I live in cafes. I work and write in cafes. I eat and drink in cafes. I meet in cafes. I also teach real customer service. So, here are 101 ideas and tips for refreshing your approach to running your cafe, especially if you are honest enough with yourself to admit you may have “lost it” a bit.
Often the biggest block to a cafe improving are the owners. The owner of the cafe, you see, is the genius who thought up the idea to open the cafe in the first place. Their ego (and often heart and soul too) is identified and wrapped up with the enterprise. They often find it hard to take feedback or advice from anyone else. THEY are the one who is steering the ship. They also believe, during troubled times, that is is they and only they who can solve the problems and get the business out of the mess or downturn it finds itself in. So, with much hope, but little expectation, as both a long time customer and a bit of an old hand at customer service and “Excellent” business, I offer some suggestions…
Look past your ego for a moment and open yourself up to these tips and challenges. Asking questions and being open to the answers is a key tool for being a conscious business. Often the most difficult, uncomfortable and challenging questions can yield the most useful insights.
You can use it as a checklist – on your own, in a management or staff meeting or in training.
1. Is there any part of your cafe that suggests lack of cleanliness or hygiene? Even the most highly scored cafes can fall down on this occasionally. Last week I was in three “5” rated cafes (for hygiene) that fell down and might put customers off: a grubby loo, sticky table, someone taking money and handling food with the same hand, a plate of cakes on the counter too near to sneezing staff and customers
2. Are your prices the wrong side of a banknote? 5.10 for two coffees will not get returners as much as 4.90 – try it
3. Is the coffee too cold during busy periods. Check. Is it really hot enough? Is the milk froth being rushed and not steamed enough?
4. Has the coffee blend become too samey? When did you last taste it – even you connisseurs – as if for the first time?
5. Are you aligning your cafe enough top fair trade and organic desiring customers?
6. Is the tea too weak? Is your selection of herbal teas too bland?
7. Have your attempts to stop people sitting on their laps tops using your wifi with one coffee for three hours actually alienated customers too much?
8. Can people plug in their lap tops? If not, is the lack of plugs done in a negative or positive way?
9. Is your cafe too hot or too cold?
10. Is there too much noise in parts of your cafe? Room for a quieter area?
11. Do you need a bit more space for buggies or push chairs or are they driving other customers away?
12. Is your cafe’s obsession with coffee pushing away tea drinkers?
13. Is your chilled cabinet chilled enough and are its garish lights and coldness putting off customers who have to sit at tables too close to it?
14. Are you catering to vegans and lovers of goats milk?
15. Are your prices too high for the current recession?
16. Does your deli counter look like a fortress keeping customers away from you?
17. How well do your staff know the food on offer?
18. What alternatives do you offer to tea and coffee? More options perhaps? Does your soup lack soup-ierioty?
19. Is there a horrendous gust of wind every time the door opens? What can you do about it?
20. Are your loos unwelcoming and meanly designed?
21. Do you provide enough reading material? Magazines? Newspapers? Books? Up to date what’s on guides?
22. Have you got piles of out of date flyers and leaflets piled somewhere uselessly?
23. How about a community notice board?
24. Could you use your cafe to host more events?
26. Is there at least one table for 6 people or more or can this easily be arranged?
27. Space put put coats and umbrellas?
28. Jugs of filtered tap water and cups for people?
29. Is your selection of soft drinks poorly chilled if at all? Could you improve what you offer and how you offer it?
30. Do you offer ice with cold drinks?
31. Are your smoothies a pain to produce? Do people have to wait too long?
32. Can you handle rush hours better?
33. Do staff deal well with stress or become a bit cold and unfriendly?
34. Does lighting glare into people’s faces anywhere?
35. Do tables creak and spill coffee because they aren’t flush to the ground?
36. Does your kitchen look confident and clean, or chaotic and worrying?
37. Is the cafe boss a bit of an ogre and a know-it-all seen-it-all?
38. Has the boss become too set in their ways?
39. Do staff hold conversations in front of customers that make them feel excluded?
40. What do you have up on walls? Are the pictures appealing, not just to you? Could you put local art up?
41. Do the loos spread unappealing smells to tables near them?
42. Do you have enough loos and baby changing facilities?
43. Is the decor looking a bit tired – inside and outside?
44. Any special offers and is the loyalty scheme looking a bit tired?
45. Check your spoons – do they look new?
46. Is your cutlery lost in plastic mediocrity?
47. How easy are your cups to hold?
48. Do you offer enough breakfast options?
49. Do people feel unwelcome if they don’t buy food with their drink? Are you too pushy with the “would you like something to eat with that?”
50. Are people tripping over anywhere in your cafe?
51. Have you basically made the toilets almost impossible to access?
52. How wheelchair friendly is your cafe?
53. Have you really woken up to ALL the alternatives to milk and sugar?
54. Does your hot chocolate take half an hour to make?
55. Have you sold out of a lot of food items way before you close? Can you stock better?
56. Does food sit there, unsold for too long? Can you refresh rather than just put it out once in the morning?
57. How credit and debit card friendly are you?
58. Could you make more use of voucher schemes?
59. How fresh are your pastries; do they look like they are the best in town?
60. Does your food ignore fussy eaters or people who like simple food as well?
61. Do some of your staff or or even bosses dump their moods onto customers?
62. Does it take too long to get a coffee?
63. Does the tea simply mean a tea bag dumped into a cup of hot water? What about pots of tea or even fresh infusions of herbs?
64. Are you proud enough of your coffee to sell bags of it as well?
65. Are your prices and menus clear and accessible enough, outside and inside the cafe?
66. Is your cafe’s decor dull? Who might it be excluding or keeping away?
67. Are your muffins fresh or do they look like you bought a max pack in Lidl?
68. Does your cafe offer healthy options or is it too obsessively healthy?
69. Do you offer only raw food options that put more conventional people off, or do you ignore raw food fans completely?
70. Have you made the best use of the location of your cafe?
71. Do you need to bite the bullet and buy better coffee or a better coffee machine?
72. Do your staff REALLY know how to make a perfect coffee? Do you, as the owner? Really?
73. Get more involved in local food festivals and events? Also sponsoring community activity? Be seen as a local player and supporter.
74. Did you ever launch properly? Relaunch? Launch new menu or new menu options?
75. Scope for more home made and locally produced food? Vary the menu more?
76. Softer, more comfy seating? Better for bad backs? More flexible seating?
77. How child friendly is the cafe? Things for kids to do?
78. Does a radio or even TV ruin the peace of customers?
79. Have you got your prices on labels that actually stick into the food? Who wants THAT croissant?
80. Does a microwave act as the default for heating up food? Almost no customers want it.
81. Are your takeaway cups too thin and burn hands? Use serviettes?
82. Can people easily enter and exit the cafe without bumping into each other and people sat at tables?
83. Is your heating old and noisy? Is your air conditioning non-existent, too hard to control, too cold, or even looks old and unhygienic?
84. Can your prices be seen by everyone? Is the writing too small or unreadable? People like to see prices before they order.
85. Is your discounting too small, too seedy or too complicated?
86. Is the floor really clean – I mean, really, including where they entrance is – go and look now and be honest
87. Are staff to slow to clear tables? Are they wiped with a horrible looking cloth?
88. Have you lost your mojo for starting the cafe in the first place? Do you and it need a big refresh?
89. Could staff be better trained?
90. Do you make enough of potential rush hours – morning, lunch and home from work time? Could you have better signage outside and deals for regulars? Also is it fast enough for those on the run.
91. Do plug points look safe. Have they been covered up with unfriendly and unsafe looking signs? How do the electrics look and feel in your cafe?
92. When you serve customers at your til, are you front on or side on to them. Can they see the amounts being rung up. Customers like and want to see that. They also like you to face towards them not away or sideways on.
93. Do you have an ambiguous policy on bringing dogs in? Yes or no? Is that really working?
94. How clean are cups? I’ve found dirty, stained cups and tea pots (and spoons) in EVERY CAFE I have been in this week. Yeuch.
95. Do you welcome feedback from customers or do you get defensive. Learn to welcome it. I find too many owners who can’t take it at all. Do you have a place for suggestions or a sign asking for honest feedback?
96. Could you adaptability to different customers? Is service a bit too vanilla?
97. Can people catch they eye of staff easily? Are they hidden behind a too high counter plied high with flapjacks? Do your staff make themselves visible enough?
98. What’s unique about the cafe? What is the positive story people tell about it around the town?
99. Is there enough variety on offer? Which customers do not feel catered to?
100. Are you alienating older people? Can you also play to older generations? Or is your cafe too traditional and missing out on younger customers?
101. Do you welcome visitors from out of town and overseas well enough – local knowledge? Speak French or German?
Yes, of course there are more than 101!
102. Regulars like familiarity. Have you changed anything without thought or explanation that has sent them fleeing
103. If your cafe is quirky, is that by design or by accident ?
104. Have you recently done a check for cobwebs ? And under table or chair chewing gum ?
105. Any flaking decoration that might put customers off ?
106. Are any of your prices too high – look right across the menu
107. Are you linking to initiatives such as local or fair trade ? Are you doing it inconsistently across your menu ?
108. Have you deliberately or accidentally downgraded the quality of anything on offer that might turn off customers ?
109. Decent baby changing facilities ?
110. Even if it isn’t, does anything look like a fire hazard or dangerous ?
111. Does your menu cater enough to fussy eaters ?
112. Did you recently run out of anything whilst open ? Why? How could you prevent that next time ?
113. Could you cafe do with a bit more creative or quirky style ?
114. Are you keeping tabs on online reviews ? What’s your online reputation looking like ?
115. Could you improve sales by extending opening hours ?
116. I’ve seen a lot of cafes recently not responding to availability of natural alternatives to sugar – stevia, honey, agave syrup etc
117. Do your staff really listen to customer orders for food and drink or are there too many instances of getting the order wrong ?
118. Are notice boards chaotic, hinting at a chaotically run cafe ?
119. Do your sandwiches look like the ones sold in Tesco for a quid ?
120. Is there too much salt in your food?
121. Do you have any moody staff who dump their moods on customers or even rubbish the cafe (often subtly)
122. Is there a dead pigeon on top of any skylights or a whole load of pigeon poop ?
123. Is there a horrendous gust of wind whenever the door is opened ?
124. I know this seems a bit raw, but do any staff or managers have dirty fingernails ?
125. Are your croissants soft like bath sponges or crispy and oven fresh ?
126. Is service sometimes sluggish ? What takes too long ?
127. Are first impressions welcoming enough ?
128. Are you catering to fussy eaters?
129: Do tables wobble annoyingly?
130: Is there a way of shielding your customers from some of the coffee machine noise?
131: Are you providing some helpful tourist information?
132: Can any of your staff deal better with elderly people?
134: Is there disability-friendliness in your cafe or is it an “issue”?
135: How could you be quirkier? Just little things…
136: Is there any annoying radio playing in the background – tinny sound? Lose it!
137: Do you have a “seen it all, done it all” attitude towards new ideas and feedback?
138. Is the pavement in front of your cafe loaded with chewing gum and others nasties?
139: Do you truly rise to the challenge of busy and rush periods, or does it exude stress?
140: Do regulars feel special? Do newbies feel excluded?
141: Have you tried “cake of the day”? Creating a feeling of daily experimentation and playful in the cafe?
142: Can your price and menu boards be easily read from a distance?
143. Are your menus hard to read or access. Are they trapped under a box of serviettes and cutlery?
144. Are the words and phrases on your menu bamboozling and confusing, elite or alienating, pretentious or hard to see or read?
145. Are there interesting things to read?
146. How much of a good community citizen is your cafe? Notice board? Local charity fundraising?
147. Child-friendly facilities?
So, there they are. And here I am, a little bit too cold, typing on a wobbly table, and hoping that a few of these tips find a welcome and beautifully brewed home.