March 25, 2021

How can coffee shops draw customers back after Covid-19?

For more than a year, Covid-19 has disrupted the way in which businesses around the world operate. Coffee shops are no exception. Many remain closed; others have reopened with significant operational limitations.

Consumers are still drinking coffee, however. A surge in at-home coffee consumption through 2020 has partially covered the drop in OOH consumption. Customers are still getting their caffeine fix, whether they’re brewing at home or grabbing takeaway coffee from their local café.

Thankfully, while the pandemic isn’t over yet, the end is in sight. As of March 2021, more than 475 million vaccination doses have been administered around the world.

For coffee shop owners, this means it’s time to answer some key questions. What will the post-pandemic coffee market look like? Is the trend of at-home brewing and takeaway orders here to stay? And how can they draw customers back once restrictions are lifted? To answer these questions and more, I spoke with a number of stakeholders in the UK coffee sector. Read on to discover what they had to say. 

You might also like our article on keeping your coffee shop clean and safe.

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How has Covid-19 affected coffee shops?

When the Covid-19 pandemic took hold around the world in early 2020, many countries around the world announced limitations for non-essential businesses. The hospitality sector was one of the first affected.

With restrictions in place, many customers were unable to visit local cafés in the same capacity. A survey by World Coffee Portal claims that 92% of coffee shop operators in the UK had to temporarily close at some point in 2020.

When open, many were also forced to adapt in new or unexpected ways: 70% switched to takeaway, 67% limited their trading hours, and 57% reduced their menus. 

For many in the coffee sector, this meant a drop in footfall and consequently in sales. According to Project Café UK 2021, the British coffee shop market segment suffered a 40% fall in overall sales. This consequently led to a net total of 182 permanent coffee shop closures in the country throughout the year. 

Covid-19

With widespread café closures, consumers instead sought to recreate the café experience at home. But within this surge in at-home consumption, what are consumers focusing on?

Fletcher Bowly is the Head of Sales at Caravan Coffee Roasters in London. He says that people are generally more interested in home brewing, and are experimenting with different coffees in the absence of the coffee shop. 

“We’ve definitely seen an increase in sales of our filter coffees, and in our single origins and blends,” Fletcher says. “However, we’ve also noticed a lot more sales of whole bean, rather than pre-ground coffee.”

This has also been represented in an online sales upturn. While some coffee shops might view the rise in home brewing as a potential threat, others have adapted to open ecommerce stores and meet demand.

“Online more than doubled almost overnight,” Fletcher says. “We were up about 500% within the first couple of weeks.”

Josh Clarke is the Director of Coffee at Clifton Coffee Roasters in Bristol. He agrees that there has been a huge shift towards online sales.

“We’ve [also] seen that transition where they’ve purchased equipment,” Josh tells me. “First of all, we saw that people were buying brewers like the V60, Chemex, or the Clever Dripper. Then the next wave was people buying grinders.”

However, Josh also says that there has been a shift over time in the coffees people have been buying. He says that at first, customers were experimenting with more traditional, classic flavour profiles. 

“However, slowly we saw them drink coffees that are processed slightly differently,” he tells me. “They started ordering coffees that had more exciting or diverse tasting notes.”

Attracting customers back into the coffee shop after Covid-19

As we start to recover from the pandemic and non-essential businesses begin to reopen, coffee shops will be preparing for something resembling a return to normalcy.

But when the hospitality sector does open back up, there will be one key question for coffee shop owners to answer: how can you bring more customers through the door and recover to normal sales levels?

Be ready, be open, and spread the word

It might seem like a simple point, but being prepared for customers is a very good start. Alongside that, you can make yourself visible on social media and talk about the fact that you will be reopening on a certain day, for instance.

Myles Shapcott is the Head of Wholesale at Origin Coffee Roasters. He says that everyone is currently in “survival mode”, and that the key is to “remain open and survive”.

Ollie Sears is the Wholesale Manager at North Star Coffee Roasters in Leeds, England. Like Myles, he thinks it’s crucial to stay open, but notes that coffee shops should also maintain a positive attitude at these times. 

He adds that it’s the businesses that haven’t given up are those that have adapted to operate in some capacity throughout the pandemic.

“We have seen fewer locations opening for wholesale trade,” Ollie notes. “However, the shops we do have open have been doing tremendously well with takeaway coffee sales and retail bag sales.” 

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Plan ahead

Time is valuable. Planning ahead rather than waiting for your business to reopen will help you prepare for new and returning customers alike.

Myles says that he hopes that hospitality businesses are taking this time to reflect on what they’re good at, and recognising what else they can bring to their customers. 

“I think by evolving, coffee shop owners can improve their business,” he says. “In turn, they can become more sustainable and be around for longer. Their customers are going to love them for it.”

Fletcher echoes Myles’ comments. “Now is the time to really start planning, thinking, and doing everything you can to make sure you’re ready to open,” he says. 

This could take shape in a number of ways. It might mean working on new menu items, hiring and training staff, or adapting your opening hours, for instance. The measures you take will be unique to your area and your coffee shop. The important thing is that you’re prepared.

“You don’t know how many people are going to be coming through the door,” Fletcher says. “My biggest tip is just to use the time you have now. 

“Get as much planning and organising done as possible. Don’t be afraid to plan further ahead.”

Provide a quality experience

Visiting a café is about the experience as much as it is the coffee. This experience starts the moment you enter and doesn’t stop until you leave. As such, coffee shop owners should do everything they can to make sure their café appeals to each and every customer.

“It’s just having that ability to walk in and know that you’re going to get a good experience,” Josh says. “This might [mean] a great coffee that’s well-extracted, has good latte art, or better consistency…”

One great way to focus on providing a quality experience is by using equipment like the SP9 Precision Brewer by Marco Beverage Systems.

The SP9 is a single-serve, automated brewer which provides by-the-cup coffee. It allows the barista to spend less time preparing consistent filter coffees, and more time focusing on the customer.

Customer service is likely to be especially important once coffee shops reopen, and will help cafés differentiate themselves in a crowded market. 

“We’ve missed a lot of social interaction,” Ollie says. “And we’ve missed a lot of the virtues of customer service in this masked, quasi-faceless time, where you’re simply doing small talk in a queue. 

“Make proper time for customers. Share knowledge, share coffee information… do more than the bare minimum. It’ll help you win big,” he says. “This will restore hospitality to the hospitality industry.” 

Safety and hygiene protocols 

Part of providing a good experience will be making sure your customers feel safe and relaxed. Even after coffee shops have reopened and vaccines have been distributed, Covid-19 will likely be on people’s minds for a while.

This means that maintaining good hygiene and strict health safety protocols will still be crucial. Gareth Jones is the Training Manager at Square Mile Coffee Roasters. He thinks that our future day to day lives will be affected by the pandemic long after everything reopens.

“I think that outdoor seating will become even more valuable, for starters,” he says. “Cafés should still make sure they implement the correct safety measures and be cautious.”

Fletcher adds that it’s also a matter of trust. “Customers are putting a lot of trust in you,” he says. “If you are able to reopen, you’re only open because you’re following measures like social distancing, face masks, hygiene, health and safety; everything that should have existed anyway.”

This means that tables should still be spaced out properly, staff should keep wearing face masks or PPE, and social distancing and other hygiene protocols should still be encouraged. Following local guidance on the correct procedures will make customers feel more safe and comfortable in your coffee shop.

However, in addition to this, you can hands-free equipment to minimise the number of customer touchpoints in your coffee shop, like the FRIIA hand-free fonts by Marco Beverage Systems. These fonts are completely touchless, and allow both customers and baristas to dispense water without creating a new point for potential contamination.

The fonts also allow customers to serve themselves, making your coffee shop more efficient as well as hygienic.

“I think that if coffee shops or restaurants get it wrong and don’t allow that kind of space for customers to feel relaxed and feel safe, then customers won’t be able to trust them,” Fletcher adds. “They’ll start to lose business if they don’t follow simple things, like remembering to wear face masks.”

Take care of your equipment

Last but not least: take care of your equipment. Make sure it’s well-maintained and ready to run as soon as you’re open again.

Gareth says that it’s particularly important to continually test any pieces of equipment that are connected to mains water, such as espresso machines and hot water taps.

“With equipment and water filters sitting idle throughout lockdown, stagnant water can be prone to bacterial growth and deposit minerals inside the espresso machine,” he tells me.

Once the coffee shop reopens, he recommends properly replacing water filter cartridges where necessary, and suggests cycling the water inside the machines before turning them on. 

Preparing your coffee shop for the post-pandemic landscape is no easy feat. But by planning ahead, remaining organised, and designing a safe, relaxed customer experience, you can put yourself in an excellent position. 

In the weeks and months running up to the full reopening of hospitality businesses in your country, wherever you might be, use the time you have spare to plan. Think about what your customers will want. Get yourself ready to cater to them, and you’ll be in the best possible position to bring people back through your doors once the pandemic is over.

Enjoyed this? Then read our article on consistency during coffee cupping.

Photo credits: Serge van Neck, Dan Burton, Christin Hume, Kim Jin Cheol, Nick Hillier

Perfect Daily Grind

Please note: Marco Beverage Systems are a sponsor of Perfect Daily Grind.

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