There’s a reason coffee shop owners focus so heavily on operating hours –– there’s no other place that can welcome students, date nights, business meetings and creative inspiration all in one, cozy spot quite like a coffee shop can. That’s why it’s important to keep it open during the most optimal hours in order to take full advantage of the diverse customers that walk into your coffee shop. Coffee is a ritual for most of us, but a coffee shop is more than just the coffee it provides.

What hours should you operate your coffee shop? Your coffee shop’s hours should be between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. to account for all of the potential customers in that area, from the early morning commuters to the late night studiers. Your coffee shop’s open hours shouldn’t vary –– you should be able to tell your customers what your hours of operation are without taking a second breath.

Long hours can be productive if you know your crowd. Here are the three metrics to find out who your crowd is, and how to set your operation hours to meet their needs:

  1. Location
  2. Time
  3. Data

Location: What’s around you?

Take a look at the other shops and businesses around your café. They can say a lot about what times people will want coffee, and when your business should be open.

When I lived in a college town, I remember the local coffee shops near campus would close at 12 a.m. every night, and students would gather their books and laptops into their arms before heading back to their dorms in a mass exodus. They were often clutching an extra large to-go cup of piping hot late-night fuel from their favorite local roasters.

Don’t worry, you don’t have to keep your lights on until 12 a.m. –– unless you want to. If you work near a business park or are surrounded by columns of skyscrapers, you might find that a lot of your customers will be dipping in for a comforting cup of coffee every morning before they head to work. Perhaps they will be popping in for casual lunch meetings or stopping by for a late afternoon pick-me-up.

If your coffee shop is in a quieter, more suburban area, high school or community college students will likely choose to meet up there after 5 or 6 p.m. to study together. Perhaps yours is the kind of coffee shop that will be serving coffee to tables overflowing with books and papers from study groups that may or may not be actually studying.

Regardless, allow the community around you to inform what your demographics are and what they need out of their coffee shop. This will help you figure out when the optimal hours of operation are.

We all know nothing is worse than dragging oneself out of bed and craving a drop of caffeine only to find their dependable shop isn’t open. So show your community some love by analyzing their needs when thinking about what hours to open at.

For more tips on choosing a location, click here.

What hours should you operate your coffee shop? Time: Who are the crowds?

Think of your coffee shop as a stage set in a theater. Maybe you’re set up to be a matinee for one of Shakespeare’s tragedies in the afternoon before breaking down and morphing into a late night Broadway musical. Whatever the case may be, your coffee shop will play a different role during different hours of the day depending on what your customers need you to be.

Customers that come in during different blocks of time will have different needs, and this can help you plan your day-to-day management better. Here’s what time blocks can say about your customers:

7 a.m. – 10 a.m.: This time is what a coffee shop was made for. Most of us don’t hit the metro or get on the highway during early morning traffic hours looking forward to going to work, we’re thinking about the sweet aroma of coffee at our office’s nearby coffee shop. These are the people that want to dip in and out with relatively few roadblocks between them and a warm cup. They’re not looking to hang around.

11 a.m. – 2 p.m.: The folks around this time will probably be looking to grab a quick lunch with some coffee to go, but more often than not, they’re sipping on some coffee or tea while having a casual chat outside of the office. Your coffee shop’s chairs and tables will rearrange and turn into a collaborative work space for big projects, or a meeting room between a boss and their employee. For your customer, it might be as simple as just having a change of space from the linoleum floors or fluorescent lights they’re used to at work.

3 p.m. – 5 p.m.: There’s less foot traffic around your coffee shop around this time. No problem –– it’s a good time to sweep up the floors, clean some dishes, and restock or work on ordering inventory. Sure, there will be pockets of time where there’s simply less traffic, but a couple of customers who thought it would be a good idea to get a cold brew an hour before work ends might find their way into your coffee shop, and who are you to deny them?

6 p.m. – 10 p.m.: So, one thing is clear: the first half of your day is going to be a lot busier than your second. But depending on where your shop is located, the second half of your day is where you’ll find your regulars: people are coming in after work or school looking for refuge and a quiet place to get work done before they have to head home and focus on home-related things. Coffee shops are also amazing for non-committal after-hours activities –– maybe a date, or a casual reunion between friends who haven’t seen each other since high school. Staying open late allows you to take full advantage of all the different kinds of customers that walk in during this time.

What hours should you operate your coffee shop? Step 3: Does the data agree?

Did you notice a lot of downtime in your coffee shop during periods you weren’t expecting? Location and time are two great jumping-off points if you’re just getting started. But your coffee shop is like a living, breathing animal that will go through growing pains, and as time goes on, it’s important to sift through your point-of-sale data ever so often.

A point-of-sale system, a software data system that most coffee shops and retail stores use to record sales data, has an option that allows you to see how many transactions were completed every hour and how much revenue you got out of those transactions. If you look carefully, you might notice certain patterns that line up with your hunches.

Or maybe you’ll find some missed chances on a new customer base in your data. Are a lot of people buying coffee close to closing time? That’s an indication you might want to extend your hours for the late-night crowd.

If you notice your coffee shop needs a day-long break somewhere in the week, or that can’t afford to operate the entire week, your point-of-sale data is a great place to look into. Are more people coming in on Sunday, while Saturday sees significantly less traffic than the rest of the week? Compare those numbers to your operating costs and adjust accordingly.

It’s important to reevaluate and finesse your business strategy to adapt and take advantage of the ever-evolving opportunities, especially during the odd months of the year. Your college town coffee shop will probably see less friendly faces during the summer time when school is out. Perhaps your coffee shop, surrounded by offices, doesn’t see as much traffic during the holidays when people are traveling.

Whatever it is, keep track of your point-of-sale data and operating costs. It’s possible that your customer base is full of early risers or late-night studiers, and you can change your hours to fit that unmet need in the market.

If you’re interested in more information about point of sale systems, check out this article! 

What hours should you operate your coffee shop? In summary:

The three best measurements to define your operation hours are location, time and data.

Think about what your customers are looking for out of a coffee shop. If you’re near a school or college campus, you’re likely to get a healthy dose of customers popping in and out during the morning hours and, at night, a crowd that’s there for the long haul. If you’re near businesses, you might find yourself handing out coffees to professionals settling in for casual meetings during work hours.

Location and time are predictive measurements, but make sure you’re looking through your data to confirm those predictions and don’t be afraid to make changes when your data doesn’t match what you thought. Remember, a coffee shop can always improve, and you might find an untapped market buried under months of transaction receipts.

But, more than anything, your hours should be simple, consistent throughout the week and easy for your customers to remember. Like I said, coffee is a ritual, and your coffee shop is going to be a one-stop communal gathering place for all kinds of people if you play your cards right.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why should I use a Point-of-Sale system?

You certainly don’t have to, but there’s a reason why a lot of coffee shops do. A point-of-sale system allows you to grow and morph your business by providing you with key data points that can help you find blind spots in your current system. This can save you money and even grow your profits.

I can’t afford to keep my coffee shop open that long. What do I do?

Continue to go through the steps of analyzing your location, understanding crowds during different blocks of time, and sifting through your data. Prioritize what you think the greatest hours for profit are and start there. Consider expanding your operation hours as you grow.

How many employees do I need to run my coffee shop?

If you plan on running your coffee shop from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., you should budget for 4 full-time employees and 4 half-time employees that are staggered throughout the day as your starting point. Depending on your location or demographics, adjust accordingly. Don’t forget they’ll be coming in before opening time and ending after closing time to restock, clean and prep.

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.