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Dakota Leflaive

Sales and Marketing

As we are all learning, coffee shops, and independent coffee shops especially, are at the forefront of the “new normal” which is developing in the world following the Covid-19 pandemic.

As a place where people naturally gather in groups of families or friends, or as intimate couples as well as lone customers, they are at the forefront of the requirements for social distancing. Food and drink service also has a high risk of cross-contamination. All this complicates the day-to-day running of coffee shops, makes them economically vulnerable to national and regional lockdowns, and vulnerable to legislation which creates barriers to the relaxed, welcoming, and intimate atmospheres at the heart of so many coffee shops.

A coffee shop’s design can make an invaluable contribution to overcoming these issues and insulating its business against the cold realities of the possibility of second or third waves of pandemic. Carefully adapting the physical layout of a coffee-shop can make the experience for customers and staff comfortable and enjoyable once more, as well as safe.

Designing Crowds Away

One of the key considerations is how to remove or discourage those points at which people tend to form into groups. Anybody with experience of coffee shops will be aware of which areas are the chief culprits:

  • at the food display
  • at the menu board
  • at the till
  • at the take-away pass
  • at tables
  • at the entrance

The layout of coffee shops has traditionally involved creating a flow of customers from the entrance towards the till, via displays of food. This often leads to small knots of people congregating in front of food displays and menu boards. Giving this runway into the shop sufficient width for people to overtake these knots would be a useful way to stop larger groups congregating. Similarly, asking customers to find a table before they order (for sit-in customers) would stagger the creation of these small groups: people are more likely to survey the counter one or two at a time if they are settled at a table.

Design and Your Menu

A menu on every table would also greatly contribute to eliminating the vast majority of these groups. Equally a coffee menu at tables would not only decrease the number of people in front of the till reading a board, but would also be a prime opportunity to fully introduce your house and guest coffees and even divert a few of the “so, what is a cortado?”, “which is just a ‘normal’ coffee?” questions which so often arise and cause delays. Printed menus are a high contact risk item and are likely not to be a popular option for the foreseeable future, especially as they also represent an unnecessary cost. These and mini chalkboards can seem a little passé anyway. Menus can be displayed on multiple walls, again not necessarily as chalkboards, they could be projected onto the ceiling or walls or they can be electronic displays becoming an integral part of the store décor. More subtly they could accessed from a QR code on the table, or anywhere else on site. Finding an interesting, innovative approach to an ostensibly minor issue such as menus could become a keystone to developing a signature design and feel to a coffee shop.


Queues at the till arise as customers order and as they pay for their drinks. Having a payment point which is only slightly further moved from the till helps create a safe social distance between staff and customer, and one customer and the next. Although not specifically a design idea, don’t forget the possibilities of paying by app to alleviate this issue. However, a coffee shop aesthetic based on smart technology or with it as an element could well be the way to make a virtue of a necessity: taking advantage of the possibilities of pre-ordering by app, or using it to order instore, or to pay, accessing menus by apps or QR codes, being given the story behind the coffee you are being served, the possibilities are endless.

Designing for Take-Out

The milling crowd of customers waiting for their take-away coffee has always been an issue in very many coffee shops and now, more than ever, embracing new shop design, layout and working practices is vital to avoid corralling these strangers too closely and for too long. Customers in independent coffee shops generally congregate so close to the pass because they are trying to ensure they don’t miss the barista’s call of “flat white, soy milk” and in readiness for the earnest round of eye-contact to check for that gunfighter’s twitch from somebody else who has ordered the same drink. We know that the simplest solution to this problem is to take customers’ names, but this does have a taint of multi-national corporate coffee shop which many independents and smaller chains are eager to avoid.

Space is the issue here: asking the customers to sit while they wait is expensive in a shop which has reduced seating capacity. Although the space released might not allow for a separate pass area for take-away drinks, using what room is released to create an area where these customers can await their drinks without crowding each other, the till, or sit-in customers is going to be important. This is especially so as recent experience has taught that, more than ever, take-out sales are going to become increasingly the core income generator whenever there may be lockdowns or varying degrees of social distancing requirements.


Customers have always taken the opportunity to push tables together to create larger tables whenever possible (and of course not bothering to put them back afterwards being equally common). Although this flexibility is actually useful on the shop-floor, it will be an issue in a world where social distancing, even by a metre is a likelihood. Bolted down tables may carry more than a hint of correctional institute canteen, but designing a floor which allows for securing tables when necessary is an option. However, in the world of nudge theory, more subtle steps could be taken: using smaller tables would free up more floor space and decrease the effectiveness of pushing them together or entirely avoiding square tables which easily sit together, in favour of round tables which are much less amenable to being interlocked might be a design idea to utilise. Groups are an important customer base, though, so having some kind of provision built into a floor plan to allow some groups would also be advisable.

Entry and Exit

The entrance to your shop is one space which absolutely every customer has to use, and such a heavy footfall area is a prime candidate for crowding, collisions, and cross-contamination. If you have the luxury of a double doorway, designating one door as an entrance door and the other as an exit door is a quick win here. If you are designing a new coffee shop and you have the possibility of fitting double doors then it is a very good idea, not simply for more recent reasons but also because there are always issues with customers leaving laden with take-out drinks as other customers enter, or with staff taking drinks out to outside seating areas being similarly blocked.


It might be a frequent complaint of customers that tables are too close together, as shops have tried to maximise the covers which they can facilitate, but having to space people out more, while making the goal of profitability more challenging will not necessarily make customers happier. This is not simply because customers might like to sit closer to friends, but also because the space might make customers feel conspicuous, isolated, or vulnerable. Much can be achieved here with the careful use of lighting. Varying levels of light can make seated areas feel more intimate and simply having the bar more brightly illuminated than the rest of the shop can give the impression of relaxed intimacy simply by the contrast achieved. By using light to define boundaries and delineate areas from each other you can greatly modify a customer’s perception of the environment which you have created and how they feel about themselves in that environment and thinking about, and adjusting how you light your café may be the fastest effective way of controlling and transforming the emotional tone of your shop environment.

Exterior Design

Councils are currently much more amenable to requests for licenses for outside seating or increased outside seating space. For example, in Liverpool, since lockdown was eased, the council completely pedestrianised one street to allow all the cafes and restaurants to extend their seating areas across the road. This means that this is very much the time to take the opportunity to make the area beyond your shop as much a part of your shop design as the kitchen or the bar.

Keep it Clean

To be future-safe, and as a value-added element to your café, wash/sanitisation stations may be something which it is now time to build into the key elements of your shop floor design. This does not necessarily mean that you need to plumb in sinks and water supply. There are a range of stand-alone hand washing sanitising stations available which can be easily and efficiently fitted into your floorplan. It is not simply a response to the Covid-19 outbreak but is an addition to your coffee shop’s overall hygiene, and importantly it also encourages your customer’s faith in the hygiene and safety of your coffee shop. Here at Bridge Coffee Roasters we stock some fantastic examples of these stations which would be a quick and easy addition to any coffee shop.


Although Covid-19 may well be a short-lived phenomenon, it is a driving feature of what our coffee-shops and cafes look like now. Design with this in mind does not have to be a heavy expense requirement. Effective and constructive changes can be achieved relatively quickly and inexpensively. Agile design would also mean that an intelligently designed shop could change format readily to adapt to the situation in which it finds itself. Many of the design suggestions here are in many ways cosmetic whilst at the same time have significant impact which means that you can be prepared for whatever is thrown at you.

Talk to The Team

We understand that getting your business back up and running can sound challenging but we are here to help. Get in touch with the team if you need any advice or are searching for essential supplies to re-open safely.

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