How To Attract New Customers To Your Coffee Shop

People in line at a cafe in Hong Kong.

Starting a new business, no matter what kind, is an investment. It’s an investment of time, energy, creativity, and, especially, money. As you’re establishing your new business, you want to spend money in the right places to bring in that clientele and those investors that are going to sustain it. This means that you don’t want to spend money where you don’t have to so that you can optimize your profits and your investor’s returns. Marketing is the key way to bring customers to your business, especially before anyone has heard of it. You need impressed and loyal customers to act as marketers for you, as well; some of the best marketing comes from word-of-mouth reviews.

How do you attract those customers to a new business without spending your first year’s budget before you’ve made any money?

I’ve got some tips for contemporary marketing. Let’s focus on a small coffee shop for now. Many of these tips and tricks can be applied with little or no tweaking to various other businesses.
You obviously have to focus on branding when establishing your business. What your name is, what your logo is, what type of shop you’re going to be and how that translates visually and to the products you’re going to sell. One big tip from a coffee shop shopper to you: I seek coffee shops for electricity and wifi just as much as coffee almost all of the time. I’m a freelancer. According to one poll, by May 2015, 15.5 million people were self-employed/freelance. This means 15.5 million people work “from home,” remotely, not in an office.

Now, I have a wifi connection and electricity in my apartment, but I also get very tired of those same two rooms with a tiny kitchen in between. I also live an hour’s commute to midtown Manhattan, so if I have to be in The City for any reason on a work day, it’s much more sensible for me to bring my computer with me and find a place to work, instead of commuting home and wasting precious time. In the wake of Super-coffee-Shop Starbucks, it becomes very frustrating when I walk into a promising looking coffee shop that promises better coffee and aesthetics than mass-produced, dark-roasted Bucks does, to find no WiFi and/or no electrical outlets. It’s not just freelancers that are looking for these amenities; tourists whose data usage is draining their batteries faster than they can look up the English word for “charger” need those outlets, and often that WiFi because it is a far cheaper alternative to using data on a foreign plan. And businesspeople need them, the new business lunch meeting or interview is now the coffee shop meeting or interview.

Businesspeople need WiFi to check their constant flow of emails, their stock portfolios and whatever else businesspeople check. I have no problem going into a coffee shop and buying coffee and a snack or two, so I can work there; but, I’m most likely not going to spend my money if I can’t spend my time there productively. Offering these basic amenities is one sure-fire way to keep customers in your shop once you’ve drawn them in, and to keep them coming back. When I find a place I’m comfortable at, that offers me what I need to work as well as coffee that doesn’t taste like it’s died, I come back. And I bring my friends.

Now, WiFi with strong broadband and electricity can be pricey. They also depend on bringing people in in the first place. How do you do that on a budget?

Not only is this the age of freelance, but it’s also the age of social media. One blog reported that of 1,200 coffee shops polled, nearly 70% only spent $100, or less, per month on marketing; AND 40% spent $0. How? How? How? One certain way is social media. Social media is something you can hire someone additionally to curate, and once you get established and build a stronger budget/expand a little bit, you may want to do that. But, it’s also something anyone can do. That means you, the owner, your fellow owners, your managers, your baristas. The coffee shop I worked for had about 12 individual stores, and each one was considered to have its own Instagram account in addition to the official company one. This Instagram was used for weekly promotions and deals, as well as showing off various products in artsy filters or giving the business personality by featuring the workers themselves. “This is Minnie. No, she’s not married to Mickey, but she can make latte art that looks like him. Don’t believe us? Come in and find out.” It can be silly, punny (that especially works for the Internet age of humor), or it can be elevated. “This is our newly arrived single origin, made-to-order in an Aeropress. It has flavor notes of cherry and chocolate, was grown at an elevation of 1,000 feet on a small farm in Nicaragua, and has as much stimulation in 6 ounces as a Venti latte. Our coffee is an experience in history and not just a convenience for caffeine. Available for a limited time only.” Beyond Instagram, a Twitter and Facebook for promotions, news, information about products and events, and even coffee history are imperative.

On Twitter, you can participate in celebrity culture, showing Beyonce drinking an espresso or you can announce a free latte for National Coffee Day. My coffee shop would do promotions like “Like us on Facebook for a free muffin.” With a Facebook page, people can like your page, which their friends can see, and on all social media, you can interact with your customers to create a community. If they feel a sense of belonging they’ll keep coming back, and they’ll invite others in, and you’ll be connected in a direct way that can help you improve what you need to and keep doing what works. You can also announce events easily, getting all of your employees and hopefully your customers to promote as well. Offering events like classes, tastings, sales, or even art shows/parties are other great strategies for creating a community around your shop. You can also create printable coupons with free computer applications to post on your social media, encouraging customers to interact with your business in virtual reality and actual reality. Finally, having a regular, interesting blog is a great way to draw people to your website and familiarize them with your brand. Most coffee companies these days have blogs that not only cover information about their products and business, but also about coffee history and science, coffee culture, and the business of coffee.

Having a variety of posts will draw in customers and other coffee aficionados which can lead to collaborations and more. You may need to invest a little money in creating a web page that is easily navigable and appealing; but, many platforms allow you to do this easily yourself for next-to-nothing. Before you open your first shop, get online, find the coffee community, follow all of your fellow small, medium, even large coffee companies and look at who they are following/who is following them. Look at what they’re tweeting or posting about, look at popular hashtags on Twitter and Instagram especially. These are the terms that people are talking about most and they are one of the strongest tools for getting people to notice your account. You’ll want to make posts that are relevant to your brand, but you can also expand this by utilizing some of the top tags, like “#picoftheday” with anything like a picture of latte art, a picture of your owner, or a picture of Beyonce with a milk mustache. Nothing is stronger than the most popular hashtag with the most popular celebrity. Trust me.

A line of customers watching a barista pour their drinks.
Part of your branding and the way to bring in new customers is your visual appearance. This depends on your choices in decorating and branding, some of which will be on the pricier side of marketing. One inexpensive marketing tool is a chalkboard sign, which is immensely popular and can be especially effective at garnering your business some Internet fame. As an Assistant Manager at a coffee shop, I utilized the art students in my employ who could usually be talked into creating something awesome for a sign by being allowed to sit down and work on it while on the clock. Many customer service workers, especially in metropolitan areas, are going to be creative types; if they can’t draw, they may be able to come up with some clever sayings, jokes or phrases to put on your sign. Especially if you have millennials in your employ, they’ll be able to help you find the most relevant Internet or pop culture reference or humor that will appeal to the widest net of customers. Getting people’s attention with wit or an outstanding work of art will make them stop and at least look in your window to see if your shop matches the appeal of your sign. The great thing about one of these signs is they can be changed as often as needed. “Coffee Trumps Politics. Vote Espresso 2016!” Make it fun, punny, relevant, and eye-catching (and legible, make sure it’s legible) and you’ll have more people stopping to snap a picture and consider coming inside your shop than you would without it. If people are just walking by, well, they’re just walking by.

As a business, you’re going to have to budget for waste. It happens no matter how popular you are and no matter how amazing your product is. You’re going to sell out of muffins one day and have 30 leftover another. What this means is that you can afford free samples. And free samples are an excellent marketing strategy, both in store and out. Pick a pastry that doesn’t sell quite as much as you want it to and offer it to the customers at the register. 1 out of 3 customers who were just coming in for coffee will buy a pastry, too, after trying it. Have someone outside, as well, offering pastry pieces or tiny coffee samples. You will get a lot of people just trying them and walking away, but if your product speaks for itself in flavor and quality, they’ll remember, they’ll be impressed, some will go in, and some will come back. This can work, too, for the customers already in your store, your regulars perhaps, with a specialty coffee product. Maybe they come in every day for a double shot, and that’s it. Offer them your single origin of the month or a delectable caramel frappe, or a sliver of coffee cake. You’re giving away something you’ve budgeted to waste anyway, and you’ll boost sales by doing it. If they don’t buy today, they’ll do it tomorrow. Not everyone, and not always, but giving people the chance to try something new without committing to a purchase or a full serving is one of the best ways to get them to spend their money on it.

In a coffee shop, especially, your biggest customer base is going to be regulars. These are the people who work in the area, or who (like me) make their offices out of coffee shops; these are the individuals with a routine who are willing to incorporate you into it if you’re convenient and good enough for them to do so. You want these people. They give you steady business, and they’re the ones most likely to tell their people about your shop. It may be on purpose, like saying “You have to try this single origin thing from this place,” or by having a friend meet them in your shop for a catch-up date. It may be unintentional, like “I was working in Corner Coffee Shop, Inc and I came up with a brilliant idea.” So, take care of them. Stamp cards, punch cards, or even apps like LevelUp benefit the people that keep coming back. My coffee shop used LevelUp; people got like 10 cents for every dollar spent or something and eventually could accrue enough money for a free coffee. Punch cards and stamp cards are the same concepts: “Buy ten coffees, get one free.” Coffee shops in business areas become a part of people’s every day, so it’s not going to be a far stretch for most of your customers to buy ten coffees. Find a cheap printer, invest in some inexpensive stamps or hole-punchers, or find an app that works for you and reward your customers, so they keep rewarding you.

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16 Comments

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  1. Social media is so important! More than once, I’ve made the 20-minute commute to the coffee shop in the next town over just because they put up a picture of a delicious-looking cake or pastry they were offering that day. But make sure your posts use good grammar and spelling. If the post doesn’t look professional, I usually assume the business won’t be professional, either.

    • I definitely agree. Occasionally I’ll see an ad on Facebook that one of the restaurants in the next town over has posted, and it makes me crave that food. I usually end up caving and taking a little trip just to try it out.

    • I agree! People nowadays consider social media as part of their daily routine. Everyday, millions of people are searching and checking their social media’s newsfeed. And having a good photography/graphic design with proper hashtags would definitely convince them to try your offers or products.

    • I can definitely agree with this. Grammar is my litmus test for how good a coffee shop is. If they don’t use proper punctuation, it shows that they probably don’t care about the details in their shop either.

  2. I really found this article insightful! One of the sweetest coffee spots in my area doesn’t have outlets and it bothers me so much! I still go, because the coffee is extremely good. However, I think just the addition of a power source would make it a much more popular place to settle in.

  3. I think a lot of coffee shops could use this info. There’s a local shop in my area that isn’t doing very well and it’s due to lack of new customers. They don’t get any new menu items or offer any kind of promotions ever, never mind the free samples. I think if they would use these methods, it would bring in a lot of new customers. I definitely agree with the part about the punch cards too. Since I’m a person of routine, I would largely benefit from something like that.

  4. Smart tips! However, I think it all boils down in treating your customers well and maintainin the quality of your shop since day one. Most cafes degrade as time goes by, which is sad. I think word of mouth from previous customers is a faster and more effective way to get people to go and try your business. So keep the quality of your cafe top-notch!

  5. This article is very useful. Word of mouth is very important to attract new customers to your coffee shop. In fact, a lot of coffee shops now give their customers special offers and awards to recommend their friends to visit the coffee shop. social media also now plays an essential role to promote your business and what’s special about it is that advertising there is not expensive as in the traditional advertisement.

  6. This is true! WiFi is important nowadays especially when you are waiting for some important emails that you don’t want to miss. A coffee shop that offers a free WiFi is a big plus for me. I know a lot of people will agree.

  7. Utilized all free marketing means to promote your coffee shop/business. Social Media presence is now the effective way to introduce your company to your targeted customers. Hire blogger or food review blogger to get reviews and a little promotion. Excellent customer service is also a way to kickstart a good feedback from your 1st 100 customers.

  8. For a coffee shop brand, its very important to have an objective to work towards too. I think people relate to that and have a bigger sense of loyalty. It might be raising awareness for some social issue, charity work, or something else.
    Also, a coffee shop must have a target group it works for, so it can offer and produce things that specific target group wants.
    But the most important thing is-having tasty coffee and other coffee-related products. No matter how good your marketing or activity is, if you don’t have good quality coffee-it ain’t going to work. Not for long.

  9. I really enjoyed reading this article. It brought up some really good and creative ideas on how to promote ones coffee shop…from coupons, free muffins to chalkboard sign with funny quotes and sayings and of course the social media frenzy. I saw some of those ideas around my area and they really work like magic, those coffee shops are filled with people, although it does not hurt them that theu have some of the best coffees in town. 😀 In the end, it really does not matter if you have a perfect marketing strategy If your products are not as good as you promote them to be. They have to live up to peoples expectations. Right?

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