10 steps to building your coffee experience

I never suspected that my recent blog post on coffee would generate such a healthy dialogue. But I should’ve known. Caffeine is a drug, after all, and our inner addicts are all clamoring for a chance to speak up. As such, here’s a sequel that builds upon the notion that coffee is among the most effective components in your F&B arsenal.

Let’s recap what you and your team should do before you start to think about this 10-step process: First, you’ve reviewed your brew and you’re convinced it is a contender of note to guests as well as locals. Next, you’ve done your best to include a great decaf companion. And last, you’re offering, at a minimum, espresso, cappuccino and lattes to flesh out your menu beyond mere percolated beans.

Now, how do you lever this into an actual coffee culture? When we use the word ‘experience,’ it is meant to denote something far more than just the type of coffee you use and a few of the drinks your baristas can handle. It incorporates the cups, cutlery, available snacks, décor, ambiance of the setting and anything else that would contribute to the environment. With this in mind, here are some suggestions toward building an experience into your program.

1. Give customers something extra. A popular Israeli coffee chain that has expanded throughout Toronto puts a small dark chocolate on the saucer or on the takeout top of every cup. If that does not work for your business, try a biscotti as is customary in most Italian bistros. The idea here is a little amuse bouche or something extra that the customer was not expecting.

2. Don’t forget sugar. Consider a crystal sugar stick added to all premium drinks, or brown cane sugar cubes – that is, the rough cut. Both add slight points of differentiation and an upscale perception. I recognize there is an additional cost here, so manage your pricing accordingly.

3. Update your crockery. Many Italian coffee companies offer branded cups and saucers in size ranges for espressos, cortados, medium cappuccinos and large lattes. If you are not using their coffees, look to source your own. Look for something colorful to give your service a distinctive look. Or look for a somewhat esoteric shape so that it stands apart from more perfunctory designs.

4. Create a brand identity. An easy way to brand coffee is to sprinkle powdered chocolate or cinnamon on a well-frothed cappuccino through a metal template that reveals your logo. Other ways include custom-printed serviettes, emblems on cutlery, branded packaging for snacks, nicely stylized printed materials and all manner of themed décor or furnishing upgrades.

5. Make your coffee service accessible. Learn from Starbucks. Bring your coffee service out in the open. Find a way to have your barista engage with your customers and to educate your guests at each touchpoint. The closer the customer is to the coffee, the better.

6. Avoid flavored brew. Real coffee is not flavored with vanilla or hazelnut. These additives must come after the roasting phase as the aroma created by these artificial supplements when heated can be off-putting to real coffee enthusiasts. But if you must add a flavored variant, provide separate brewing equipment or look to make these additives available via extras like shakers or by making a few nut milks on hand.

7. If offering hot chocolate, do it right. Powdered mixes are flat-out unacceptable. True hot chocolate is made with steamed milk and bar or cube chocolate. It is expensive to make, so price it accordingly, but the result is a flavor so far beyond the powdered kind that the two are practically incomparable.

8. Add a loyalty component. Even if the program is quite basic – for instance, with a manual stamp – loyalty is nevertheless an important factor in any coffee service. Rewards can be as simple as one free with 10 purchases. More sophisticated programs can be built, but if starting from scratch, this entry-level offer will certainly suffice. After all, the more complex the reward, the harder it will be for customers to comprehend and the smaller the uptake will be.

9. Offer fresh snacks. The key to any bakery accompaniment is freshness. Croissants, pastries, muffins, scones, cookies, brownies, tarts, pies, cakes, petit-fours and any manner of wild creations will taste insurmountably better when fresh. My recommendation here, like that for so many other aspects of hotel operations, is ‘less is more’. Start by focusing on only a few essentials and make them utterly delicious before adding to the confectionary list. To ensure freshness, fine-tune your daily baking routine so that you almost sell out but you aren’t left with a significant quantity of leftovers on any particular day. As well, these are often impulse purchases, so make sure the visual display is satisfactory to complement these creations.

10. Use POS to fine-tune your presentation. Data will guide you in terms of optimizing your selection, pricing and additional services. Give any new initiative time, and go slowly with any menu adjustments. For the first few months, I also advise getting some qualitative feedback from your guests to see if there any deal-breakers that need immediate course correction.