How to generate more business at your shop

I came across this coffee shop in Pittsburgh, and I really liked so many things about it.  Unfortunately, there were several things that seemed to go unnoticed by the owner, and she was left confused and baffled how to generate more revenue.  She had shrunk the labor costs by having practically no staff and working killer hours herself.   But like I always tell people in her position, you do not create more business by lowering expenses, sometimes you just short change yourself.

I love this bar design. However, this place has so much room for improvement.   The owner was a youngish woman in her early 20s (or mid), who seemed surprised that the bank even gave the loan to buy this place from the previous owner.  She seemed concerned about her inability to generate new business besides having what she said was some of the best coffees, pastries, and breads in the city.  Well, I made a few quick observations, but it was certainly not my place to make any suggestions.   Had I been a good friend, or asked by her to consult, these are the key points I would have made, and it is a good lesson for anyone else out there trying to make a run at the coffee business:

-The equipment is very old, not necessary to replace it, but up-keep is important.   Specifically, clean them up so they look good at least, and replace the grinder hopper, which is filthy.

-The bar is so cool and generates an awesome customer/Barista dynamic, clear away the newspapers that are 4, 3, and 2 weeks old, just keep the current one. Unlcutter.

-Reduce the crazy number of syrups down to maybe the top four sellers and free up the revenue that is tied up in that wide spectrum of seldom used flavors.

-The pastries and breads you are so proud of are displayed in zip lock bags and stored in a grimy and unlit case.   Give them a display worthy of their goodness, show the customer what you think of them by the setting in which you place them.  Some nice plates, glass domes, and a little windex would do the trick.

-Clean up the basic stuff;  dust, accumulated dirt, scrub the floors really well, get rid of all the old news paper clippings and random notes taped to the walls behind the counter.  Put them in a scrapbook and organize a clean display for new ones.

-Find a discrete location for your computer, don’t sit in front of all your customers on the laptop at the end of the circle and FaceBook away your slow afternoons.   Look like you are participating in your own coffee shop rather than looking like you are waiting to clock out.

-The coffee itself is mediocre quality brewed on poorly maintained, (not to mention ugly) machinery, and made in a technically incorrect manner for good extraction.  The  SCAA, and probably your own roaster, can give you classes on coffee brewing and espresso extraction.  Understand the industry standards in which you operate.


There is actually a lot that can be done without changing food or coffee vendors or replacing any equipment.   Just clean the place from floor to ceiling and get rid of the clutter.  There is a bustling neighborhood right outside the door, and business is dwindling because the atmosphere is just a little dingier than it needs to be, the food is presented just a little slacker than it could be, the coffee is just a little off from how it could be prepared, and the service seems just a little less interested in the customers than it may really be.  It wouldn’t take any extra money to do most all of these things, and would probably generate some badly needed business.  It just takes forethought, spunk, and a lot of elbow grease.

  1. What a shame! It’s sad to see someone struggle so hard without really understanding why. Hope she can find the light and turn it around.

  2. Something I have found over the years of working with owners is, typically they go into business for themselves because of a certain inability to take direction from and work well with others. There are driven type A personalities that do exceedingly at the helm with their keen sense of problem solving skills and decisive action, and there are those who just believe that they always have the right answer. My motto is ” I may not have all the answers, but at least I know where to find them.” It is not a sign of weakness to seek help form others.

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