The first day a new specialty coffee shop opened in my neighborhood, I waited in a line that ran out the front door and snaked down the sidewalk.  I figured the opening day crowd had overwhelmed the new baristas.  However, when I reached the front, I was surprised to see confident baristas chatting with customers while simultaneously operating shiny espresso machines and pouring hot water over hourglass-shaped carafes.  A barista told me that the shop’s coffee took several minutes to prepare because of their “unique brewing methods and high standards”. 

I was impressed, and my (expensive) cappuccino was amazing.  I went back a second morning, but by the third, I had grown tired of waiting in line and for several minutes after I placed my order.  I bypassed the new shop and hit up the chain option nearby.  The coffee wasn’t as good, but I knew I wouldn’t have to wait as long. 

Customers will wait for excellent coffee, but only up to a point. After waiting about six minutes, the customer’s satisfaction drops significantly.  In order to keep your customers happy, coffee shops need to streamline the coffee making process, manage customer expectations, and train their baristas well. 

Identify Your Coffee Shop Identity and Culture

Express Espressos?  How Long It Should Take to Serve a Customer Coffee

Understanding your unique coffee shop identity is the first step to establishing a standard for customer wait times.  First, consider the types of coffee brewing methods you offer. If your coffee shop has manual brew methods like pour-over coffee or French press coffee, customers who choose these options will naturally wait longer than someone who orders a drip coffee or shot of espresso.  

The industry term for a coffee shop that offers manual brew methods is called a “slow bar”.  Brewing times for these slower methods range from about 2-4 minutes, but customer wait times can be much longer as baristas manage multiple orders and multiple coffee making methods.  

So, what do you envision when you think of your coffee shop?  Is it a place where customers rush in and grab a fast cup of coffee to guzzle on their way to the office?  Or is it a place where customers expect to wait, but can look forward to a mental break and excellent coffee?  One isn’t necessarily better than the other, but understanding what type of coffee business you are can help you be more consistent and set up customer expectations accordingly.

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Manage Customer Expectations

Once you understand your brand, managing customer expectations with regards to wait time is key to the customer’s overall satisfaction.  When I visited the new specialty coffee shop in my neighborhood, I really appreciated the barista’s communication about a longer wait time.  He thanked me for waiting in line and explained why I did so, then he gave me an estimated time my order would be ready based on what drink I chose.  I felt like he cared about my experience and that made me feel like I could be patient in return.  

You can manage your customers’ expectations in a similar way, no matter what type of brewing methods you offer.  For example, if the baristas in your coffee shop usually serve coffee quickly but are extremely busy, they need to communicate this to the customer right away.  People are more likely to be loyal to a business that they perceive as being honest with them.

Streamline Your Coffee Shop Processes

Streamlining your daily operations removes unnecessary steps that could cause delays for your customers.  Sometimes, these inefficiencies are hard to see, especially if you have a long established business.  Take a step back and notice if you can improve on the following:


An efficient layout in a coffee shop means that the baristas have everything they need close at hand.  For example, make sure your coffee cups are located right next to the register, so the staff member can write on the cups as the customer is placing the order.  

In addition, make sure the espresso machines and other coffee makers are also near the register.  This way, even if your barista is working alone, they can make drinks while talking to the next customer in line.

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Labeling and Organization

Express Espressos?  How Long It Should Take to Serve a Customer Coffee

Purchase a label maker and clearly label everything!  You truly cannot have too many labels behind the bar in a coffee shop.  Labels allow the baristas to concentrate on serving drinks accurately and quickly, and not on trying to determine whether the spice they’re about to sprinkle is nutmeg or cinnamon.

Insist on an organized coffee bar.  Talk to your baristas and take their ideas on organizational systems, and then stick with the decisions.  For example, arranging your syrups by color or alphabetical order might seem nice, but is it really efficient? 

Another essential organizational system that is easily implemented is to have your baristas write both the person’s first name and their drink on the cup.  Then, when the barista calls the drink out, they say the name of the person and the drink.  This avoids any confusion when several customers are waiting for the same drink.  Two customers might be waiting for the same drink, but it’s unlikely that two customers with the same first name will be waiting for the same drink at the same time!

Stock Smart

Make sure you have enough stock on hand so your employees can easily replace inventory while serving customers.  For example, baristas should never have to “run to the back” to retrieve a jug of milk or container of syrup.  Determine what your highly used items are, and make sure to have plenty of extras easily accessible.  Stocking should be done while the shop is closed or during slow periods.

Train Baristas Well

The key element to managing customer expectation and streamlining your process is training your baristas well.  Confident baristas will be more efficient and able to meet the customers’ needs.  A well-trained barista is also much less likely to make mistakes with drinks.  Here are several tips on how to train your baristas to become more efficient and serve customers faster.

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Train Each Position

Train each part of the job individually, and move the barista to the next training position when they have mastered the first.  For example, start your barista training on the register and make sure they are comfortable taking orders and communicating with customers.  

When they’ve mastered this role, then teach them to make the food and drink on your menu.  Pair them with a more experienced staff member and have them take notes while they watch the employee work.  Then, have the more experienced barista supervise the new hire.  

Make sure to communicate to your customers that the barista is in training.  Most people will be more patient with someone learning the ropes!  Too often, baristas are rushed through training before they are ready, and this can cause them to make mistakes.  Mistakes undoubtedly result in a longer wait time for customers. 


Encourage your baristas to work as a team and help out their fellow staff members, because the customers will notice. 

The most frustration I ever experienced as a customer in a coffee shop was when I was in a hurry and needed my coffee to go.  Only after placing my order did I realize how backed up the barista was.  She had several labeled cups in front of her and was working as quickly as she could, but had no one to help her expedite the drinks. 

Express Espressos?  How Long It Should Take to Serve a Customer Coffee

Meanwhile, two other baristas chatted near the register, even though nobody else was in line, while a third slowly restocked paper cups, even though there were plenty available.  Even if the barista was the only one who knew how to make the drinks, her team members should have attempted to help her.  


Establishing a consistent routine that your baristas follow will help them take orders, make drinks, and serve customers quickly.  The routine obviously will change if you have one person doing everything or a team of people working together.  Either way, a routine creates consistency for the baristas.  When the steps become automatic, they’ll be able to serve customers faster.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What should I train my baristas on first:  taking orders or making drinks?

Train your baristas to take orders and manage customer expectations before training them to make drinks.  This shows the barista that you prioritize excellent customer service before anything else.  Also, training them to take orders helps them become familiar with your coffee shop’s menu, learn the most popular drinks, and understand what times of day are the busiest.  When they are comfortable with all of this, then train them to efficiently and quickly make the drinks.  

Should I set up an online pre-ordering system?

Giving customers the ability to order ahead can help you serve customers quickly.  Many of these ordering platforms give the customer an estimated wait time depending on how busy your shop is, which helps manage expectations.  Also, an order ahead option makes your physical line much shorter, which is more encouraging for customers.

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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.