with a clean slate, and with the commercial restaurant plant and equipment in place.
I have a background in coffee shops/cafes and know what's involved, but I'd love to hear the creative mefi team pitch in with ideas on how to make it a wonderful place.
Things I would love input on:
- the best elements/things about your local coffee shops
- a great theme/name.
- inspired food suggestions
- anything really great you have always though a coffee shop restaurant should do.

The business is in the middle of a thriving tourist main street near transport, with a local population that tends toward the artsy/hippy/progressive side of things.
posted by bystander to Food & Drink (86 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
[Phrasing here is borderline chatfiltery, so let's keep this to practical suggestions for establishing / running a good, successful coffee shop or cafe (as opposed to general chat or unrealistic dream-cafe ideas), and we should be okay.]
posted by taz at 3:43 AM on March 7, 2014

As a coffee shop enthusiast: Please have things to eat that aren't just carbohydrates. I would be thrilled to see things like mini quiches or small salads or nut mixes in more cafe food cases.
posted by gnomeloaf at 3:53 AM on March 7, 2014 [77 favorites]

I was discussing this with a friend recently.

We wanted to establish a board games cafe.
It would sell Cakes and Board games and have space for the eating of cakes and playing games.
We didn't settle on a name, but the tagline for the place:
"Iced Rolls and Dice Rolls."

This was inspired by a place in Soho (The one in London) called MADD where a friend I spent a huge amount of time and money playing "King of Tokyo" and drinking supermario themed drinks.

There is a place in Canterbury (The one in the UK) that I really liked called Coffee and Corks, which was a nice relaxy space that in the day was all about coffee and cakes and in the evening was about wine.

So, what I am saying is, give people a reason to come there and gather.
Make a social space which also sells coffee.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 3:55 AM on March 7, 2014 [4 favorites]

I'm not sure that this is applicable for the variety of coffee shop you're likely to operate, but on the casual line I do enjoy a "take it or leave it"-type bookshelf.

I agree with gnomeloaf about food, also.
posted by mr. digits at 3:55 AM on March 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

I would like to third gnomeloaf's vote against total carbfest.

I was recently at a cafe in New York that had a signature latte-type coffee drink that was a little weird (espresso, honey, ground cinnamon, and lavender-infused milk) but delicious and it has really stuck with me. Plenty of bars do crazy craft cocktails...why not experiment and come up with an interesting (and by this I mean a little weird) signature beverage or two, perhaps that is evocative of your cafe's theme or town? It could really stick with folks long after they have left.

Otherwise, I always appreciate coffee shops that have a laptop-free zone, because I feel like so many have been swallowed up by that WORK! LAPTOP! energy where you can't just, you know, go sit and have a cup of coffee and talk to someone. (Inman Perk, you are on notice).
posted by gone2croatan at 4:10 AM on March 7, 2014 [6 favorites]

Comfortable seating and tables. I'm amazed at how many people get this all wrong.
posted by Sticherbeast at 4:20 AM on March 7, 2014 [19 favorites]

Don't use that horrible WiFi service that forces you to check in with Facebook. This will make me silently resent you.

Play music that someone cares about. There's a café in Gothenburg where the owner ladies often played entire Dylan albums. This gives character and makes it feel like reality is present, as opposed to the uncanny airport muzak of most soulless establishments.

If you want the artsy types to give you a good Yelp score, simply learn to make a decent flat white and make a point of using fresh, locally roasted beans. Many of the high-scoring cafés in Amsterdam also sell beans; some even sell hip coffee paraphernalia, like Chemexes.

Provide some stuff for reading or perusal that's not just boring local newspapers. Why not acquire a decent collection of second-hand poetry books? Tourists aren't all boors.

Another café in Gothenburg does free acoustic concerts on Fridays, mostly with local indie stuff. I love it even when it's amateur hour. One time the band didn't even show up; whatever, I just had another espresso.

Vegan stuff is of course crucial for establishing a rapport with the progressives. The café with the concerts has a cheap vegan lunch of soup-of-the-day and bread. I used to go out of my way for it even though the cooking was mostly unimpressive. They did have truly good coffee.
posted by mbrock at 4:21 AM on March 7, 2014 [6 favorites]

I work in a coffee shop. I've spent way too much time in other coffee shops.

What makes a good coffee shop depends on the clientele. Some want fast service, others want relaxed places. Some want lots of variety in espresso-based drinks, others just want "a coffee, dammit". Some want more food options, some just want cheap food options (aka me).

You have to figure out who your clientele are, first and foremost. What kinds of coffee are popular locally? You mentioned tourists - what kinds of tourists? Will they want simple coffee, or fancy coffee?

That said, here are my personal peeves:

- a coffee shop ought to have decent coffee, not just espresso (unless it's explicitly an espresso bar). My favourite independent coffee shop actually brews their coffee in French presses, and then decants into a carafe, and it's much better than drip coffee while still being fast enough for the morning crowd. If you go the drip route, start with good beans, and use carafes to keep it from getting burned after brewing.

- offer a variety of real tea without added flavouring. Tea is made from one specific plant and tastes lovely without lots of stuff in it. I like chai and earl grey or even something with raspberries and rose hips, but I also love a good Darjeeling or Lapsang Souchon. Herbal infusions are nice, but they are not tea. Tea keeps well, so you should be able to offer a good variety without much wastage. Also, unless you are in the southern US, it goes without saying that default tea is hot.
posted by jb at 4:22 AM on March 7, 2014 [6 favorites]

This is going to sound obvious, but apparently it isn't: hire friendly people. There are two coffee shops within a block of my house. I go to one of them several times a week; I go to the other never, because their employees are snobby jerks who roll their eyes at you. The other place has employees who learn your name and say "how are you" and "thank you" like normal humans.

Everyone else's ideas are great. Non-carb foods, bookshelf, board games. I love couches in a coffee shop, and I also like that they discourage laptop people. Laptop-free zones are great but the laptop people get really touchy about that stuff, so you have to be careful. (Personally, I think the elegant solution here is to say that you get one hour of wifi with each purchase, but that's because I am tired of walking into coffee shops to see that every table is taken with someone who parked there at 6 a.m.)

Open yourself up to community groups who want to meet, especially after hours. Bring in live music when you can.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 4:23 AM on March 7, 2014 [14 favorites]

Rotating, good art on the wall that's hung well and doesn't have a price tag under it.
posted by smirkyfodder at 4:24 AM on March 7, 2014

Last Exit on Brooklyn was a Seattle coffee shop from way back in the day. I think one of the best things about it was that the tables were big which meant you had to sit near strangers, it gave people the opportunity to interact and, I think, attracted people that wanted to interact but were very sensitive about space. And there was a certain "vibe" set by the staff.

I miss that place.
posted by vapidave at 4:24 AM on March 7, 2014 [4 favorites]

be as imaginative with your meat-free food as you can. Nothing (seriously, nothing!) makes up for a cafe which offers me only goats cheese and/or the soup option.
posted by AFII at 4:25 AM on March 7, 2014 [5 favorites]

Seconding "comfortable seating" and "couches". I've had a devil of a time trying to find a nearby coffee shop with couches and easy chairs, and when I want to go to a coffee shop with a book, that's the kind of chair I want.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:28 AM on March 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm not sure of what the expectations for a cafe/coffee shop/restaurant are in your locale (somewhere around Sydney, Australia I would assume) but I would want to be sure my design addressed all of them in some fashion. This applies not only to menu but also facilities and services. It sounds like a good traffic location with a combination of regular return customers and one-time tourists. Their needs may be substantially different. I would also try to resist any temptation to be "creative" and instead focus on cash flow and profitability. After that simply provide a good product with good service at a good price for every customer who walks through the door and you should be fine...
posted by jim in austin at 4:38 AM on March 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

- Tea that isn't awful and riddled with flavorings to cover up the substandard leaf, and most importantly, water that is at the right temperature to brew the different kinds of tea. If you try to give me green tea in water so hot it would boil your skin off, I'm liable to throw it on your face. I don't need my coffee shops to be tea shops in disguise, but if they offer tea I need them to be able to make it as it is intended.

- Baristas that are not snobs. This is harder than it would seem, I guess? There's a balance between someone who actually knows how to be a barista (how to barist?) and someone who doesn't make people feel bad for not knowing everything they know.

- A few different "spaces": One with tables big enough to play board games on, one with lots of comfy chairs and couches, one with expected cafe chairs and tables for lunch and laptops, one with height like a bar or lounge area for socializing and self-service items and standing room if there's live music. Preferably different rooms but this is workable in an open space with careful planning and decorating.

- Signature drinks with names that are fun but don't make me feel stupid when ordering them, that actually taste good. A monthly special so I'm going to check things out once every four weeks (or check your website) to see what the new weird thing is.

- Bathrooms that are private, gender neutral, and clean. A queer-friendly space in general. When you have gender issues to contend with, the choice of bathroom looms large. If this is a safe place for everybody then you don't need to be giving people a momentary crisis of self presentation when they need to pee.
posted by Mizu at 4:40 AM on March 7, 2014 [8 favorites]

Feeling comfortable to sit and stay there for a while.
- free wifi
- board games
- available power to charge a phone or computer
posted by Flood at 4:48 AM on March 7, 2014

Kindly ask patrons to limit their cellphone conversations. Hearing light conversation is one thing, but hearing a one-way phone conversation for 20 minutes will drive a lot of people mad.
posted by raztaj at 4:52 AM on March 7, 2014 [11 favorites]

Non-sweet, non-carb, VEGETARIAN options. The place I go has various egg & sandwich offerings, but they nearly all have meat in them (and are pre-made so I can't just have them leave it out).

Lots of outlets and/or power strips.

Fast wifi. And if it isn't working for some reason, please put up a little "sorry, no wifi today" sign, so I can plan accordingly. It's so annoying to wait in line for my drink, find a seat, unpack my laptop & work stuff, and THEN find out that I can't actually do anything and need to go somewhere else.

Games & books you can use while you're there.
posted by belladonna at 4:56 AM on March 7, 2014 [6 favorites]

If you're going to provide games or a space where people play games, please keep the games and players quiet, or segregated.

It's really annoying to be trying to read or have a quiet conversation or work while some table is hooting over whether someone made their saving throw.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 4:59 AM on March 7, 2014 [5 favorites]

But to be sure, the cell phone people are the worst--a much bigger problem them the game players.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 5:01 AM on March 7, 2014

Books and board games for sure.

My neighborhood coffee place had a weekly movie night that was fun and certainly got me to hang out there ordering food and beverages longer than I normally would. Of you want to pull in locals as well as tourists passing through, that might be fun. They also hosted a couple of book clubs, including a graphic novel group, which seemed well attended.
posted by Stacey at 5:08 AM on March 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

Nthing couches.

Also--make two separate lines for the morning rush (since you say it's right by a commuter train stop). One for the people that just want regular coffee and one for the people that want espresso drinks or other drinks that actually require making. There's nothing more frustrating than just wanting a damn black coffee and having to wait ten minutes because the two people ahead of you want some crazy concoction.
posted by greta simone at 5:10 AM on March 7, 2014 [17 favorites]

If I was a tourist and I came across your coffee shop in a town I wasn't familiar with, then you could make me come in by having some well designed displays giving me ideas about what I might do in your town - a kind of "coffee shop staff's underground secret local knowledge" thing.

Plus having local specialities on the menu and generally making a big thing out of being a local YOUR-TOWN shop and not a chain. You might even be able to sell me high-margin local speciality ingredients or decent tourist tat.

I want to be able to sit where I can see the tourist bus arriving at the stop and easily run out to catch it.

If I'm with you because I'm waiting for a train, then get the departures/arrivals info off the internet and put them where I can see them. Sell me food that will be easy to pick up and run if I need to leave half way through it.

Much though board games are lovely, if I'm coming through in a hurry on the way to a bus or train I don't want to have to wade through the possessions of folks who have moved in for the afternoon.
posted by emilyw at 5:13 AM on March 7, 2014 [10 favorites]

Offer the local tour companies to use your place as their meeting point. This will get you lots of folks by default.

Have an option for a strong brew and a lighter brew. I love my coffee to kick my ass, my best friend likes her light. She didn't step foot in a Starbucks for years because of this.

nthing the non/low carb options and gluten free options. If possible, have a grab and go section, so folks can get something for the train without having to wait for it to be prepared. Perhaps even a carafe or two of your house coffee that locals can pour into a travel cup, grab a muffin and pay quickly. Make it a pit stop, not a visit. Throw a newspaper into that if you like.

Big tables and comfy chairs for those who want to hang out.

If you're up for it, have one of your staff be the consierge of the coffee shop. A person dedicated to helping folks find great local places to eat, funky things to see and do that are off the beaten path as well as helping people with directions, train instructions, making change and generally being a place that is friendly and welcoming to tourists.

Have a happy hour early in the afternoon, say from 3:00 to 5:00, call it afternoon tea. Serve lovely teas and small, reviving snacks. Often, when you're on vacation, after you've finished the activity for the day, you don't necessarily want to go to the room, but you do want to rest and relax.

Ditto for later in the evening, post-dinner, pre-bedtime. Offer nice desserts (again, have a low carb and gluten free option) and evening coffees. The kind of thing you'd want to take a date to so you can really talk and get to know each other.

Good luck!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:17 AM on March 7, 2014 [3 favorites]

The business is in the middle of a thriving tourist main street near transport, with a local population that tends toward the artsy/hippy/progressive side of things.

I live in this kind of neighborhood and the locals really get overlooked. I like Stacey's ideas, and a community bulletin board would be nice, too. Maybe a card good for a free drink or discount once a month when you show your ID?

Give me a reason to come in and spend $5 instead of just making coffee at home and enjoying the same view from my roof.
posted by Room 641-A at 5:21 AM on March 7, 2014

Speaking of being nice to locals who are living in the midst of tourists:

I just saw an interesting way of determining locals by a tourist destination. They asked people to show their local library card to get the locals discount.
posted by sciencegeek at 5:26 AM on March 7, 2014 [13 favorites]

greta simone: Also--make two separate lines for the morning rush (since you say it's right by a commuter train stop). One for the people that just want regular coffee and one for the people that want espresso drinks or other drinks that actually require making. There's nothing more frustrating than just wanting a damn black coffee and having to wait ten minutes because the two people ahead of you want some crazy concoction.

I came in here to say exactly that. An Express Line for just coffee, nothing else, would make me so happy in the morning.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:26 AM on March 7, 2014 [9 favorites]

Make tea with fresh water from an exclusive source. Tea should not taste like coffee.

As mentioned previously, coffee and espresso are different things. In America, this is mostly lost knowledge.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 5:39 AM on March 7, 2014

Don't be a "scene" place.

The "hipster" coffee shop here in town is very popular among the college kids and business locals, but it's a complete turn off to tourists and people like me who actually care about service in addition to product.

The two coffee shops I go to are:

1. The bakery that is mostly a bread and pastry place that also serves coffee. I primarily go there for bread and treats. The staff are wonderful. It is busy, so they are quick paced but always attentive.

2. The newly opened coffee shop that serves crepes, salads, and sandwiches in addition to pastries that is owned by a young, hip without the "ster" woman who always makes it clear her utmost interest is that her customer is receiving the best of everything, no matter how large or small the order.

Both are very, very different in aesthetic, but both are warm and inviting. Music is played, but at a volume where I can hear any companions with me. The popular, hipster scene place has, "We're so cool, we're aloof," vibe and it's just so awful.

Also, have kid sized options for things like hot cider (you will have hot cider, right?) and hot chocolate. These should be quite a bit smaller than small. If a small is 12 oz, the kid sized should be 8, which is a really decent amount for kids. I really like that the bakery has that option.
posted by zizzle at 5:54 AM on March 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

hi, I'm mobility impaired and use a manual wheelchair. I'm also habitual cafe customer. Here's some things that sometimes cafes get wrong:

1) Stairs. Yeah, I can't do that.
2) Insufficient tables/ seating. Otherwise I sit there like an idiot until somebody feels guilty enough to leave so the handicapped chick has a place to sit. also, enough space between tables that my chair doesn't create barriers for others/ i'm unable to get through the tables to the one free one in the back
3) 'for here' cups that have the ability to slosh and burn. w/o a lid, I need to ask somebody to bring it to my table, which is a bummer. i mean i could get it to go, but I hate being all 'hey i can't carry a cup dudes'
4) accessible bathrooms

Don't know if you're covered by the ADA, but that would apply to some of these things.

Also, the one independent coffee shop in my hood is staffed by people who constantly talk about what's going on in their church to a degree it's off-putting, so don't do that?
posted by angrycat at 5:58 AM on March 7, 2014 [5 favorites]

Great coffee and skilled baristas, goes without saying, right?

Free wifi.

Staff choose what music gets played - always lends a certain warmth to a place.

Quality pastries, croissants etc. the absolute best you can lay your hands on, fresh everyday.

Open at night and serve a little booze and turn the space into a performance space for jazz, art, poetry. A community builds, your coffee shop outdoes itself. Smiles.
posted by 0bvious at 6:03 AM on March 7, 2014

Sweetleaf in Jackson Ave, Queens, NY has a (small) laptop room and I believe no outlets. This means that it has a turnover of people who come in for coffee and food, not people working there remotely all day on Sweetleaf's dime.

It also has a record room with a turntable and a few hundred records to choose from. And great food and sublime (Stumptown) coffee.

If you're intending to run a business, you'll make no money at all if you have people sitting there for hours using your heat, power and wifi and buying the cheapest drink that they eke out for hours while they work, taking space that paying customers could be using, You should aim for a 30-minute turnaround on each seated customer, with a polite encouragement for them to buy another drink once their cup is empty.
posted by essexjan at 6:04 AM on March 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

- Bathrooms that are private, gender neutral, and clean.

And have baby-changing facilities.
posted by ninebelow at 6:07 AM on March 7, 2014 [9 favorites]

I guess tourists will want both reliable, known options, as well as local flavors. Also make it "safe" for them to order: have big sign boards, clear pricing, clear processes ... A counter example is Subway, where you'll have to figure out how to order first, which will make you feel stupid in a queue.
posted by oxit at 6:10 AM on March 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

As a tourist, I'm normally looking for free wifi and a bathroom out of a cafe.

Fill my thermos with hot water (Starbucks policy wouldn't allow this, despite the fact that I was buying lunch). Small discount for using their own thermos.

Loyalty program is good. A free coffee with every 10 purchases or something like that.

I like the idea of using it as a tourist meeting point for tour groups. You might want to have a section for brochures for touristy thing to do in the area too.

I've put up with lousy coffee because the peanut butter cookies were delicious - get some good food.

Get on Twitter - and use it for promotion... "The next 3 people to come in and mention this tweet will get a free cookie with their drink purchase!" - I imagine that'd be a useful way to get rid of excess/older baked goods, too.
posted by backwards guitar at 6:29 AM on March 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

A coffee shop that I frequented at one time had great outdoor seating. I have fond memories sitting out at the end of the day while the sun was setting with friends.

Also, I think it depends on the building/location obviously, but I have always enjoyed restaurants with nice patios too. Our favorite restaurant, in a town we visit from time to time, has a fenced off patio with vines growing all over the fence. They have galvanized livestock troughs as planters full of flowers. They have a big rusted steel fire pit blazing in spring and fall when it starts to get cool in the evenings. Strings of white lights are draped all over the place.

So I guess I am saying I enjoy outdoor spaces. Greenery is a plus.
posted by ohjonboy at 6:32 AM on March 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

#1 the coffee MUST be good. Like Italian stand-up cafe good.

Vote against board games - you'll just get loud loafers, and wait times. At least, don't make it board-game centric.

What I am totally missing is that third space local coffee pub where the owners make an effort to get to know the patrons and make them feel welcome and it is physically arranged to be social.

A Liquor license would help :)

Yes loyalty program!

If you have a spare side room, use it for local book clubs or knitting clubs or...
posted by St. Peepsburg at 6:34 AM on March 7, 2014

If it is near a busy commuter station and tourist bus stop you have slightly conflicting interests, especially if you want to attract and retain local customers as well. Most commuters want quick service, often to go. Locals want somewhere nice to hang out with nicer food options and the tourists may well get in the way of both and will put up with a lot of things because they don't know where else to go.

So think about who's going to be around when and how you may be able to accommodate the various groups. Choosing two out of three of these groups may be the most workable solution because in my experience a lot of coffee shops can serve one or two of these groups well but not all three.

I can think of several coffee shops in the vincinity of busy commuter stations in London that can turn people round very quickly. But they are not nice places to hang out and read a book. Some tourists still try to hang out there because they don't know where else to go..I can also think of a coffee shop near Basel main station that regularly has really long queues which make me turn round and pass on the coffee because I'd miss my train. They do not manage to turn people round fast enough. But they have enough tourists and local people to make up for the commuters they lose.
posted by koahiatamadl at 6:34 AM on March 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

Limit the space-hogs, the people who'll claim a four-top for their free 'office' during your busy times.
posted by easily confused at 6:35 AM on March 7, 2014

I'd encourage encouraging laptop folks and campers to use long common tables (think: fancy college/law library) through the use of outlet placement, to save space for people who are there for face to face social time at tables. So irritating: you've come to a cafe to kick it old school circa 1995 and actually, you know, meet someone, or several, for coffee, but all the 2-tops and 4-tops are taken by lone laptoppers who are camped there all. day., and YOU end up at a long communal table again with no conversational privacy at all. (And couches and armchairs are great for people there to read recreationally--but make sure there's a place to put my coffee.)
posted by blue suede stockings at 6:48 AM on March 7, 2014 [12 favorites]

A few ideas, apologies if they've been reiterated above, and I'm just going to assume HAVE GREAT COFFEE is high on the list:

- A recycling bookshelf. Free to take, with a bin next to it for donating books you don't want anymore. Seed it with a couple hundred spent in really random ways at your local favourite used bookstore.

- Comfortable seating

- A series of 1- or 2-top tables with outlets conveniently placed for the use of laptops. No such outlets over in the more comfortable seating area. If you find solo laptop users are taking over the comfy area, have your baristas gently urge them by saying "We have tables over here which are set up for laptops, even have a nice little spot to plug in."

- Behind the counter, half a dozen of the most popular cellphone/tablet chargers. There's a coffeeshop here which has that setup upstairs in the second seating area, and it's brilliant

- Dedicated stroller, bicycle, and dog parking outside. Include bowls of water for the pups!

- I think a communal table is a fucking fantastic idea

- Community bulletin board

What kind of kitchen space/setup do you have? I usually find the food in cafes (especially pre-made wrapped in plastic) generally regrettable, but it really never ever has to be. Obviously you need some sweet carb-y things, but a nice variety of salads and veggies cooked in different ways could be really nice.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:03 AM on March 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm greatly amused by the Daily Specials board for the webcomic Questionable Content's cafe Coffee Of Doom. Here's a list of some of them. There's a second part to the list which is blocked here at work, sorry... google it. Some of the darker humor may not appeal to you, but it gives some fun ideas to get you started.

Moose Latte
Moose Mocha
(Picture of Moose)
posted by lizbunny at 7:05 AM on March 7, 2014

Oh! If it's possible, a small selection of booze to zazz up coffee would be a welcome thing on Sunday mornings, any any evening. Especially if it's a cold one.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:06 AM on March 7, 2014

If you have the space, a designated pram storage area so prams aren't taking up all of the room between tables.
posted by goo at 7:08 AM on March 7, 2014

There are plenty of neat looking coffee shops where I live, but the only ones that last more thana year or two? They actually brew good coffee. There's nothing worse than going to a beautiful space and gettig sub-par coffee.

Invest in a staff that can deliver good service, and have the desire to be professionals in coffee. Partner with a GOOD coffee roastery that will give you a good spread of benefits and services (training, equipment servicing, etc).

Your profile says you're in Sydney. You have access to some amazing coffee roasters out there who will help you make good coffee. If you'd like a short list of quality roasters, I know a few fairly well; memail me if you're interested.
posted by furnace.heart at 7:10 AM on March 7, 2014

Oh as for a name, please for the love of Bean don't go with any cutesy play on coffee. For me, if I ever get to open a diner or a cafe, it's going to be named Maggie's after my grandmother.

If you pick a name that is food-related, ensure that your menu reflects this. I work part time at a cafe named after a foodstuff--which appears in precisely three things on the (overly large but let's not go there) menu. It's a missed marketing opportunity.

Loyalty programs are good.

More initial expense but gives you some enviro cred: serve beverages in-house in glasses and mugs. For tea, get single-serving teapots so we can pour the milk in first please.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:13 AM on March 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

Have a coffee/drink menu that isn't too confusing to casual drinkers, while still satisfying the coffee geeks. I love supporting independent coffee shops, but I hate feeling like I have to pass a test in order to belong. I may not know a Chemex-brewed cup from the stuff at Dunkin' Donuts, but I have money and a sense of loyalty just like the people who do.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:16 AM on March 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

*You want to learn to make the BEST coffee.

*Seconding: have some low-carb options on the menu, but some high-end usual-carb ones as well. No cut-corner bakery, it'll bite you in the butt.

*Make a study about which background music is vibe-positive and not obnoxious when people want to converse/work. NO it's not a matter of taste, it's a matter of average frequencies and decibels.

* Make sure that no machines that produce a lot of racket are close to any customers. Noise Of The Shop is the No.1 least recognized total turn-off for all people who love sitting in coffee shops for more than a second and otherwise have healthy reflexes. Don't buy that first-generation Diesel grinder, for instance, or if you must, put it out in the shed.

* Instruct your staff to avoid banging and shouting.

* Then there's seating. Imagine customers to need a seat, a cup of coffee, a horizontal surface and an illusion of a tiny private space.
So, no balancing on a wobbly bar chair. No puppety tables. No too many too small tables in too tiny a space together with too many chairs. No lounge area with ridiculously low tables where reaching for your cup becomes something of a yoga exercise. Just some nice, clean, steady tables and seats in a variety of styles for people to choose between, and to relax in.

*Finally, coffee is a hipster thing, okay, but don't make it a class thing. Don't talk down to your customers because you're the coffee dude and they are depending on you.
posted by Namlit at 7:18 AM on March 7, 2014 [3 favorites]

A few of my favorite cafes and restaurants have rotating art exhibits from local artists, and the pieces are for sale. Tourists are often looking for local artisanal things for souvenirs.
posted by lizbunny at 7:19 AM on March 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

Keep the volume down on the music. I love this one tea/coffee place in my town, but the massively hipster baristas/servers only know one volume level for their obscure music, and it can be a real pain in the ass to try and have a conversation when some tinny indie band is blaring from bad speakers.

Also, if you like having people sit around doing stuff, make sure you have a space with good lighting. I used to go to a knitting group at the tea shop, and our biggest complaint was the lack of lighting. And considering we're talking around 10-15 people on what would be a slow Tuesday night, good lighting would have resulted in more purchases.
posted by Katemonkey at 7:28 AM on March 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you find solo laptop users are taking over the comfy area, have your baristas gently urge them by saying "We have tables over here which are set up for laptops, even have a nice little spot to plug in."

I am a laptop user (independent business) who spends much time and a small fortune in coffee shops. One comment like that and you lose my business. I want to work with my laptop in my lap in a comfy chair with a table next to it where I can put my (good) food and (great) coffee/tea. And I want to feel welcome, laptop or not.
posted by mkuhnell at 7:36 AM on March 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

Will you be roasting beans and/or selling coffee by the pound?

If so, having staff that is knowledgeable enough to recommend grinding and brewing options would be nice. As a novice coffee-maker, I like being able to walk in and say "hey, I've got a french press. What do you recommend?" is nice.

A coffee shop in my town goes to the farmer's market in the summer and sells their cold brew in single serving bottles with milk and sugar--sort of like a much better version of those starbucks bottled frappuccinos, I guess. Since this place is a coffee roaster in addition to shop, they were more than happy to tell me how to make my own at home and sell me a bag of beans.

Also with the farmer's market thing--there might be bakeries or other food vendors that sell things locals love, but who do not have a brick and mortar location, that you could team up with. If my local coffee shop started carrying the pastries and granola and other stuff I can only get at the farmer's market, I would be very excited!

I think a relatively low noise level is important, not keeping the music too loud, not having ten customers yapping on cell phones is great, but another thin that can help keep the noise level down is the way the space is set up and using sound-dampening materials throughout.
posted by inertia at 8:08 AM on March 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you had really good, dog-friendly seating outside, I would stop by your place on my long dog walk every single day that it was warm enough, and spend lots of money. Especially if someone would come outside and take my order, or if I could bring my dog inside long enough to place my order.

Nthing non-carb food options.

Also, please, black tea is made with boiling water and not from the espresso machine wand.

And I don't think this question was chatfiltery at all. It's a question with an answer. Look at all the answers.
posted by HotToddy at 8:11 AM on March 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think a place to CHARGE phone is very very welcome (and makes a difference to me re whether I'm going to come in and sit down) but cell phone conversation should be verboten. Nothing's worse. A nice sign like "you're welcome to charge your phone here, please take it outside for your chat" maybe? There's probably better wording, I'm sure someone will chime in.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:12 AM on March 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you're near a transport stop and you have access to real-time transport data, display that somewhere, so that commuters and tourists both know, OK, next bus/tram/train is coming in five minutes, I have time to grab a cup of coffee.
posted by mskyle at 8:38 AM on March 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm lucky enough to live in a place with several good coffeeshops (although I still mourn the loss of the one with the killer cupcakes). Here's what I like about the ones I frequent most:

Good coffee. I'm not a coffee purist, in fact I'm probably the despair of a coffee purist. But I can tell if my drink tastes good or not.
Comfortable furniture. Most of the places I go to have a mix of older furniture that they've scrounged from various places, but it's all sturdy and comfortable.
Location. It's within walking distance.
Good food. If they don't make it onsite, they get it from a local place. Two of the places I go to sell baked goods from the local co-op. One of them bakes their own food onsite and they have really good breakfast sandwiches. The place with the killer cupcakes used to serve soup, one of which was always vegetarian, and also panini sandwiches with a side salad. Very simple menu with only a few choices but it made it a good lunch place instead of just a coffee place.
Music that is usually played at a lower volume instead of being blasted.
Friendly staff.
Stable wi-fi.
A sense that they're a part of the neighborhood.
posted by PussKillian at 8:39 AM on March 7, 2014

Also sell beer, wine, cheese, and fresh baguettes.
posted by oceanjesse at 8:44 AM on March 7, 2014

Good sidewalk tables, as per Jan Gehl: soft transition between public and private space
posted by Tom-B at 8:48 AM on March 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

The above are all great suggestions for your business. Obviously, the quality of the products you offer is very important. Assuming you will have the badassinest coffee and foods, here are some more ideas:

- Before you get started, write down a mission statement or goal for your business. What niche do you want to fill? What level of customer service do you want to provide? What are your top priorities? Writing this down and keeping it in mind will help guide you when training employees and interacting with customers.

- First impressions matter. Before you open, make sure everything is clean and arranged, the staff is thoroughly trained, wobbly tables are fixed, all outlets work, et cetera. Spend the time and money getting a high quality logo, website, and signage for outside and inside the shop (no Comic Sans!!) for a respectable presentation.

- Short names are good. Does your town have a nickname like "City of Lakes" or something? Maybe you can pick a short, memorable name that ties in to that.

- Active and engaging online/social media presence. Glam Doll Donuts in my area does a great job. Photos, community involvement, and just the right amount of (short and snappy) updates. Tourists will see your reviews on Yelp! or Google when searching for your business hours, and locals will come in to try the newest drink special or treat you post.

- It's tough to strike a balance between tourists, locals, and commuters; vegans, tourist tastes, celiacs, and kids; laptoppers, solo readers, socializers, and gamers. One of the hardest and most important things to do as a business owner is listen. If you (as the owner) have good social skills, customers would love to meet you and talk your ear off. Sometimes it's good to let them. What are their favorite things? What do they gripe about? What are people saying on social media? Attention and responsiveness builds loyalty. You can't please everyone, but you can at least listen to them and respond.

- Partner with other local businesses when you can. Maybe a local book shop wants to sponsor the take-a-book-leave-a-book shelf? They stock it with their surplus/bargain bin books in exchange for sign space advertising their business.

Anecdata from working in and patronizing coffee shops:

- Ask baristas to keep their personal conversations quiet and behind the counter. Customers should be the #1 priority while they are working.

- Pay your baristas enough that they don't get surly at customers who don't tip (maybe this is just an American thing?). Raises based on performance reviews, non-monetary 'bonuses' for great service, et cetera are good ways to keep employees happy. The raise schedule/payment structure should be clearly communicated in advance.

- You want customers and employees to feel engaged and care about your business. Ask them for food/beverage special suggestions, because you KNOW the baristas are experimenting in their downtime...

- A signature drink is a great idea, as mentioned above. I still remember the Ouky Douky I had in Prague-- some sort of latte with honey. A local coffee shop here serves a lavender latte with sweetened condensed milk. Sooo goooood!

- I love places where the chairs and cups and plates don't match, but are obviously clean and of good quality. Depending on the vibe you're going for, hitting up thrift shops for oddball mugs/cups/plates may be cool. Just make sure they are a similar size.

- Wood floors, exposed brick, wooden chairs and tables, soft but adequate lighting, a variety of seating options (chairs with small tables, big tables, armchairs, couches), wall outlets, food and drinks (varied but not overwhelming), cleanliness, and good music are my favorite coffee shop features.

- Your employees will LOVE being able to play their own music, but set some guidelines in advance so you have a basis to say "hey Jo no more Manowar at 8 am please." Have a stack of approved CDs on hand so staff can throw them in the player when it's busy instead of dinking around on their iPod.

What an exciting opportunity! Best of luck with this!!
posted by stompadour at 9:04 AM on March 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

There are two things I think are important in a coffee shop. You don't necessarily need both of these things, but you have to have at least one.

1. Plenty of space to work, including electrical outlets.

2. A customer workflow that moves quickly. This is especially important if the shop is small and most people are just stopping in for coffee to go during the morning rush. There was a coffee shop in my old neighborhood I wanted to see succeed, but they offered too many things for the baristas to be able to handle quickly. So I'd be waiting in a line that went out the door, while people ordered super elaborate flavored drinks, bagel sandwiches to order, and fresh squeezed OJ, despite the fact that there was one barista in the whole tiny shop trying to make white chocolate mint lattes, toast bagels, squeeze oranges, and ring up customers. I stopped going there. If you have a tiny shop with minimal staff, just concentrate on coffee. I'd have been willing to wait in a larger shop where my MO was to get coffee to stay and read the paper or work on some writing, but it was the kind of place where you really only go there to get a caffeine fix.

And, yes, also the coffee should be good, you should offer interesting things to eat (if you have the resources for it, per above), you should offer a nice atmosphere, etc.

But the most important thing, second only to good coffee, is to either welcome me in for the long term with lots of space, or concentrate on getting me in, out, and caffeinated as efficiently as possible.
posted by Sara C. at 9:09 AM on March 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

This is is my favorite cafe in all the world. Largely because of the decor- that distressed look, pictures of people from the early-mid 20th century, old books, old postcards. It also has great food and a selection of moderately nice beer. It was like stepping into an alternate universe, in a good way.
posted by Enchanting Grasshopper at 9:19 AM on March 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't drink coffee or tea but I do get thirsty. Recently my local grocery store installed a self-service fresh-squeezed OJ station with the quietest juicer I've ever seen, like it's entirely mechanical, and the juice is phenomenal. My kids and I look forward to it every time we go now.

So, I vote for fresh fresh-squeezed OJ.
posted by Dragonness at 9:23 AM on March 7, 2014

If you're near a transport stop and you have access to real-time transport data, display that somewhere, so that commuters and tourists both know, OK, next bus/tram/train is coming in five minutes, I have time to grab a cup of coffee.

This is absolute genius. Do this thing.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:32 AM on March 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

Have a commuter counter or window whree people can basically serve themselves coffee, throw the money at you and run.

Have non sugar based foods. American coffee shops are terrible at this. So bad. There are roughly 700 coffee shops within a mile of my house They all have decent coffee and which one I go to is solely determined by the food. Only a couple of them have non sugar, non cold bagel with package of Philly cheese food. And one of those closed. I would kill for a place that has feta and spinach pastries.
posted by fshgrl at 11:05 AM on March 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

Here's what makes a coffeehouse awesome for me:
- Really good coffee (duh)
- Some nice teas or other choices
- Easy to use wifi
- A variety of seating options
- Pastries that are really good quality, not generic, and very fresh
- Savory/high-proten food options, preferably hot (even if that's just toasted sandwiches)

Seriously, the last two distinguish whether I go somewhere regularly or whether I drop by once in a while. I would think that in a tourist spot, people will often be hungry at odd hours and would also appreciate this.

My favorite local place is Steeltown Coffee. It's in the middle of nowhere but they have great special drinks like a giant marshmallow hot chocolate (homemade marshmallow, IIRC) and the Honey Badger Latte (the owner's surname is actually Badger!). OH AND they have simple syrup to put in iced drinks. I first saw this in Asia and have only seen it in a few non-Asian-style US cafes. It's such a big duh! (I also really appreciate the option of not using packets for sugar, and the fact that they only offer unprocessed sugar.)
posted by wintersweet at 11:22 AM on March 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

Wow, I seriously fantasize about living in a fantasy city with tons of ideal coffee shops. I live in Chicago and not one of them comes close to what I think a coffee shop can be.

First of all there would be comfy couches and armchairs, but also the regular chairs that are at tables would be much more comfy than the standard hard horrible chairs. Maybe even seat cushions. There would be no glass or steel anywhere. Hard elements are not cozy and make things feel cold. Most importantly the music would be much quieter than it usually is in a coffee shop, and it would only play acoustic or folksy coffee shop music (actually I don't know a single coffee shop that plays "coffee shop music", they all play music COMPLETELY inappropriate to studying, reading, or cozy conversations. Music that is jarring, loud, and distracting. )

If you live in a cold city, make sure that it's properly insulated, and there are thick curtains by any tables by the windows. There's nothing worse than to settle in for a few hours work only to find it's too cold. Conversely, don't over air condition in the summer as most American establishments seem to. Then you have to make sure you carry around a thick cardigan with you even in the summer, which is a pain.

The layout of the space is extremely important. I've seen so many places that didn't design the layout well, and it really takes away from a potentially good atmosphere. For example, if it is just a big block of space, just one big room, bring in design elements (different colors of paint, furniture, shelves, etc to make space within space, so it doesn't seem so careless or ugly).

Also, books in a coffee shop is always a nice element. Have a book case or two over flowing with books (donations, swaps, whatever). They don't have to be good books but just their presence gives a good vibe.

Also, serve tea in big cups, but not those big bowl mugs with huge openings at the top. They look nice, but the tea cools down WAY too fast.

Offer really good croissants, and smaller treats too (butter cookies, madelines, small chocolates, anything that's only a couple of bites, sometimes that's all you want).

Oh, and use lots of mis-matched lamps that offer warm lighting. Don't use fluorescents, and don't use ugly overhead lighting. Also, lots of textiles offer an atmosphere of warmth. Very important if you live in a cold place.

Have a big unscented candle at each table.
posted by Blitz at 11:47 AM on March 7, 2014

Non-sweet iced tea and caffeine free iced "tea" (herbal teas, barley tea)! For iced tea in general, it's cheap and easy to prepare a big pitcher or two of fresh brewed teas (no powdered or "liquid concentrate" gunk) and have them on hand. Hell, even preparing per order is do-able. I've been in cafes that make iced tea to order - the customer can order any tea and have it prepared hot or iced.

A lot of times though there isn't a caffeine free alternative. Decaf doesn't cut it. There are lots of good herbal tea blends which can satisfy the tea-tooth and taste quite yummy chilled. Alternatively (or additionally) BARLEY TEA! Iced barley tea is great and cheap. Very popular in Japan during the warmer months. That's where I discovered it.

I love true tea but sometimes I want something without caffeine AND that's not sweetened.
posted by moxiequz at 11:51 AM on March 7, 2014

A pitcher of cold water with cups, just sitting out. I often go to a coffeeshop just for a snack, not a drink, and it's nice to have a bit of water to wash it down without having to ask the person at the counter.

In the summer, offer interesting cold drinks -- iced tea coffee, but also interesting homemade juices and sodas and so forth. On a really hot day of walking around the city, I'll go a mile out of my way for something like that.

It's really important to have a space near the counter where people can wait for their stuff without being enormously in the way of the next people trying to order.

Have specials, and have a Twitter account, and update the Twitter account with the specials. It keeps people thinking about you!

Oh, and this is kind of a basic thing, but: make sure the chairs aren't too high. I'm 5'4, which is not that short, but I occasionally sit down in a chair in a cafe and realize that I can't quiiiiiite put my feet flat on the floor. This is a pain in the neck and not conducive to return visits.
posted by ostro at 11:58 AM on March 7, 2014 [3 favorites]

Please indulge and get yourself a professional graphic designer to make you a good logo, nice menus, and clear advertisements. It seriously makes a difference subconsciously. On that same note, good lighting (not too dark, not too bright) is glorious.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 11:59 AM on March 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

-direct trade coffee
-soups, salads, paninis
-wifi & outlets
-discounted refills
-consistently welcoming baristas
-a sign inviting cell phone conversations to go outside
-board games and a kids corner
-bookshelf lending library
-sufficient bike parking
-dog parking and free or cheap dog biscuits
-since you're near the train station, put out a sandwich board offering FREE MAPS TO THE CITY INSIDE and inside have a few souvenirs available from a local artisan on commission

In no particular order.
posted by aniola at 12:00 PM on March 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh, I see you're in Australia. I don't know if coffee shops already serve it there (I was exposed to this in London), but serve Orzo, the delicious Italian roasted barley drink.

Here is a link to the ask meta where I learned the name of it.

Seconding not having chairs too high, I'm 5 foot 5, exactly average for a woman and even I encounter chairs that are too high regularly. It's a pain.
posted by Blitz at 12:05 PM on March 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

In my part of the world, there are a million places that have outstanding coffee. What makes me pick one over another is the service. Politeness is nearly a lost art. Hire people who will say "thank you". Hire people who, when there is a problem, are willing to say "I'm sorry" and try to fix things. I don't require groveling - just be civil. It's easy and it will make your business stand out.

I was raised to be very polite. Out of habit (and because I do appreciate the wonderful espresso I was just given), I'll say "thank you". I get very grumpy when the person behind the counter responds with "uh huh" or "yep". They are supposed to be thanking me for my business.
posted by Beti at 12:16 PM on March 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

Diversity of seating. Rather than shuffling the laptop crowd over to long tables, which are often taken by groups and have large seating gaps because people sprawl and don't want to sit elbow to elbow... how about a few big tables, lots of small 1-tops, and then a handful of 2&4-tops? Plus a couch and loafer or two. Also chairs should be adjustable height, or come in a variety to mix and match.

N-thing outlets, power strips, phone chargers, free water, open highspeed wi-fi (as fast as you can get), open bathrooms, lending bookshelf, board games, magazines, local papers, bulletin for local news, plants, good lighting (!!!).

I've seen cafes do very successful no-wifi days on Sunday.

Don't dilute your menu with a million options. Skip sugary soda, juices, smoothies, complicated hot sandwiches, soups. Offer salads. Offer coconut water. Go for satisfying & well-curated... cheap snacks, affordable plates. Non-carb and gluten-free items for $1-3: raw fruit, raw or steamed veggies (a plate of edamame, or steamed green beans with almonds and tahini would be fantastic), olives, nut mixes, thin nut crackers. Make your own hummus and dressings.

For coffee: classics. Let customers control milks & sugars, but don't put it on the menu.

Coffee shops rarely prepare tea well. Learn to steep and know your varietals. If you do bags, let the customer control the soak. Make sure the cups are easily carried back to the table, don't slosh or rattle on their plates, and won't spill on laptops. Choose: black, green, white, oolong, pu-erh, herbal, barley.

Late nights! Such a dearth of non-bar options. If you host music shows, art events, etc make sure that patrons who aren't interested still have a corner to tuck away in.

I prefer baristas who are chatty & personable, can talk about the neighborhood, and be real people while still getting the job done. "Stiff" or "no personal chit-chat allowed" = bored, micro-managed, underpaid, fake. If you want loyal staff you should give them a voice in the business and take their suggestions seriously... and give them leeway to rebuff rude customers in a kind and clever manner! You have the right to pick your clientele. Empowered employees are assertive ones.
posted by fritillary at 12:37 PM on March 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

As someone who answered this from a "local" perspective let me add that I realize you probably can't be all things to all people; despite the multitude of coffee places within walking distance of my place, it's clear the owners think that catering to tourists is the best business plan. My neighborhood is touristy 24/7 so there isn't really a way to be Tourist By Day, Local By Night! or anything, which is why I suggested something more passive like a discount.

I go to a local roaster a few times a month to get coffee, and they know me now. If you buy 1/2 lb of coffee you get a free cup of coffee and you know what would be freaking awesome? If one day someone whispered, "Psst? What some real cream? I've got some in the back." I know cream is too expensive to keep out so Seekrit Kreem would really cool.
posted by Room 641-A at 1:38 PM on March 7, 2014

As an American who's traveled a bit and now lives in Sydney, and you being near a tourist area/bus stop I'll add this:

Explain what your drinks are on the menu and/or have a picture menu. The Starbucks in the QVB does this, and there are drinks I'll only order there because I'm sure of what I'm getting. I've not seen a Flat White outside of Australia. Iced coffee is cold drip coffee with ice in it - NOT the dessert concoction with ice cream and whipped cream (I was mortified). Macchiatos and Americanos are different too. Once I ordered an affogato (espresso over a scoop of ice cream) and was served some sort of milk-shake thingy (??). Milk shakes in the US are ice cream based, not flavoured milk. etc. Not that any of these Australian versions aren't good - but it's nice to know what I'm getting. I still make mistakes occasionally, and I've lived here for years. Tourists want very much to not embarrass themselves. If something comes with whip cream, say so.

For the love of god, offer decent drip coffee (and hopefully, ahem, chilled drip coffee). Those plastic filter holders that sit on top of the mug for a few minutes work fine. Drip coffee is standard all over the US, Canada, Japan, etc. I miss it. Offer DIY milk, sugar, and simple syrup. Espresso-milk drinks (flat whites, lattes, etc) all have too much milk - being able to order drip coffee, a long black, or something and add a tablespoon of milk only would be heaven. If you do end up offering drip coffee, memail me and I will make special trips to visit you. Seriously.

I will nth what everyone's saying about GOOD baked goods and small savoury things (quiches, muffins, etc). Starbucks in the US offers snack boxes - offer snack plates - cheese, crackers, fruit, nut butter, a hard boiled egg, hummus etc..

Just offer take-away or table service. Soooo many people should not being carrying hot cups of liquid around your restaurant: folks with wheelchairs, who have arthritis/tendonitis/a stroke, who have a small child clinging to their leg, etc. Have table numbers - soooo much easier. It makes it clear that you queue, order, pay and then get out of the way (sit). Have somewhere for the people getting take-away to wait that's designated and out of the way.

My dream, that I've never seen anywhere? I small selection of very nice chocolates, so I can have one with my coffee (a sweet but not bread-based thing). Not a freebie - I'm happy to pay for a nice dark chocolate raspberry truffle or something.

Offer Vietnamese iced coffee. Really good espresso with condensed milk and ice = YUM.
posted by jrobin276 at 2:29 PM on March 7, 2014

I used to work in a coffee kiosk in a hospital lobby that was run by a local coffee shop. Because of the area, we had a lot of first-time customers who didn't know much about coffee. They didn't know if they wanted a "latte" or a "cappuccino," for example. What would have been really helpful would have been laminated (clean) placards with basic explanations of our drinks. There are always people who find spoken explanations of the drinks confusing and end up ordering something they don't like.

I also worked at the local coffee shop's main location, and what that taught me is that what you focus on really should depend on your clientele. In the hospital, people wanted a snack and a quick cup of coffee to take with them. At the main location, there were certainly take-away customers, but many people also came for a comfortable place to hang out for a while. We offered bottomless mugs. Space wasn't too huge a problem - the location was big enough that we only ran out of tables during the busiest hours, in which case we would gently usher out people who hadn't ordered in a while.

You should prioritize quality and consistency and avoid shortcuts like fake whipped cream. You should spend the time necessary to train staff, and make it expected that experienced staff can correct problems and give guidance (in a supportive way). Consistency is so easy to slip on.

If it's a tourist area, you should expect customers to ask your staff questions unrelated to the coffee. It would be helpful if your staff had some resources, like a drawer with pamphlets from the local Chamber of Commerce or equivalent with area maps, tourist pamphlet, etc.

I'm guessing you will get a mix of people who want to get a coffee and snack to go, and people who have been walking around a while and want to rest, and some locals. If this is the case, the best way to please everybody is really to have fast, quality coffee with a well-thought-out layout so it's easy for people to both do take-away and to sit down. Give the sit-down space a layout that accomodates people in larger groups AND people who want to sit by themselves. Don't expect that people will be comfortable sitting down right next to a stranger.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 3:03 PM on March 7, 2014

There was a recent reddit thread where a woman's family bakery shop was struggling and people gave advice. She took a lot of it (written into the descriptions on her photos) and it seems to have helped.
posted by jamesonandwater at 5:06 PM on March 7, 2014

As much as your local laws allow, make a small gesture of comfort towards any smokers who want to indulge while drinking your delicious brew such as a small patch at the back of the cafe where smokers can sit and sip without disturbing others. I know we are pariahs and it is fair that we don't infect others' airspace, but a cafe that understands the nexus between caffeine and nicotine is a fave in my books.
posted by Kerasia at 5:31 PM on March 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

My favourite ever cafe had
(a) a huge variety of couches and beds(!) to lounge around on
(b) just about every games console ever made, including Wiis, for customers to play with
(c) kittens! (Three kittens, in a sort of baby-gated area with boxes to hide in when they wanted to get away from people, and harnesses that they were trained to be comfortable in so they could come out and cuddle with customers. You weren't allowed to disturb them if they were sleeping or hiding, but if they weren't you could go into the area and pet them, or take them out on a harness.)
(d) great food at a cheap price.

But it was closed down for health violations (I think the cats had something to do with that), so check your regulations first!
posted by lollusc at 6:12 PM on March 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

To me, what separates a decent coffee shop and a great coffee shop is the quality of the milk. Get good milk, or make it an option. Great coffee inside mediocre milk makes a mediocre drink.

Also, be sure to have good quality loose-leaf tea!
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 7:13 PM on March 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

So many great responses already, but just to add one more: if you know of a crossword constructor in the neighborhood, ask if s/he would contract to create a weekly crossword for the cafe. It doesn't have to be totally cafe-themed, but you know, leeway for local references. Release it Monday morning. This could be taken away by commuters who come in for their morning drip and done on the bus, and at the shop midday by people who just want to relax and have a nice drink.

[Or whatever the Australian equivalent is.]
posted by batter_my_heart at 9:33 PM on March 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

Flat whites.

They're all over the place in London (and obviously Oz/NZ)but very very very hard to find in North America, I think.
They are delicious and addictive.

It is NOT the same as a cortado.

The best cafe I've been in was in Toronto (I forget the name) had a huge massive big square table that like 16 people could sit around . there was something peaceful and comforting about that.
posted by Bwithh at 9:26 PM on March 8, 2014

Oops, don't pay attention to my previous comment. You're in Sydney. You know all about flat whites.
Come and open the cafe in the US. we need them.
posted by Bwithh at 9:27 PM on March 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

A million times on the gluten-free options. Also, savory options as well. If there were savory gluten-free options I would stay at that coffee shop all day and purchase something every hour, I promise you.
posted by iamkimiam at 9:22 AM on March 9, 2014

- Bathrooms that are private, gender neutral, and clean.

And have baby-changing facilities.

I just saw this question, and came here to say exactly this. I was a stay-at-home-dad for four months, and my daily routine centered around a circuit of town that made sure I was always within a five-minute walk of one of the three (out of DOZENS) places that had a changing table in the men's room. It might sound silly to emphasize something like this, but the one coffee shop near me with a changing table in it made hundreds of dollars from me because it was the only place for half a mile where I could change a baby without causing a public ruckus.
posted by Mayor West at 5:30 AM on March 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Thanks for all the great input. I'll post a follow up if we can go ahead.
posted by bystander at 1:06 AM on March 11, 2014

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