If there’s one thing that sets coffee shops apart from each other, it is their aesthetics. Furniture says a lot about how you run your coffee shop, what kind of etiquette you expect out of your customers, and why customers would draw themselves to you.
If you’re struggling or feeling overwhelmed about what kinds of furniture you should have in your coffee shop, here are five steps to get you back on track:
- Stick to a design theme
- Set a budget
- Think utility
- Vary your spaces (single-person seating, comfy seating, group seating)
- Splurge on one thing
Following these steps will help you hack through the millions of options at your feet and will give you the coffee shop you want.
Stick to a design theme
You might be more inclined to stay on the safe side and find some basic furniture pieces that fit in with what modern home decor trends are drawn to. Nobody can call your coffee shop ugly then, right? Wrong.
Having a point of view and being creative is one of the many perks of running a small business. Instead of looking generic, people will come to your coffee shop because they are mesmerized by its kitchyness. Lean into that.
I once worked at a pet-friendly café that really embraced their dog-loving customers by having paintings of dogs all around the walls. It’s not something I would ever put in my home, but I still loved coming in on my days off and the café was quite successful.
Take a look at non-coffee shop businesses around you. What elements do you like about those stores? Have you seen a piece of art, a historical period, or a scene from a movie that sticks with you? Draw inspiration from that.
Remember, people appreciate small businesses because they’re personal, not because they’re generic. Be bold and go with a mix of style elements that really stick with you.
If you’re looking for more things to consider with your design, check out this article!
Set a budget
Don’t get me wrong, you don’t want to overlook the interior of your coffee shop by any means. But you can easily blow through your cash upfront if you’re not careful with what you buy.
Survey your space, draw up a few plans, and take inventory of everything you actually need. Not want, need. Then take advantage of second-hand stores, and businesses that are relocating and selling their furniture.
You might find a couple bar stools or unique pieces that are cheaper and harder to come buy at your regular wholesaler. If you’re shopping at a popular restaurant wholesale company, you might realize that a lot of other businesses are using the same furniture pieces you were looking at.
Need more help with starting a coffee shop on a budget? Try this article.
Sure, that $3,000 leather armrest looks exactly like what you posted on your vision board, but it may not be the best investment for your coffee shop. Consider what kind of location you’re in and what resources you can expend. If your coffee shop is in a busy area, that armrest is going to see a lot of spills, a lot of stains and a lot of smells. Your customers aren’t going to love it for very long, and reupholstering can cost a fortune.
Think about what your furniture says about your coffee shop and the utilitarian role your coffee shop will play to the customers that walk through your door.
Hard-seat bar stools and small spaces might indicate to your customers that you’re in a high-traffic area and it may not be the best place to sit and chat. A circle of comfy armchairs might tell your customers that you’re okay with them being here for the long haul as they study or work.
If you work near a handful of office buildings, you might want to set up a few seating arrangements for meetings –– ones where coworkers aren’t awkwardly sinking into couches, but can still cross their legs and feel comfortable and professional while in a chill environment.
If you work near a school or university, consider busting out some comfy seating spaces students can hang out in between class breaks and quite possibly nap on (I did this in college at a local coffee shop, after buying a cup of cold brew).
And, if your coffee shop is too small, if you don’t have it in your budget, or it otherwise isn’t exactly set up to welcome lots of guests, add a couple bar stools and bar tables and call it a day. Nobody wants to sit on those things very long anyways. It’s a good way to tell your customers you appreciate their business, but you’re not going to be able to handle long-term guests.
Whatever you choose, make sure your furniture can handle all the wear and tear it will hopefully be exposed to as the years go on and your foot traffic increases.
Vary your spaces
Your coffee shop is going to see a lot of customers who have all different kinds of needs. There will be those colleagues who grab coffee after their ten o’clock meeting. There will be the creatives and the freelancers working on writing their new book who need a good five hours of uninterrupted peace and quiet. There will be students who drag themselves into your coffee shop when the sun sets to get started on a long paper or to study for finals.
Your furniture will play the role of directing those customers on where to sit. Here are some basic seating arrangements:
A large table: This is for people who come into your coffee shop as a meeting space. If you have a couple large tables that can comfortably sit five people, you can expect to see students working on group projects to sit there, or you might find a group of people developing the next big app.
Two-person tables: Rarely do two people actually use two-person tables. Instead, these are meant for one person who needs to study or work in relative isolation and needs to spread things around. Two-person tables are the most functional –– people can push them together to create a larger group area, two people can sit and hang out together, or one person can work alone.
A bar top: If you don’t want to buy a ton of two-person tables, consider getting a bar counter and some bar stools. This arrangement is perfect if your coffee shop is small and you need to take advantage of otherwise empty wall space. A bar top is also better in wrangling laptop cords and phone cables so your customers aren’t stepping (or tripping) over chargers as they walk across your store.
Armchairs and coffee tables: Keep some extra homey seating arrangements around, like a circle of soft armchairs, for those who want to do some light reading while they sip on their coffee. A comfortable seating arrangement is usually the focal point of a coffee shop. Whether people use it or not, they will appreciate the personal touch.
Splurge on one thing
It could be a table, a chair, a rug or a piece of art. Whatever it is, it is your calling card. It is the thing that is unique to your coffee shop. It is the thing everyone wants to use, or take a picture with, or sit on. It is the ultimate conversation piece for your coffee shop.
I can distinctly remember two of these. A coffee shop on my block in high school had a large porch swing outside. My friends and I used to wake up early on Sundays so we could claim it and read our books while rocking back and forth. Later, in college, there was a large table that had a working clock inside it. Sometimes if I was tired of the blue light of my laptop screen, I’d get mesmerized watching the seconds hand on that clock tick away.
Again, a green porch swing and a clock table are not two things I’d personally put in my own home. Sure, I remembered how good the coffee was, or how friendly the baristas were, but when I visit my hometown, I always check to make sure that green porch swing is there.
If you find something that seems so outrageous you want it in your coffee shop, don’t abandon it because it’s not “practical”. Feel free to treat yourself and your customer to one crazy thing that sets your coffee shop apart from others and shows your uniqueness as a small business.
Frequently Asked Questions
Talk to your retailer. Ask how you should care for your furniture, how often it needs to be cleaned, and how to improve the longevity of the piece. Don’t forget to look at reviews online and research the materials themselves Before you buy a piece, make sure you’re capable of taking the time and spending the money to care for it when needed to maintain the cleanliness of your coffee shop.
Instead of looking for a lot of small furniture, consider furnishing your coffee shop with two or three seating arrangements that can fit a handful of guests. Also get creative with your storage. Perhaps a bookshelf can act as storage for your coffee equipment, which can help you save space while creating a homey environment.
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.
Hi! I’m Shawn Chun
My adventure in coffee began when I first launched my first coffee shop back in the early 2000s. I had to figure out so many things on my own and to make it worse within 2 years of opening two large corporate coffee chains moved in just blocks away from me!
As I saw smaller and even some larger coffee shops in the neighborhood slowly lose customers to these giant coffee chains and slowly close up shop, I knew that I had to start getting creative…or go out of business.
I (like you may be) knew the coffee industry well. I could make the best latte art around and the foam on my caps was the fluffiest you have ever seen. I even had the best state-of-the-art 2 group digital Nuova Simonelli machine money could buy. But I knew that these things alone would not be enough to lure customers away from the name brand established coffee shops.
Eventually, through lots of trial and error as well as perseverance and creativity I did find a way to not only survive but also thrive in the coffee/espresso industry even while those corporate coffee chains stayed put. During those years I learned to adapt and always faced new challenges. It was not always easy, however, in the end, I was the sole survivor independent coffee shop within a 10-mile radius of my location. Just two corporate coffee chains and I were left after that year. All told the corporate coffee chains took down over 15 small independent coffee shops and kiosks and I was the last one standing and thriving.
Along the years I meet others with the same passion for coffee and I quickly learned that it is not only “how good a barista is” that makes a coffee shop successful, but the business side of coffee as well.
Hence why I started this website you are on now. To provide the tools and resources for up and coming coffee shop owners to gain that vital insight and knowledge on how to start a coffee shop successfully.
Stick around, browse through my helpful blog and resources and enjoy your stay! With lots of LATTE LOVE!