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Look down any high street, in any UK town or city, and you will normally see a good number of coffee shops.

At the end of 2017, there were over 22,000 coffee shops in the UK, and that number had more than doubled from the previous 10 years.

Competition from local independents as well as the big brand coffee shops is at an all-time high, and so it has never been more important to differentiate your business from the competition.

Carpigiani offers 5 ways to make your coffee shop more enticing to customers and differentiate yourself from the competition

1 Make Your Coffee Shop “Feel” Different

Have you ever been in an Apple store? Apple the electronics giant, not a greengrocer. They spend huge amounts of time and money so that as a customer walks into their store they “feel” different. It was once said of the way Apple set-up their stores that they feel like “the coolest coffee shop in the world that just happens to not sell coffee”.

They differentiate themselves from every other electronics store in their store layout and approach to customer service.

With a coffee shop, you are halfway their already. There is a romantic allure to a coffee shop. A place, in the heart of the community, where people can meet friends and catch-up on the latest gossip, unwind, have a snack and of course, have a great cup of coffee.

Or a business person can catch-up with emails or have less formal meetings with clients and do it in a relaxed atmosphere, away from the office.

Bespoke table tops and a consistent colour theme throughout your store could make you look different from the major chain brands but go a little further.

People want to “feel” different when they are in a coffee shop and that is why they visit rather than have a coffee at home or at work.

What sort of vibe or feel do you want your coffee shop to have? Modern and trendy, with steel and glass? Rustic, with bare oak features and brick walls or more like home from home with comfortable sofas?

Think about your local community. What is the general age group? More importantly, what is the age group of the customers in the other coffee shops in town? What environment could you create that would entice them away from their usual coffee shop?

The biggest mistake is to design the interior of the coffee shop to how you would like it. Research the busy establishments in town. Which pubs, cafes and restaurants are the busiest? How would you categorise the interior? Design and decorate the interior of your coffee shop to how your customers would like it.

Of course, there are some “basics” that the customer will expect. A clean table to sit at being one. Free Wi-Fi to be able to use their phone, or the business person to use their devices. Don’t “differentiate” yourself by being a café where people cannot connect online – the world has moved on. When customers have time to sit in a relaxing atmosphere, with a cup of delicious coffee, this is their time to catch-up online.

If a clean table and a Wi-Fi connection differentiates you from the local competition – congratulations – you have a bright future ahead of you.

How to differentiate you coffee shop

2 Serving the customer

Visit a local coffee shop and experience their service as a customer does. With many brand coffee houses the customer has to queue to place an order, then wait and often queue again to receive the coffee. Normally, whilst being deafened by the ‘portafilter’ being emptied.  All the while eyeing up the coffee shop for vacant table or chair, or keeping an eye on their belongings that are holding a table they have found. Not the most relaxing start to their “me time”.

Could you differentiate your coffee shop with a different type of service?

Could you offer complete table service? Let the customer find a seat and order coffee from there? A more relaxing service for the customer.

Those customers in a hurry or wanting a takeaway could then order from a less hectic counter.

Could you take orders at the counter and serve the customer at the table? Again, consider the service your competitors offer. Take the best parts and then add to it to make your service more customer-centric and different.

Complete table service (orders are taken at the table) allows a more personal interaction with staff. The downside is the customer is not standing next to a food display for 5 minutes, being tempted with the offerings, however, the staff member will likely get more sales by asking if the customer would like a cake or sandwich or by mentioning the “specials” of the day.

3 Offer them something different

Almost all coffee shops offer sandwiches, cakes and light snack. They are a natural accompaniment to a coffee. There are a number of ways you could differentiate yourself with different fillings and flavours, but here you need to be careful. Avocado and anchovy sandwiches will certainly make you different, but also leave you with waste food that has to be disposed of. Instead, think of ways you can make popular snacks a little different. If you have a brand coffee shop as a competitor, you can almost certainly sell your fare at a lower price (without overly affecting the bottom line).

Could you offer homemade cakes? Is there a local bakery that creates delightful cakes that you could strike a deal with?

Look to capitalise on trends. Some trends fall in and out of fashion easily, and businesses that were popular get left behind. Look for growing and sustainable trends in the community.

The biggest growing trend in food production is to satisfy the massive, and it is massive, requirement for produce for those choosing a vegan lifestyle. Could you stock sandwiches and snacks to satisfy this growing trend?

Is coffee vegan-friendly? With careful selection of your coffee beans it is. “Urban Vegan” a website dedicated to the vegan lifestyle highlights these important factors regarding coffee beans.

“While shade-grown coffee trees can last for 30 years or more, sun-grown must be replaced every 15 years or less.

Also, sun-grown coffee requires much more chemical input (such as chemical fertilisers, agricultural chemicals, and fungicides) and depletes the nutritional content of the soil.

Because the soil becomes nutrient deficient, this land is unusable for future sun-grown coffee plantations, forcing farmers to clear out entirely new landscapes altogether!

You can only imagine the chaos and destruction this process produces for the many species that rely on the trees and plants as shelter.

In contrast, shade-grown coffee prevents soil erosion, provides a safe-haven for countless animals and doesn’t produce toxic water runoff (from chemical fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides, etc.) that injures or kills wildlife.”

161 G / GSP

If making your coffee shop vegan-friendly appeals to you then you also must consider the milk you have on offer. There are plenty of alternatives to cows milk. Hazelnut, soy, oat, hemp, almond and rice milk to name just a few.


Another popular and growing trend is to offer ice cream.  In major cities, you will have seen the explosion of artisan gelato and ice cream parlours. Offering soft serve ice cream allows your business to appeal to the whole family. Although ice cream is not just consumed by children, offering ice cream will certainly entice them in, and the rest of the family as well. The profit margin in soft serve ice cream is very healthy and so the revenue and profits added to the bottom line in the ice cream production, as well as the additional customers will, I am sure, be very welcome.

4 Make sure your coffee is superior

However, you differentiate your coffee shop, the look, the “feel”, the method of service or the food available, one thing MUST make you better than the competition – the coffee you serve.

It is obvious, but for a coffee shop, it is all about the coffee. You only have one chance to make a good impression when serving a new customer. If customers enjoy the coffee, they will return for more. It is as simple as that.

Great tasting coffee has 3 elements that you will want to get right. Equipment, coffee blend and training.

Coffee Shop Equipment

The equipment used in making coffee is expensive. The equipment used to make a high-quality coffee can be very expensive. However, trying to save a few pounds on equipment can be a mistake you will have to live with for a very long time. In using less expensive or lower quality equipment will dramatically reduce the quality of the drinks you make, even if you are using a good coffee blend.

Carefully select equipment for your establishment and in particular the grinder, brewing equipment and espresso machine. Great quality equipment gives you a chance to serve great coffee. It will also have a positive impact on the image of your coffee shop, your brand and the calibre of the staff you attract. If you have low-priced, poor quality equipment it makes a statement about your business. It says you are not serious about the coffee you serve and more interested in the money you can save/make. Although costs and profit margins are important to a business owner, they are less so to staff who want to take pride in the coffee they serve, and even less important to the customer. If they were concerned with costs, they would drink coffee at home.

As well as espresso machines and the brewing system make sure your water system and grinders are the best you can afford.  They have the largest impact on the quality of the drinks you produce.

Coffee Blend

The growing number of coffee shops has naturally led to a growing number of coffee roasting companies. Many coffee shop owners choose a blend that they themselves enjoy drinking. This is a sensible place to start. A better way to choose a coffee roaster is to sample a few. You could even get a panel of customers, or even better the local “Chamber of Commerce” to sample and vote on their favourite (great way to spread word of mouth, and who wouldn’t like to be invited to a free coffee morning?).

When you are satisfied with the coffee rosters produce, ensure that you can trust their delivery and customer service will accommodate your needs.


You may be tempted to train staff yourself. Unless you have years of experience this can be a mistake.

Having the best equipment does not guarantee the best coffee. You could drive a formula 1 car, but it doesn’t mean you will win many races. It cannot be emphasised enough the importance of barista training.

Barista training will teach staff the basics such as how to make espresso-based drinks, steam the milk and how to maintain the equipment. It can also train staff on brewing experiments and create different tastes. A good Barista will be able to control and fix factors that affect the taste of the coffee. Well trained Baristas will have absolute confidence in the brewing consistency to obtain great coffee and be able to troubleshoot any taste issues.

If you are considering serving “soft serve” ice cream or artisan gelato you will also want to consider training in this area. Carpigiani offer training across the UK (and the world) at their Gelato University. Upon completion, you will have the knowledge to create your very own recipes, strategically planning the perfect mix to create a bespoke offering for your business.

5 Build Your Brand

By now you could have a relaxing, customer enticing environment.  You offer produce to entice the whole family into your establishment. Your equipment and staff training allow you to offer the best coffee in the local area – it is time to build your brand and loyal customer following.

Nearly all coffee shops offer a customer loyalty card. It makes sense to offer a scheme, especially if you have competitors on your doorstep. Most coffee shops issue little cards to customers that are stamped with a purchase and offer a free drink after 6, 8 or 10 purchases. These are easy and low-cost to obtain, yet they miss a trick.

How many times has a customer come in with several different cards all with a few stamps on? How many times does a customer say, “I lost the card”. Physical loyalty cards are too easy to lose and too many customers start a collection of half-completed cards.

Consider instead an app for mobile phones. These can also be low-cost, in fact, 2 or 3 runs of printing loyalty cards and replacing lost stamps would pay for a world-class app. Customers are less likely to forget or lose their phone and so it is a more practical solution for the business owner and customer alike.

Choose an app that allows you to update the content yourself and to send push notifications. Push notifications are messages sent to your customer base through the app itself. In being able to update the app yourself you can alter the daily specials and make offers available to customers and notify them in an instant.  This will drive up customer loyalty and only takes a couple of minutes a day.

About Carpigiani – Carpigiani have been the world leaders in soft serve and artisan gelato equipment for over 70-years. The Carpigiani 161 is the smallest self-pasteurising soft serve machine and the 161 variations are packed full of state-of-the-art technology, pioneering features and inventive designs. Ideal for cafés, coffee shops, restaurants and kiosks lacking in available space.