There is one coffee shop in my neighborhood and, every so often, I need to drive-through during its peak time in the morning —- usually around 8:00 a.m.  Even though I’m prepared to see the long line, I always breathe a sigh when I actually turn the corner and there it is.  I’ve come to hope that I just won’t have to wait on the road to get into the drive —– just too nerve-wracking for me.  However, I have never driven past, and I continue to spend my obligatory time in line because ……. my taste buds are ready for that mocha cappuccino.  It always starts my day off right, even if I have to fight the crowd.

     For your coffee shop, the busiest times depend upon your location (mall/side street) and the type of customer (students/tourists) you are serving.  While most owners prefer a steady stream throughout the day, coffee houses will, probably, experience heavy spurts during the morning, at lunch, and after work, with 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. being the heaviest.  



     Unless you have several coffee shops to observe in your area, you will need to start with the common plan that the busiest time will be the morning.  But, that still leaves a wide window —- 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m.?  7:30-9:30 a.m.?  Study the neighborhood.  What time do neighboring businesses open?  What time does the traffic pick up?  

     You will want to record your sales by month, day of the week, and hours in order to get a good picture of what your peak times are going to be.  Time-keeping software or time-tracker apps are easily, and inexpensively, available to help with that task.  At the same time, you may want to keep track of which items sell heavily during certain times or on certain days of the week.  That way, your inventory is stocked and prepared —– resulting in satisfied customers.

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     In the past, a rush could be observed by looking at the length of the physical queue.   Not so today.  You may see only five people in line, but the baristas could be working to fill up to 30 orders!  “This can happen when customers enter the store, order online, or through third-party delivery apps – especially as digital ordering and payment services have become more popular in coffee shops over the past few years.”  Add to that the typical phone orders and drive-through customers!

     In order to prevent customer frustration during rush times, you may want to use a digital system that projects the entire queue for customers to see.  They can get a realistic idea of how long they will wait and why.  If this is not in your budget at the start, then consider the “take-a-number” system so, again, they get a reasonable idea of the wait time.

     You may also want to consider keeping customers occupied as they wait.  Low-cost solutions could include:

  • television monitors
  • community boards showing upcoming events
  • merchandise shelves along the wait line
  • menus available for browsing
  • a brochure rack featuring local attractions

     You can get creative with this!  These ideas will be, mainly, focused on your inside queue as your drive-thru customers have their own entertainment through sound systems and digital devices.  It would still be helpful, though, if the drive-thru could also see the ‘digital queue’ in order to realize why they’re waiting so long when they only see three cars!



     As with so many other businesses, your shop’s peak hours will depend heavily on location, location, location!  Establishing yourself inside a mall or business park will set your hours to match those of the businesses around you.   The building you are in may determine the hours you can operate.  

     Regarding your location, keep local environmental factors in mind that also manipulate busy times such as parking bans, changing of street light timing, after-hours lighting, local crime numbers, etc.  Knowing the local schedule of maintenance and events —- hydrant flushing, festivals, sidewalk repair — will also be helpful in knowing the days or times your business flow can be thrown off.

     Knowing the schedules of your customers will help predict the ebb and flow of business.  If you see the majority of your draw coming from the local university, then you will have longer operating hours to meet the needs of early birds, late-risers, and late-night studiers.  Serving a business clientele will see your traditional before work, lunch hour, and after work timeframes.  Also, since a large number of workers are remote now, you may find a time of day where your shop is full of workers getting a change of scenery!

     It’s in your best interest to get familiar with your community.  Knowing the operation of businesses around you, knowing the activities that happen in your neighborhood, and knowing the type of customers coming through your door will all help determine your hours of operation and the hours that will end up being “peak” for your shop.

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     You already know there will be rush hours ….. so, plan for it!  Just as you will plan your funding, your suppliers, and your menu —– plan for the management of peak hours.  Think it through, and be ready for it!


 Train Your Staff – A standardized, across-the-board training focused on rush hours will put all workers on the same page.  They’ll know what to expect and know what is expected of them.

Employees should be trained in recognizing the beginning of the rush, knowing when to switch into a different gear, how to mentally adjust to the onslaught of demand, and how to maintain the customer service skills that are expected of them.  Since every day presents new challenges, they should also get a heavy dose of teamwork guidance —- “You’re only as strong as your weakest link!”

Another note on training, — if you end up running more than one store, make sure all employees receive similar training.  This allows for moving employees between stores with no slowing or disruption of service — and alleviates “Well, at my shop we…”

Manage the Customers


On top of keeping customers informed of the queue and providing them with materials to browse, you will also need to efficiently direct the flow of the ordering process.  Helpful signage is important here —- using both words and graphics to direct.  Keep them moving, and keep them out of each other’s way.  Study each part of the process to see that customers are not getting hung up at a particular point between entering and leaving your shop.

Breakdown of the Different Coffee Drinks

Study the Work Area

Closely examine the area where baristas are expected to work —- how efficient is it?  If this isn’t your area of expertise, “get advice in advance of coffee shop set-up.  Whatever you want your space to do, design for that. If you’re in a high foot traffic area and need to crank through 500 to-go drinks per day, choose your equipment and design your space to optimize for workflow and efficiency.  

  • How far away are ingredients?
  • Does each person have an assigned role?
  • Are they crossing each other’s path?
  • How many steps do baristas have to take for an order?
  • Are they supplied with the proper equipment?
  • Is the equipment in good working order?

     One final note on training and equipment — using Murphy’s Law we can assume that if your equipment will break, it will break during your peak rush time!  Make arrangements with your equipment representative to train you and at least one employee on fixing some of the simple, most common things that could go wrong with the machines.  If it’s a part that commonly wears out, have extras on hand.  Also, discuss “emergency calls” with your rep so everyone’s ready when necessary.

     The busiest hours at a coffee shop are typically the 8:00 to 10:00 a.m. timeframe.  However, every shop is in a unique location with a unique customer base, and every season throughout the year can bring a different flow.  Keeping track and identifying your heaviest sales periods and training your staff how to manage rush hours will result in return customers who are willing to wait for your delicious brew!

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Frequently Asked Questions

 What days are the busiest at cafes?

Mother’s Day is considered to be the busiest day for the restaurant business.  Customers range from young to old, and statistics show them dining through all timeframes – breakfast, brunch, lunch, and dinner.  Valentine’s Day follows along with Father’s Day, but those days find heavier dining in the evening.

How do you increase revenue during off-peak hours?

After identifying which hours are off-peak for your shop, one or more strategies can be implemented to spark some business.  Plan to extend special offers on popular menu items. Schedule happy hours.  Connect with the community and local businesses to see if your shop could be used for meetings or gatherings.

To learn more on how to start your own coffee shop checkout my startup documents here

Please note: This blog post is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Please consult a legal expert to address your specific needs.