The 14 Tenets of Coffee Shop Design (Part 3)

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Coffee Shop Design is an integral part of operating a specialty coffee business.

We’ve helped thousands of people over the years open coffee shops. We’ve seen firsthand what they’ve struggled with, and have asked for help with. The process can be daunting.

One of the top things people come to us for advice with in opening their cafe is Coffee Shop Design. It makes sense. You’re investing thousands of dollars and hard work into making your dream come true, and you know that the little details are equally as important as the product you sell and the customer service you provide.

If your customers don’t instinctively know the right place to stand, maybe they’ll get confused, feel uncomfortable, and be less likely to return. If your aesthetic doesn’t match your target clientele, maybe they’ll feel alienated, and again…not come back. Your baristas having a hard time maneuvering behind the counter, causing longer than needed wait times? You guessed it. That could ruin somebody’s experience, too.

With all the variables up in the air, it makes sense to look for help. As long-time pioneers of Specialty Coffee Education, we are here to be the experts you can call upon.

This is the Final Post of our 3-Part Series, “The 14 Tenets of Great Coffee Shop Design”

Today’s topic:

Remember What People Come Here For

Work, Coffee, and a Sense of Third Place

Don’t have time to read the entire article? Jump to the part in which you are most interested.

  1. Design With Work In Mind
  2. Music
  3. Perfection in the Simple Touches
  4. Don’t Forget That You’re A Coffee Shop


11. Design With Work In Mind

Today, most coffee houses offer wireless Internet connections. Most also offer plugs to power laptop computers and save battery power. At almost every coffee business I walk into, I see numerous people working on laptops or surfing the Internet as they sip their favorite drinks.

This technology, like others, is changing rapidly. Choosing a service provider can be a difficult decision. Be sure you keep up with the latest technology. Be sure you offer fast, reliable wifi, and as many power outlets as possible. If you’re lucky enough to be in the early planning stages of a cafe, be sure to talk with an electrician to try and provide as many power outlets as possible (don’t forget to consider your electricity breaker’s capacities). Trust us, you’ll never lack for a need for outlets. If you’re in an older location, consider getting a reliable extension cord for multiple people to plug in with. 

If you happen to be located near a high school or college, keep in mind that a majority of your customers will need space to study, and spread out with a book, notebook, and laptop. Plan accordingly to meet their needs, or they’ll find a cafe that will.

12. Music

Plan for music from day one. If you intend to have a good music system, the wiring has to be installed before the sheetrock and wall coverings go on. And you need to make decisions about where to keep the stereo system and plan procedures for who will be changing them. Remember that baristas are people, too, and frequently have strong opinions on music. Perhaps they’ve got great taste, but that doesn’t always mean your customers will appreciate it. Try to be mindful about who your target audience is.

Music is a crucial part of your ambiance. The type of music you play will often dictate the mood of your customers and what kind of customer walks through your doors, and who walks out. Be sure staff appreciates the fact that the music is not for their entertainment, but for the pleasure of the customers.

If you don’t know much about music, find someone to help you select a background sound that creates the atmosphere you want for your business. The music you play in early morning may be very different than what you play at noon or in the late evening with wine and dessert. Pandora and Spotify are easy enough to understand these days, and will make your life a lot easier when choosing music to match your ambiance. 

13. Perfection in the Simple Touches

To help you design your business, look around the internet for the term “cafe designs”. When we work with our clients at Bellissimo, we advise them to look through images of cafes that look great to them, then tell us what they like about particular designs. Most of these clients like certain aspects of four or five different operations. The educated client with strong ideas gets the best work from the design professional. By doing your own research, you help your consultant or professional designer hone in on what is important to you and on the feeling you want to convey in your operation.

With limitless design options, there is no reason you can’t create a one-of-a-kind coffee operation. You may decide to acid-etch your floors in four colors. Looking for a quiet, peaceful ambience good for reading? Why not get creative with floor to ceiling drapery down one of your walls? Local art that changes each month can provide ambiance and an added income source (and it’s always great to support local artists). Murals can transport your customers to a different place or time. Let your imagination and that of friends and professionals lead you to create a setting that is attractive, comfortable, workable, unique and very profitable.

The design of your work areas determines how well your staff can function. The image projected by your design decisions will create your store’s atmosphere. It’s difficult to measure or even to define, but everyone who comes in can feel it. When the atmosphere is enticing, comforting, exciting or fun it draws people into the store and enriches their experience, making them want to return.

14. Don’t Forget That You’re a Coffee Shop

No matter how extensive your menu is, your business is first and foremost a coffee operation. Your primary identity is your coffee. You want to be known as THE coffee operation in your area, the one that serves the very best coffee. To do this, you must fully understand the nuances of your product. That is a tall order, and requires you to fully educate yourself.

Few start-up coffeehouse owners have done this. The result is that purists and knowledgeable aficionados could feel ripped off and resort to home brewing.

Obviously we’re biased, but we offer a week-long coffee skills workshop each month in “Independent Coffee Mecca”, Portland, Oregon. We wholeheartedly believe that our workshops will put a coffee shop owner a significantly higher chance of success, and all are invited to contact us anytime at (503) 232-2222. Or, simply go check out our website. There are no better schools when it comes to teaching espresso skills or coffee business training.

Conclusion and Next Steps

Store ambiance is something that is incredibly important when considering coffee shop design.  In today’s world especially, beautiful cafes are popping up everywhere with seemingly endless budgets. Design your coffee shop with your intentional branding in mind, keep your customer always at the center of your focus, and do your best to stand out while remaining authentic to your vision and your self. Remember that the customers will come in for you as much as they will come in for the design of your location.

Think we missed something? Something not clear or need updating? We always appreciate corrections and inquiries about anything that needs clarification. Email us anytime. We’ll be happy to hear from you.

Are you entering the coffee industry?

Hey, we’re Bellissimo Coffee Advisors. A team of coffee professionals determined to help people just like you succeed in specialty coffee. 

We’ve been around 30 years and have helped thousands of coffee shops all around the globe open and stay open well into the future. Learn from our experience, give your business the best chance to succeed.

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Baristas: Go from A-Z on everything you need to teach yourself how to make make perfect coffee drinks, every time. 

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Find out how we’ve helped thousands of coffee companies open and stay profitable over the years. 

Further Reading…

Coffee Business

Why Do Coffee Shops Fail?

The coffee industry is an exceptionally rewarding one. Starting a coffee shop of your own is a dream to a lot of people. Who doesn’t

Read More »

Are you planning on opening a coffee shop?

Offering monthly workshops on how to do just that.

Contact Us

Bellissimo Coffee Advisors
1028 SE Water Ave
Ste 275
Portland, OR 97214


Bellissimo Coffee Advisors
1028 SE Water Ave
Ste 275
Portland, OR 97214