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Contagious Cafés: How Can You Get Repeat Customers?

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Regular customers are some of the best ones: they can improve the atmosphere, help a coffee shop feel like a home away from home, and – perhaps most importantly of all – boost profits.

But what makes coffee shops attract regulars? How do you, as an owner or manager, create a “contagious café” that people keep returning to? I’ve got five tips for you.

Will Your Third Wave Coffee Shop Be Profitable? Watch this video!

coffee shopA barista froths milk for a customer’s order. Credit: Honeybee Coffee Company

1. Build Relationships With Customers

It may sound obvious, but this goes way beyond good customer service. Building a relationship is about more than just asking someone what their order is and saying thank you when they leave. Building relationships means going out of your way to make the customer feel welcome and engaged with.

An easy, practical way to do this is to know people’s names. As career coach Joyce E. A. Russell writes, “A person’s name is the greatest connection to their own identity and individuality.” By using someone’s name, you are showing that they are more than just a customer to you: they are an individual and you are connecting with them on a personal level.

Once you’ve got their name, don’t be afraid to go a little deeper. Find out what they do for a living, if they have a family, what their hobbies are. It doesn’t need to feel like an interview: you can just casually bring these things up. More than likely, you’ll see these people a couple of times a week – so you might as well find out who they are.

Find out more: read The Key to Great Service!

coffee shop Barista Kayla Jones talks with a customer she’s serving. Credit: Bryson Debard

2. Don’t Forget The Space

If you’ve ever walked into a dirty restroom or had someone else’s leftovers on your table, you know that an unkempt space can ruin your impression of a place.

Coffee professionals know we need to keep things generally tidy, but we often miss the bigger point. Cleanliness is good, but the real mission should be to eliminate anything that stands in the way of the customer’s experience.

When we take this approach, it gives new meaning to why we clean. It becomes more about customers than general health requirements and expectations. If people come to shops for the experience, then the people who work for the shop must try to remove all things that stand in the way of that – and a dirty shop will seriously distract.

coffee shop Warm wood and lighting, combined with a clean layout and counter, create a welcoming space.

3. Deliver Consistently Good Products

People will show up if you have a reputation for good coffee. And they’ll return if you always have good coffee. Consistency makes a huge difference. Customers want to know that no matter what day or season it is, who the barista is, or how busy it is, the product will taste just as good as it did the day before.

Of course, it doesn’t take years of experience working with espresso to figure out that there are a lot of variables involved in pulling a shot. Weather, time of day, and roast date are just a few of the many things that could affect a shot’s taste and, therefore, a customer’s experience. And then there are all the possible variations involved in brewing a pour over.

Because of this, managers and trainers must equip all of their staff equally well. Naturally, some people will progress faster than others, but every person making coffee should be able to provide the same experience as the other baristas on their team.

You might like How to Serve Consistently Good Coffee in a Café

coffee shop Barista Nikko Jones pours a cortado. Credit: Bryson Debard

4. Remember The “Serve” in Service Industry

It’s easy to get lost in the craft of coffee and forget about customers. When you love what you do and care deeply about the product you make, you might occasionally forget that the point of your job is to give it away to someone else.

I am definitely not saying to put our passion aside. I’m just saying we need to remember that the core of our job is serving coffee. We are servants in this way, and sometimes servants have to lay down their own thoughts to prioritize someone else’s preferences – such as adding syrups or using soy milk.

As your customers become regulars, you’ll get the opportunity to make drink recommendations because they’ll have trust in you. But that trust will never develop if you roll your eyes the first time they ask for half-caf.

Join in with the debate! Read Is Adding Sugar to Coffee Really That Bad?

coffee shopBaristas serving customers. Credit: Joshua Rodriguez

5. Start With The Staff

No matter how passionate the staff, a job will always be a job. Sometimes there will be bad days. But, in general, if your aim is to create a space where customers want to be, the staff should want to be there, too.

Leaders in coffee shops (owners, managers, lead baristas, etc.) must treat all employees with respect. Pay people a decent wage, try not to make their schedule terrible, and listen to them when they have concerns. These things will make a huge difference in how your staff feels about coming to work, and when your staff is happy, it will be easier for them to make customers happy.

Read more tips on How to Keep Your Baristas Happy!

These tips seem reasonably obvious, but the reality is that a lot of shops don’t follow them. Coffee professionals often forget that employee satisfaction doesn’t just happen naturally. And the customers will notice if the employees aren’t motivated.

Coffee people are passionate people. Fuel that passion in order to see great service, great coffee, and great customer retention rates.

coffee shop Assistant Manager Stephen Clardy trains team member Nikko on the espresso machine. Credit: Bryson Debard

Repeat customers make a huge difference to a coffee shop’s bottom line. They represent more profits per coffee because the marketing costs are reduced (not to mention that their recommendations should bring in more customers). They offer the guarantee of future custom. And they’re generally easier to please than new clients. So follow these five tips to start turning customers into regulars.

Enjoyed this article? You might like this video on Will Your Third Wave Coffee Shop Be Profitable?

Written by Joseph Honescko, Manager of 1418 Coffeehouse. Feature photo credit: Patrick Tomasso

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