Coffee Shop Design

I've been spending a lot of time in coffee shops lately, and have noticed that there are some common issues that keep many of them from being more efficient. In other words, if I ever became enough of an aspiring entrepreneur to build my own coffee shop, here are a few ideas I would try to implement.

(from Flickr user 1Flatworld)

A lot of coffee shops have large tables, which often go underutilized. True, there are groups who visit coffee shops to chat, or have a meeting, or just hang out; but there are also many solo customers who come into the coffee shop to read or write some blogs. When there are large tables, solo customers will sit at them, rendering the other seats unused. Sure, another solo customer could sit at one of the empty seats, but in my experience, this only occurs when there are no more empty tables.

What's the solution? More small tables and a bar. Think about it, when a solo customer walks into the neighborhood tavern, he/she doesn't sit at a a big table by themself to drink beer, they sit at the bar. My ideal coffee bar would have a large bar along one wall and an outlet for every stool, so people don't have to fight over power or make some stools more valuable than others. Since there really doesn't need to be a bartender, the bar could face right up against the wall, preserving space for tables in the rest of the shop.

Speaking of outlets and wifi, my coffee shop would have outlets at every stool and table and free wifi. I've written about coffee shop squatters and my opinion is that they don't do the harm that people often accuse them of. Nevertheless, I understand the concern. I don't think removing outlets or charging extra for wifi is the solution, as such moves risk alienating good customers in order to crack down on abusive customers. Instead, I think the answer is a little libertarian paternalism.

I would hire a programmer to build an internet landing page, similar to those that exist for wifi in hotels. When the customer opens his/her browser, the first thing they would see is a full menu, the day's specials, the shop's twitter feed, etc. To connect to the internet, the customer would simply have to click "connect". After an hour or so, a message would appear - it would thank the customer for his/her business, and remind them that table space is valuable, and ask them to make another purchase if they plan to stay for a while. Basically, it would "nudge" customers to follow coffee shop ethics.

There's not much I like more than a great coffee shop.


    Great ideas, my favorite Starbucks on DuPont Circle in DC has a bar up against the window. You can sit and look out. It's neat. Can't remember if it has outlets at each stool.

    Last night we went to a Starbucks here in Malaysia. They were out of COFFEE!

    I think there's an untapped market here.