Before you sign a lease for your new café, you’ll need a solid plan for exactly how you’ll use the space—not to mention assuring your location is visible and the lease is amenable.
Your income may even rely heavily on the design of your space. Poor design will slow down the service process, resulting in longer lines of waiting customers and lost sales. You need to serve as many customers as possible during peak hours to keep them coming in, instead of looking elsewhere for a shorter line.
Design around your menu
Your menu will determine, in part, necessary square footage. The more you want to offer — lunch items, smoothies, baking, roasting—the more space you’ll need.
Typically, storage, prep, dishwashing, an office area and two ADA restrooms will consume about 400-500 square feet. If space for extensive food prep, baking, coffee roasting, or cooking will be required, this square footage may increase to 1,000 or more.
In the back of the house, at minimum, you will need room for:
- water heater
- water purification system
- dry storage
- back-up refrigerator and freezer
- ice maker
- 3-compartment sink + dish rack for
- mop bucket sink
- hand washing sink.
- If you’re doing food prep you’ll also need:
- food prep sink
- prep table
If you’ll be baking:
- oven + exhaust hood
- sheet pan rack
- large prep table
- mixer + pans
Gelato, hot meals and coffee roasting will expand the square footage of the back of the house even more.
Design for quick service
Behind the counter you’ll need 200-300 square feet for:
- cash register
- brewing & espresso equipment
- dipper well
- under-counter refrigerator
- pastry case
- cups, glasses
- silverware, napkins
- panini grill
- sandwich/salad prep
- soup warmer
If you plan to serve premade lunch items (wraps, salads, sandwiches) an open-front, reach-in merchandising refrigerator should be considered. For ice cream or gelato a dipping cabinet and an additional dipper well will be needed.
Planning the most ergonomic layout possible for the above equipment will allow for quick customer service. Even though your business may be open 16 hours a day, up to 80% of your sales could occur between 6:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m., and around lunchtime.
- Brewed coffee near register so it can be swapped out from behind the counter
- Knockbox and grinders to the right of espresso machine (sorry, lefties)
- Ice machine or bin, blender and sink—so you don’t have to walk around to prepare a blended drink.
- No shelving or refrigerator under espresso machine if you can help it; you don’t want to get in the barista’s way.
- Retail and baked goods before register, for upselling and so people know what they want before their order is taken.
- Separate your point of order from the point of product pick-up by at least six feet, to keep traffic flowing.
- Condiments after the counter, far enough away that traffic doesn't stop but near enough that people can easily spot it.
Think of the grouping of equipment for different job functions as stations. Try to keep each station compact and in close proximity to each other, but with enough space between each so employees aren’t regularly bumping into each other.
Beyond the actual equipment, empty spaces on the counter can be used to store ingredients and smallwares, and to assemble menu items.
A 1,000-square-foot coffee bar serving beverages and pastries only will probably allow for seating 15 to 20 customers. If you plan to prepare and serve lunch items you’ll want seating for 35 to 50, which will require an additional 400 to 600 square feet.
If you have limited seating space and are not trying to encourage people to relax and stay for awhile, skip couches and stuffed chairs and stick with cafe tables and chairs. The more people you can seat, the greater your income potential.
The overall goal when designing your coffee shop is to fit in all the necessary equipment, fixtures, and storage in as small an area as possible, without sacrificing workability.
Design for traffic flow
In the customer area you’ll need optimal customer traffic flow, so no one gets confused as to where they’re supposed to be, and to avoid traffic jams at the counter and condiment area. This benefits customers who don’t want to look ignorant for standing in the wrong place, employees who don’t want to constantly tell people where they should be, and even helps bring in more customers. If someone walks in and sees a mob of 15 people milling around, they’re likely to look elsewhere for their coffee fix. But if they see five people in line, they’ll probably stick around.
The right design and layout will provide a smooth flow of customer traffic and efficient use of space, and even help you better present retail items, all while creating a comfortable environment for staff and customers.