How to Start a Successful Coffee Shop in 2021

Cafe Entrepreneurship in 2021

Even in an ever-changing world, cafe entrepreneurship can be a meaningful road to career fulfillment. The fundamentals of success remain the same in 2021 as they did two, ten, and twenty years ago. Identifying a prime location, connecting with an intentional audience, being resilient, flexible, and innovative are all factors that will help you build a solid business foundation.

We’ve been teaching students how to make the perfect cup of coffee for over a decade. But coffee shop success isn’t quite as easy as making great coffee. If you want to increase the odds that your coffee shop business can flourish in good times (and make it through the bad), it takes strategic business decisions and the right entrepreneurial mindset. This holistic combination of coffee business insight, great coffee, and an entrepreneurial mindset is the basis for our comprehensive 3-Day Coffee Business Master Class.  

Do these fundamentals still stand true in 2021? Definitely. And, we’ve updated how to execute to meet today’s challenges.

Make It Easy for Customers to Get to You

One of the most obvious strategies of cafe entrepreneurship is to be where your customers are. That encompasses everything from choosing the right location, to showing up online where they browse, to partnering with other businesses your customers love.

During the pandemic, many coffee shops had to let go of their traditional role as “gathering places,” and instead focus on innovative new ways to get coffee to their customers. Despite the upheaval of the past two years, most coffee shops still had to lean on the strategic business decisions we teach in our business class. Here a few ways to help make it easier for customers to get to you. (No matter what’s happening in the world.)

Successful cafe entrepreneurship means choosing the right location.

1418 coffeehouseThe right location for your coffee shop is a strategic decision that will have a huge impact on the success of the business. It’s also a business decision many entrepreneurs enter without enough strategy in mind.

Too many small business owners select a location based on minimal research or a gut feeling. (In fact, we warn against this in our blog, 5 Reasons Why Cafe Startups Fail.) Take the extra time and effort to find a brick-and-mortar with plenty of traffic from the right audience. (And with more people working from home, this could mean shifting your focus from where people work to where they live.) 

Start by observing local traffic patterns. What businesses are nearby? Is there proximity to schools, apartment complexes, or hair salons? What times of day are people walking or driving by? The follow-up consideration to these prompts is about what type of customer is frequenting nearby businesses or passing by. Are they part of your target demographic?

If your potential location is located on a busy street with a school half a mile away, you can reasonably expect high traffic in the morning and afternoons from parents transporting kids or grabbing an after-school snack. If your location is next to university apartments, expect college students sitting at a table studying for several hours. And if your location is found on a residential street, you can learn more about the neighborhood population to get a feel for who will be walking over for coffee.

Bonus: make sure your potential location has enough parking if your target customers will be arriving by car!

Offer innovative ways for customers to order.

Online ordering may have started out as a temporary solution. But now, it’s a 2021 business staple. Many customers want to ditch the line or stay in their car to get coffee. To do so, they need to be able to call ahead or order from their phones. Some considerations when setting up your coffee shop’s online ordering:

  • Make sure customers can find you online
  • Have the necessary hardware/software to process payments
  • Decide what payment methods you can accept
  • Maintain the same levels of customer service

Next, drive-thru options kept many coffee shops afloat last year. (In fact, a number of our former students with drive-thrus told us they have been having record sales during the pandemic!) If you can find a space that has one, we encourage you to look into it. The Coffeepreneurs® of Beanstalk Coffee and Sno pivoted their location to a drive-thru in March of 2020, and to their relief, cars lined up. Customers told Jennii and Adrian, owners, that their coffee was the only reason they left their house! The beauty of a drive-thru is that you already have most of the infrastructure you need, including your in-store coffee equipment and staff.

You will need to take the necessary steps to build a plan that allows for the flow of traffic and equips your staff to manage both ordering formats. But once you’ve implemented the new format, you may meet a whole new demographic of customers on the go.

Lastly, a coffee truck, cart, or walk-up is a portable option that allows you to offer coffee nearly anywhere. Especially if your audiences is looking for outdoor and socially-distant events in 2021, a mobile coffee stand brings coffee to the people–instead of having to bring the people to you.

coffee school busBe Adaptable

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s to expect the unexpected. One of our core values at Texas Coffee School is adaptability–successfully adjusting to any circumstances. Rather than having to adapt your entire existing business model, you can create something perfectly suited to the new times.

As health mandates change, your services can adapt to local requirements and the desires of your customers. The growing digital nomad community invites more coffee shop space for working. And running a small business in a fluctuating economy calls for responsible budgeting and savvy spending. Regardless, adaptability breeds innovation. And innovation sets you apart in the market!

Texas Coffee School was founded on adaptability. Tom Vincent, Founder, was laid off from his job as a Creative Director in 2009 during the Great Recession. He had less than $50 to start his business. But Tom found success by hosting private coffee trainings at students’ houses and even in the break room of a company that made syrups for coffee shops.

“To be authentic you have to be innovative,” Tom teaches. “Bring inspiration from outside the industry. Be disruptive! It’s the coffee shops doing something different that are more likely to find long term success.”

Be Different

The target audience that you identified when choosing your location also shapes your unique selling proposition. Where does your audience live, work, and play? Does their gender, age, or income affect the aesthetic of your coffee shop? Do their hobbies present an opportunity to offer more than just coffee?

Brewing great coffee isn’t enough (in 2021, or before). A customer can buy coffee anywhere–you need to give them a reason to buy from you. Now more than ever, customers want to support businesses whose values and experiences align with theirs. That means, you need to form a perspective as a business. (And not the same one the coffee shop down the road has formed.) 

You can also tap into the lives of the people you serve. Why do they come to you in the first place? 

  • The parent dropping their kid off at school in the morning may stop into your cafe for a moment of tranquility and their first sip of caffeine. Factor this into your music choices and customer service.
  • College students may want reliable wifi and space to gather with friends that feels like a living room.
  • Neighborhood residents may prefer on-the-go options and even a snack to pair with their coffee.

Get creative! There are hundreds of unique ways to make your coffee shop stand out, so pick a few that align with both your company’s values and that of your customers.

Focus on the Human Connection

Coffee is more than a commodity; it’s a culture. Coffeepreneurs® who attend our 3-Day Coffee Business Master Class are seeking both industry expertise and connection with like-minded folks. And if you’re like the majority of people putting in the hard work of operating a coffee shop, you value more than just the bottom line–you value community.

As John, former student, put it, “Texas Coffee School provides solid training that is proven in the industry. My wife and I attended the course a few months ago and have since been developing our business. We have had the opportunity to glean from other businesses. We have learned that the information Texas Coffee School provides is accurate and in the right direction for success.”

Learn Cafe Entrepreneurship with Texas Coffee School

Your neighborhood needs the connected, purposeful cafe entrepreneurship you can offer. Join us in an upcoming class to uncover all the coffee know-how you need, from determining a location to connecting with customers!

Register for a Coffee Class

The Best Coffee Training Available

We’ve helped hundreds of students successfully launch their own coffee shop businesses. Join us in our 5-Star Rated Coffee Classes, whether you’re an aspiring entrepreneur looking to open a coffee shop, a manager, a barista or home enthusiast looking to sharpen your skills.