C.A.F.E. culture

Anna cafe

Cafes are always worth a visit if you have an interest in business and marketing.

They are one of the most sensitive bricks and mortar operations on the High Street.

Location is very important. In many cases critical. Beyond that it’s either brand which brings people in or something different, special or unique about the independent seller that does the job.

What are people looking for?

Let me spell it out to you. C.A.F.E.

C is for the Coffee.

Everyone is different. We know what we like and what we don’t like. We’re no different when it comes to coffee (or tea for that matter). So, you’ll hear people say things like “I love the coffee at X” or “Oh, no, I don’t like the coffee there”.

Taste. Quality. Consistency of flavour. They can all be deal breakers for the conscientious coffee aficionado.

C is therefore also for Consistency. And it represents Customer Service.

Typically my preference will always be to head for an independent coffee shop or cafe. There are times, however, when a branded chain will suffice. When that’s the case I tend to drop into Caffe Nero. Why?

Well, first I do prefer their coffee to that in, say, Costa or Starbucks. It’s OK for you to disagree with me on that – it’s all down to personal taste. But there’s something else.

Customer service. I think the baristas behind the counter at Caffe Nero try harder. My experience is this. They welcome you with a smile and friendly greeting. They know how to handle multiple orders and serve a queue of customers with efficiency. They’re prepared to have a conversation. They rarely come across as robots.

That’s the C in C.A.F.E. covered. Let’s move to A.

A stands for Atmosphere.

There are times when you just want a takeout. The atmosphere or the ambience may not be so important when you’re on the move or in a hurry. But if you’re staying a while, with some time on your hands, the space you drink in is more important.

One of my favourite cafes is styled on the book cafes of continental Europe. The walls and shelves are lined with hundreds of old books. Not just for display. You can also read them, browse, buy or exchange. There’s music in the background, with the emphasis on background. You can have a conversation without having to raise your voice.

That cafe has created an atmosphere. An ambience. A setting. A style. The seeds of a brand.

I love the setting. The coffee is darn good, too.

Which brings us to F and Food.

The ability to offer snacks, treats, brunch, lunch and breakfast can widen the appeal of any cafe. And as with the coffee and tea, if it gets this right it can mean a significant leap in revenues and profits, week in week out.

People look for different things. Home-made. Gluten-free. Made fresh on the premises. You’ll have your own criteria or hot button.

Lastly, but not least, is E for Experience.

By experience I don’t just mean the experience of the owners and their team. I’m also talking about the experience of enjoying a coffee and more in the cafe. Get that right for the customer and you’re more likely to have a return visit and some referrals.

Take the place pictured. How does it fare on C.A.F.E.?

The coffee is filter coffee. Strong. Served with unlimited refills… which is great value if you want to linger for more than just one cup.

The taste is consistent. The customer service is good. They remember to ask if you would like a top-up. It’s friendly. Service with a smile.

The atmosphere is like a traditional tea room. Geared more towards ladies that do lunch. mature couples and people who like a bit of nostalgia. Young people are seen here, too. It’s quiet. Relaxing. Cosy.

I’ve not tried anything substantial from the numerous food choices on the menu boards hanging on every wall. But the cake is good. And the home-made biscuits served one time I was here for coffee were beautifully done.

The experience is good. There are not many tables. But it can cater for the single, couples and small groups. The cafe also offers other services. There is a supper club. You can hire the place for tea parties and celebrations. There is an ‘Emporium’ downstairs, with a small collection of traditional furniture and furnishings to browse or buy. All ways to generate more interest and attract customers.

Could it do more?

If I were advising the owners, I would suggest the following purely from first glance:

  • Make better use of the board outside to draw people in – give them a clear reason to pop in and try you (e.g. “Coffee £2.50 with FREE refills”).
  • Take care with the ‘open/closed’ sign on your glass door – when the door is open in summer the back saying ‘Closed’ shows to people walking from one direction. That may confuse them.
  • You have a BIG menu – it can be hard to take it all in through the gallery of framed chalkboards. Why not add a printed menu for the table as well… you can also use it to promote your Emporium, Supper Clubs and parties.
  • If your garden is open to use by the customers – let them know. It’s a lovely little spot out the back.
  • Make it clear how people order before or as soon as they walk in the door – have a sign on your door, window or near the entrance. Or even on each table. “Take a seat and we’ll be with you promptly” or “Please order at the counter up the stairs”, for example.
  • Have a way to capture customers’ email addresses so you can send them regular news about your club, events and services. Plus offers.

Running a cafe is a tough business. It’s not a lifestyle business. It requires a lot of passion, dedication and effort. Keeping it going and staying in the money month after month needs nerve, strategy, consistent quality and customer service, and regular sharp focus on the numbers.

Much of this applies to any business, of course.

Worth thinking about… perhaps over a coffee.

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