What Makes a Great Café? The Survey Says…

Seven Miles Espresso Window Manly Vale

What makes a great Cafe? That’s the question I asked to a group of people – both in the coffee industry and on social media, and here’s what I learned.

Instead of subjecting the reader to another blog of my opinions, I thought it might be time to get some group wisdom on what makes a great cafe. As you will find (and as you may already know), to be a truly great café, you must excel at all things. What I have considered in collating these responses is not just the scores, I spent time reading through all the comments as this is where passion truly shows.

Where the same average score occurred, the “passion of the answers” were taken into account to decide the winner.

1. It’s all about people

The two clear winners were the Quality of Service and the Quality of Coffee. This seems to speak for itself, however after reading the comments left in the ‘Why’ section, it was the Quality of Service that won out.

Hospitality is first and foremost a service industry and as much as some seem to overlook this, Cafes are a part of the hospitality industry. The comments we received could barely have been more repetitive: “service is what will bring people back”, “encourages me to return in the future”, “The most important thing in a café”, and my personal favourite “Bad service is associated with a bad experience, no matter how good the quality”.


2. Yes, we’re fussy about coffee

As for the quality of coffee, no surprises here. Our café-going public are getting more and more knowledgeable about coffee quality. Australia is one of the most advanced espresso-based café cultures in the world; something to truly be proud of, just don’t let pride get in the way of providing an awesome experience to your customer.

In my opinion, there is absolutely no reason for ever giving bad service to a customer. Having a high quality of service is the defining line between having a great product and having a great Café.

Seven Miles Espresso Window Manly Vale


3. Great Coffee + Bad Food =

The quality of food came next. While some saw this as less important than coffee and service, to others the food offering shows an attention to detail and an offering of quality. This section also displayed the most vehement answers.

Funnily enough, where the food was marked down by respondents, it scored some of the lowest scores out of everything! The disconnect between coffee and food really stood out here. e.g. “What has food got to do with my coffee?? Where is my coffee??” … you get the idea.

I believe that this is due to the changing face of cafes. In the past, a café was somewhere you went for breakfast, morning tea or lunch with maybe the occasional pop through for a diet-breaking pastry or cake. With take away coffees now becoming a part of our daily routine, the quality of the coffee offering has gained weight as an indicator of a quality establishment.

It used to be something you had with your food, now, quite often food is the ‘side dish’ and coffee is the driving motivation.

woman looking at menu


4. Ambience: Do I want to spend time here?

The responses for ambience were quite level-headed compared to food. The idea of a calm, relaxing space came up frequently, but the comments started to head down the ‘what-I-like’ path. Some preferred a busy, vibing space, whereas others wanted a more welcoming, home-like feeling.

In my mind, this is what the industry has been like for ever. Customers will choose a place that suits their mindset and serves a good offering. I have no issues with cafes pumping out Boom Bap at 7am, but then again ,if I am going out for a hungover breakfast, I’m probably more inclined to find a bit more of a chill space… unless the loud joint serves Bloody Marys…

Following on from ‘Ambience’ was ‘Layout – Front of House Set Up’, which I think makes sense. The set up can make the ambience. Aside from the respondents who firmly had their “gimme a coffee” blinkers on, every comment mentioned the flow of the establishment and the feel of the surroundings. “We eat with our eyes” is a statement that anyone in the foodservice industry had heard but very few connect that to how the café looks as well.

Personally, I’m unlikely to enter somewhere that has half their front of house taken up by cartons of soft drink, take-away cups and a mop shoved next to the coke fridge half full of milk bottles so the line up of customers has to move every time the barista needs to top up the woefully inadequate bar fridge under the coffee machine that is so close to the till that….I’m sure you get the idea. Layout counts, but is also only a secondary indication of quality.

5. Location: If it’s really good, we’ll find you

Surprise, surprise, location came last. Not that it scored badly, it’s just that having a great location was not all that important to our respondents. By the comments, if the poll was ‘What Makes a Successful Café’ then this would have been right near the top of the list. However, as I’m sure you are aware, success does not mean necessarily mean quality. Convenience, parking and accessibility all help get feet through the door and bums on the seats (if there are any) but it seems customers are willing to go a little out of their way for a fantastic experience.

So here is Dom Chicoteau’s Super Special Happy Bullet Point List for Great Café Creation (or DCSSHBPLGCC for short):

  • Spend time on training your staff how to properly engage with customers in a professional, welcoming and HOSPITABLE way. Your customers aren’t lucky to be at your joint, you are lucky to have THEM, so treat them that way.
  • Pay attention to your coffee and food quality! A great coffee can be ruined by unprofessionalism behind the machine and there is nothing quite as boring and deflating (for me at least) as a bland, stock standard food offering.
  • Understand the needs of your clientele. Your average customer is 60? Probably not a great idea to crank the latest Parkway Drive album.
  • If you haven’t planned a Café before, it would be a great idea to speak to a professional about the layout. I don’t have an issue with sitting on coffee sack covered milk crates, but if the flow of the space has me sitting with my head next to the backside of someone waiting in line to order, we have a problem.
  • If you tick all these above boxes and market yourself properly, people will come to you. Sure, being smack bang in the CBD will increase your sales by sheer osmosis, but if you can’t afford that level of rent, there’s nothing wrong with being a destination.
  • You won’t be a destination, have clientele or need to worry about your layout if your customers don’t return. The reason they won’t: you haven’t stuck to point 1 & 2, in order.

For more on how to deliver a great barista training, check out this previous article, or take a look at how our training program can help take things to the next level.

Dom Chicoteau
Having notched up 20 years in the hospitality industry and 8 years dedicated exclusively to coffee, Dom has a great understanding of the realities faced by our café customers. Energised by being part of the quality coffee evolution, Dom is compelled by the melting pot of ideas, theories and perspectives that are currently contributing to the vibrancy of the industry. Dom’s love of coffee is matched by his love of training and watching people grow. When he’s not examining extractions, Dom can be found slowly smoking meat, growing bonsai, playing with his dog and spinning records like a self-professed demon.
Dom Chicoteau

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