March 3, 2022

Opening & managing multiple coffee shops effectively


For coffee shop owners, the natural next step after launching a single successful coffee shop is to open more and more locations. If done correctly, this can be a way for brands to increase their turnover, and move from being a single location to a chain, with all the benefits that brings.

However, the process of opening and managing multiple sites can be fraught with setbacks and challenges, which need to be navigated and negotiated carefully. Shifting from operating one coffee shop to multiple is a challenge. 

Ultimately, it is crucial for business owners to establish systems for managing multiple sites across a larger area. Planning is important. To learn more about what coffee shop owners should consider when setting out on this journey, I interviewed two coffee shop owners from Europe. Read on to find out what they told me.

You might also like our article on managing customer expectations in your coffee shop.

man in coffee shop

Plan ahead

When setting up a new coffee shop, there are plenty of factors to consider. Once you get the keys, starting out in your new branch can be an exciting yet stressful opportunity. 

Before you do, you need to sit down and make a plan. How will your new branch be the same as your existing premises? How will it be different? Keeping your locations consistent is important, but you need to make each one stand out too.

José de León Guzmán is the owner and operator of Kofra in Norwich, England. He says that the plan should be all about thinking long-term and keeping customers interested.

“Each detail of each shop is well-thought-through and planned ahead,” he says. “Each business has to have its own soul and add value to the market.”

Without this, and without a strong identity for each location, competition may simply be too strong for people to be interested in your new store.

man working in coffee shop

Standardise your systems

When running a single independent hospitality business, it can be simple to have a single, undocumented procedure for each system or process. While convenient, however, this is not scalable. 

Jackie Tran is the owner of Mazelab Coffee in Prague, Czech Republic. For him, having common systems for all staff at all locations keeps things running smoothly.

“The key to success is to ensure you have high-quality staff and a team that can work together as one,” he explains. “Once you have that, create a scalable, sustainable system within the team which allows them to coordinate, gain control, and work effectively.”

By making these best practices more accessible, you can improve quality earlier in each individual location’s journey, and provide more value to stakeholders.

In James Hoffmann’s book The Best of Jimseven he explains how he regrets not establishing norms right at the start.

“Starting good habits early and building better systems from the beginning would have got us so much further more quickly,” he says.

Standardising systems doesn’t have to be as intimidating as it might sound, either. For instance, it might be as simple as writing down a common process for dialling in that is shared with trainees. Often, baristas will teach each other this, but people will forget steps, and over time, the process will change, whether you mean for it to or not.

Dialling in is just one example; there are plenty of areas where you can record you processes. Ultimately, in time, with a clear framework for most of their day-to-day tasks, baristas should learn much more quickly, helping your site run more efficiently and smoothly.

If you’re roasting at your new site, too, developing good systems becomes even more important.

“We didn’t plan on how to store the beans, where to store them, roasting mistakes, and all of the other steps to learn,” José admits. “We had to start from zero on something that we didn’t know.”

The reality is that these systems and norms are far more difficult to implement once your business is already established. Getting a headstart is vital.

kofra coffee shop location

Location, location, location

It is common knowledge that location is a key factor when opening and managing a new coffee shop. But even with this insight, choosing a new spot can still be difficult.

There are a number of things to consider when choosing a new location. To start, opening stores on opposite ends of a city can pose several logistical challenges.

During the early days of your new location, the business will certainly benefit from being close to an existing branch or branches. For instance, staff should be able to easily move between stores to cover shifts and provide training.

As well as helping with deliveries both to and from your store, customers might begin to associate a certain area with your brand, giving you the edge over your competition.

However, not every issue is easy to address. Even the most experienced coffee professionals have trouble with this stage of the process. 

For example, in his book What I Know About Running Coffee Shops, Irish barista champion Colin Harmon suggests that selecting a location is the problem that he finds “hardest to advise on”.

Ultimately, this is all about finding the right balance between value for money and a high-footfall location. This may be why many business owners will spend a good deal of time getting an idea of how many people pass through an area before they take the leap. 

In reality, it won’t be until opening day that an owner will start to truly understand their customer base and get a feel for how things will be in the long run. Furthermore, José thinks that you need to find the sweet spot between maintaining your existing brand identity and giving a new location its own feel.

“One site can’t be the same as the other,” says José. “There are different audiences for every shop. We always try to profile the audience that we are looking for and then we go and open and try to reach them.”

Perhaps it’s this understanding that can help to give a new specialty coffee shop its foundations in a challenging market. Unlike a larger commercial coffee chain, an independent brand can’t rely on large volumes or huge marketing campaigns to drive revenue. 

José’s advice for brands planning to expand their chain is to set themselves apart with branding and quality.

“Get an identity that is recognisable not only from a branding perspective but also in regards to service,” he suggests. “Remember, you’re in the service industry, rather than the specialty coffee industry.”

In the end, it will be a combination of great service and high-quality products that helps your coffee shop to become popular.

After initially facing problems with opening his second shop, José says he has found success with this strategy, and notes that his “neighbourhood” coffee shop sites have become hubs for their respective local communities.

barista at coffee shop

People before profits

The right personnel will go a long way when you’re operating several different locations. For instance, your manager or head barista will play an incredibly important role in establishing consistency and accountability across multiple sites.

Remember that you can’t be in two places at once. You need to bring in leaders that you can trust if you want to succeed at branching out.

Many businesses also benefit from establishing a positive, clear company culture. Although this isn’t necessarily the most visible element of your business, it’s unlikely that your staff will want to stay with you for the long haul without it. 

It is not so much what is being done that matters here, but how it is being done. In essence, this means little things can go a long way when building a team that values its work. After all, you want employees who enjoy coming to work every single day.

One way to enable this is to use technology to help the team to communicate more effectively. If you’re able to, you can also use team tools such as Slack or Todoist, which can connect different teams, making it easier to delegate tasks and share updates.

“We’ve decided to have one communication channel which we use as part of a daily routine,” Jackie says. “Some might say we’re in contact 24/7, since we’re effectively online all the time.”

This can go a long way to resolving frequent day-to-day problems, while helping the owner to focus on more urgent matters.

coffee shop staff and customers

Effective recruitment & training

Training is another important area of focus. Making sure your employees feel appropriately equipped to carry out their tasks is key.

José says it makes sense to have a clearly structured system for integrating new team members. 

“We allocate between 180 to 200 hours of one-to-one training before staff get onto the floor,” he explains. “We have grown steadily but sustainably, because for us the key has been training our staff.”

While this approach may seem inconvenient to some, the extra effort put in during the early stages can pay dividends later down the line. 

Today, more than ever, it is prudent to consider whether the person you are hiring is the right fit for the business as a whole. Ask yourself the following questions: do they have similar values? Might they be better placed in another role? What are their goals for the future? 

“We can always teach you how to serve coffee, wine, and beer, but we can’t teach you how to be nice,” José concludes.

espresso machine

It’s clear that thorough planning and paying attention to detail can save a lot of headaches in the long run when you’re branching out your coffee shop business. However, one should also remember that a specialty coffee business is all about service, and that makes the human element equally important.

To manage multiple coffee shop sites effectively, it’ll help to find a balance between systems that keep things in place and the human element that keeps customers coming back. When you finally find that balance, your operation will be stronger for it.

Enjoyed this? Then check out these tips to improve financial efficiency in your coffee shop.

Photo credits: Kofra Coffee, Mazelab Coffee

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