For years, coffee shops have been the places where people meet to chat, drink coffee, work, read, and socialise. However, the coronavirus pandemic saw many cafés close their doors, with just a handful now starting to reopen.
Reopening your coffee shop under such circumstances, however, is easier said than done. There are a number of new rules and regulations, all of which cost time and money to adhere to. Changes, however, also mean new opportunities for those who are willing to innovate.
Maria Beck, Owner at Hagen Coffee Roasters, and Gemma Kiernan, Head of Marketing at Marco Beverage Systems, spoke with me to discuss some of the challenges and opportunities that cafés and coffee shops face.
Between government restrictions and recommended physical or social distancing measures in public places, coffee shops have had to cope with a lot of changes in recent weeks. Many have had to adapt their business models or downsize accordingly.
The Challenges For Coffee Shops
Gemma says that one of the main challenges has been a drop in sales. While closures during lockdown meant that sales completely dropped off, reopening has not been a complete return to normal, with many coffee shops facing capacity limits. Some have still not returned to offering in-café seating.
Fewer sales mean lower income for cafés, despite the fact that most will still have overhead costs to consider. Maria explains that at the minute, it is about survival, not profitability: “For now, we just want to support jobs as much as we can and pay our bills.”
At the same time, there are now extra costs for café owners. Many have had to invest in masks for staff, hand sanitiser for customers, and a higher quantity of cleaning supplies. Gemma explains that despite the additional cost, this is important. If customers and staff do not feel safe, they will not feel comfortable in your coffee shop.
“The pandemic has been a hugely difficult time for people in many ways,” Gemma says. “Staff and customers may be anxious about returning to coffee shops, and coffee shop owners must consider this as they manage their business.”
From an operational perspective, owners and managers also need to consider new schedules and rotas. Maria explains that, in many cases, cafés can’t bring all of their employees back. Beyond that, the staff that do come back will have to be trained to run work in a Covid-safe workplace, and follow new guidelines to protect themselves and customers.
Social Distancing Measures
“Most coffee shop owners and consumers we have spoken to see social distancing as necessary, but it can present some difficulties for coffee shop owners. This is namely around service flow, staff rotas, and seating,” Gemma explains.
“For a small cafe, it might mean long queues and slower service, while for a larger, busier cafe it might mean they can’t have as many baristas behind the bar as they might need.”
Maria points out that this also affects customer engagement. With customers waiting in a queue or limited to a certain number of people inside, baristas will not have the same opportunity to explain different beverages and products to customers. Wearing masks can also make conversation more difficult, which slows down the ordering process and frustrates the customer experience.
Operational Changes In Coffee Shops
Many coffee businesses have adapted in order to survive the pandemic. Gemma says: “In addition to the standard hygiene procedures like routine hand-washing, visual hand-sanitisers, and masks, some coffee shops have introduced service ‘hacks’. These include takeaway hatches, click and collect service, one-way systems, and limited menus.” Gemma explains.
According to the Square x SCA Coffee Report, coffee businesses are increasingly turning to delivery and pickup. They are also avoiding cash transactions across the board – as health and hygiene have arguably never been more important, both consumers and business owners are moving away from paper currency.
Maria also explains that they have had to change how they source certain disposable items, such as gloves and paper bags. Demand skyrocketed in the early days of the pandemic, but finding a reliable supply has continued to be tough. “We have had to source some of these in a different way. It’s much more expensive, but you have to have them,” she says.
How Can You Safely Reopen Your Café?
Make Your Staff Comfortable
“Everyone behind the bar and anyone else working on staff should feel safe,” Maria says. She recommends having a meeting with all employees to go over the new procedures and protocols. By communicating the new rules clearly, and making sure that they understand such procedures, they will feel a lot more comfortable.
“I can’t force any of my employees to come to work unless they feel safe,” Maria continues. “So step one will be to undertake good training and have a meeting.”
Employees need to be educated about how Covid-19 is transmitted, what the symptoms are, and how they can respond. They should also be provided with the appropriate personal protective equipment, including masks and gloves, as well as hand sanitiser, disinfectant, and other cleaning supplies. “You have to make sure that you protect your employees,” Maria says.
You should also make sure that you have procedures in place in the event that a team member develops symptoms or feels unwell.
Setting Up Your Procedures
Government regulations differ from country to country, and even from city to city in some places. When operating a coffee shop, it’s your responsibility to make sure everyone knows what the rules are. In Seattle, for example, Maria explains that it is mandatory for everyone to wear masks in public.
Premises should also have sanitiser dispensers fitted, ideally contactless ones, especially in areas with high foot traffic, such as the entrance. Aside from these, Gemma explains that installing plexiglass counter shields, floor decals, and maintaining social distancing are good practices too.
All utensils, equipment, surfaces, food preparation and services areas, and restrooms, should be regularly cleaned and sanitised. Maria recommends that managers create lists for employees, to make sure that everything is correctly and regularly cleaned.
“We’ve also seen coffee shops introducing new ordering systems to keep their service flow more streamlined. Some have even set up alarms to remind staff to sanitise their hands and systems, as well as simplifying their food and drink menus,” adds Gemma.
Innovative solutions such as Marco’s new hands-free tap adapters for boilers and the hands-free FRIIA dispensing system can improve service. As the equipment is hands-free, baristas don’t need to wipe it clean after each use, letting them focus on other tasks. Plus, Gemma says the equipment also “gives staff and customers a visual indication that the coffee shop is being proactive about hygiene and safety”.
The Marco Ecoboiler range also comes equipped with push-button dispensers, meaning that baristas can operate the system with their arm or a cup. This way, it eliminates the button as a potential touchpoint. All of these new Marco products prioritise hygiene, as they’re made from easily cleanable stainless steel.
Educate The Customer
Finally, it’s important to make sure your customers are informed about the measures you’re implementing. Where possible, you should encourage them to follow social distancing measures and use masks.
You may want to provide customers with contactless payment options, if these are available. Not only will this reduce the amount of time that each customer waits, it requires less physical contact from both customers and cashiers.
Removing or limiting high-touch areas, such as condiment bars, is also a worthwhile measure. Some cafés have also limited their seat numbers and removed or rearranged tables to assist customers in adhering to social distancing guidelines. Where possible, other establishments are only hosting seated customers on patio areas or terraces.
“There’s no doubt that coffee shop owners are in survival mode, but many have found ways to adapt their business model and explore new channels and opportunities,” says Gemma.
New products are one example of this innovation. Maria tells us that at her roastery, she and her team started bottling lattes in jugs, allowing customers to enjoy them at home. Alongside this, they also started supplying other grocery items, including non-dairy milk, baked goods, house sauces, to be packed and taken home by clients.
Homebrewing has also increased. “We sell many more brewing methods now than we did before,” Maria says. This has also paved the way for coffee shops to explore new ecommerce channels and delivery methods as more people stay at home and order online.
Maria points out that they have in fact seen an increase in online sales. And according to
Square x SCA Coffee Report cafés have reported a 340% increase in delivery sales. Similarly, the report shows a staggering 5,380% increase in combined sales from curbside and/or pick up orders, proving that low-contact and touchfree sales channels have increased significantly in popularity.
No two coffee businesses are the same. How each business adapts will be different; methods that work for one coffee shop may not work for another. It’s important to be adaptable and flexible, but also to plan ahead so you can successfully reopen your doors and serve your customers.
While the future remains uncertain, by keeping safe and implementing hygiene control procedures, you can open your shop responsibly. This will mean that everyone, from staff to customers, can continue to be safe and caffeinated.
Writer: Gisselle Guerra