We Answer: Should Your Coffee Shop Also Serve Wine?
Should your coffee shop also serve wine? The quick, facile answer is “Why not? Starbucks is doing it.” But the real answer is, and should be, “It’s complicated.”
Should your coffee shop also serve wine means that you can add new items to your menu, offer your customers something different from your usual flavors of coffee, and extend your hours; but it also means that you will need a new set of business licenses and that you might lose some customers because of age restrictions or because the addition of alcoholic beverages can change your atmosphere.
The reasons why you should add wine to your coffee shop are several. Let’s just make an annotated list of the good reasons to add wine to your coffee shop.
You can extend your hours. Coffee hours are often regarded as breakfast or perhaps lunch hours. That means that you might start serving at around six o’clock am and continue through the lunch hour, perhaps until 2:00. Those hours will catch most of the breakfast and lunch crowd, and just incidentally give you the rest of your day free for other things. With that said, you are paying rent or maintenance on a building that is not producing anything from 2:00 pm until perhaps around 4:00am, when you or your hired help come in to start prepping for breakfast. Extending your hours means making better use of your facilities.
You can add new menu items. If you are serving wine, then, of course, you will add wine to your menu. But you might be adding another meal to your menu. Certainly, to go with wine there will be different snacks and appetizers than are appealing with coffee. Added meals can mean added revenue, which in these budget-challenged times is almost always a good thing.
You can offer your valued customers something different. What if, in addition to the wine list on your menu, you added entertainment. It would be easy to put up a big screen TV, but what about something a little more, a trifle more personal? You could invite local drama clubs or schools to put on performances in the evening, or to just host local musicians. At that point, the wine at your establishment becomes part of “date night” or perhaps, depending on local laws concerning minors and places that serve alcohol, it could become a place for families.
Licensing for wine is less expensive than that for liquor. While it might be an appealing option, and certainly one to consider, if you allow your baristas the opportunity to make things like Irish coffee, you will need to have a license to serve distilled spirits. Those licenses are expensive! Wine is a much more affordable choice.
There are just as many, possible more, reasons not to serve wine in your coffee shop. Doing so is not as simple as adding a new flavor of coffee, several kinds of tea, or putting in a soda fountain. Let’s take a look at why you should not serve wine in your coffee shop.
You do not have to serve wine to extend your hours. Although adding the opportunity to order a glass of wine with dinner might be appealing to some customers, you can add a dinner hour to your breakfast and lunch menu without adding alcoholic beverages. It might be a harder sell, but you might also pick up customers who do not want to go to the coffee shops that do serve wine. In some locations, you would lose customers who have young children, and possibly the patronage of those who are trying to “stay on the cold-water wagon.”
You can still add new things to your menu. Sparkling fruit juice is often an acceptable substitute for fermented drinks and would not require getting an expensive license to serve alcohol. Furthermore, you would be spared dealing with a whole new set of food licensing regulations. Those licenses to serve alcohol start at around $5000 to serve wine or beer, and go up from there.
You would be spared an interesting round of re-training existing staff or hiring new staff to serve the beverages and accompanying food. Extending your hours, all by itself, could require hiring more people. No matter how good your current staff might be, everyone needs a chance to sleep and to have time off. But it is a short step from serving breakfast and lunch with coffee, to serving dinner with fruit juice and soft drinks. It is a long step, and a lot of licensing and age requirements even to just serve wine.
You can still offer your valued customers something extra. In fact, it might be even easier to develop a family dinner and theater night, or to offer young musicians a place to perform because you would not have to worry about under-age workers or customers in your place of business.
Less bookkeeping and fewer regulations to worry about. The food industry has plenty of regulations. Just extending your hours, adding more workers, and changing up your menu could be stressful.
Less customer stress. If you added wine to your menu, chances are good that most of your customers would be there to have a quiet evening with their significant other, or maybe just an opportunity to unwind with a nice meal, a bottle of wine, and a good book. But it is almost certain that someone would come into your nice coffee shop, have two or three glasses of wine too many, and cause a problem. It might not happen often, but you would need to be prepared.
The Bottom Line on Serving Wine at Your Coffee Shop
It is certainly something that you could do, but it is not as simple as picking up a bottle of red and a bottle of white wine and serving them with a choice of a beef or chicken dinner during the evening hours. There would be several steps you would need to address before taking that one.
Investigate zoning for your current location. Would you need to change location to serve wine? Or even to just stay open later?
Discover the licenses you would need to be allowed to serve wine, beer, or other alcoholic beverages. Can you afford to make the change?
Number and age of staff. If you currently employ high school students during the after-school rush, you might not be able to do that any longer.
Would there be age restrictions on your customers? Adding hours doesn’t help much if you can no longer serve customers who are below a certain age. Depending on the average age of the people who come into your coffee shop, you could wind up losing customers rather than adding them.
Alcohol is expensive. Good coffee is expensive, too, but perhaps not as expensive as really good alcoholic beverages. Serving vin ordinaire might not achieve your goals.
To Answer, “Should your coffee shop also serve wine,” is complicated. There are some really good re-branding and added revenue reasons to add wine to your coffee ship menu. But there are possibly even more to stop and think about the full ramifications of what could happen if you do.
Is there really a possibility that I might lose underage or family customers?
It depends on your location. Regulations for serving alcohol vary from state to state, and sometimes even from county to county or town to town. Some places would simply require that you ask anyone purchasing your wine for identification, others would not allow underage customers to come into the store at all, while others would require a parent or guardian. So, yes, you could wind up losing that portion of your trade.
With all these negatives, why would I want to add a wine and dinner menu to my coffee shop?
Not all locations have a high volume of family or school age customers. If you are in the middle of an office district, for example, your customers might be glad of a place to have a glass of wine with a nice meal in the same location they had breakfast and possibly lunch. In that sort of situation, extending your hours could increase your custom without loss of family or youth business.
Would I really have to deal with drunks just because I added wine and a meal to my menu?
We would need a crystal ball or a time-traveling car to answer that question. Let’s just say that where there is something nice to eat or drink, there is always someone who thinks that if some is good, then more must be better. Most of your customers, especially if you have a loyal clientele, are probably of the type who would appreciate your efforts, but there’s a joker in almost every pack of cards.
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!