Whether we like it or not, cafes or coffee houses have gone beyond coffee. These days, owning a café also means running a versatile place that lends itself to various types of people who are there for reasons that aren’t necessarily limited to getting a java fix. While you may think that you’ve got it all covered with your specialty coffee, the tedious process of finding your own niche/s of customers or ‘regulars’ to cater to, nonetheless plays a vital role in the success of your establishment.
Needless to say, grasping the needs of these regulars is key when it comes to surviving and even thriving in the competitive and ever-growing café business. With this in mind, we gathered data and asked these different types of regulars in cafes for some constructive criticism and what they usually looked for in a café. How you can make sure that your café is a worthwhile destination to constantly journey towards, is what you’re in for.
Specialty coffee—yes. Of course, securing a substantial coffee program and system that at-home, do-it-yourself coffee just can’t compare to, is what will primarily get you going and most likely attract a handful of nearby customers that are looking for a good fix.
What can get you far when it comes to people that are passionate about their coffee, however, is being very particular about your offerings— meaning, having variations of beans your customers can choose from and even going to lengths of concocting and articulating a signature drink that can set you apart and that which you can be known for.
“I think having specialty drinks that's unique to that place makes a cafe stand out.” Freelance Architect John, who spends almost every day in a café, suggests this.
Because let’s face it, coffee enthusiasts are constantly on the lookout for something new to explore, appreciate and even come back to when it comes to their coffee experience. A further word of advice from him is to: “Invest on good branding and visual identity of the brand. Partner with local coffee farmers and roasters.”
I think we can all agree that knowing that we’re also patronizing something that helps our country’s hard-working and yet sadly, impoverished farmers, is a big plus.
Out of all the factors here, attention to detail about your café’s food offering is probably the most overlooked one. While no one is really expecting a café per se to offer full course, Michelin star meals, we found that a versatile, yet appropriately curated food offering is mostly appreciated.
“There are times when it’s more convenient and appealing to just eat lunch or dinner at a cafe, especially when you’re already settled there. So it’s better if they offer more than just coffee or typical baked items.” 20-year-old fresh graduate Michelle explains.
Notwithstanding the fact that the focus is really the coffee, your customers most likely do not need to be bombarded with foreign and unusual dishes to choose from. The keyword here is familiarity. This is also not to mention that most of the time, people would most likely order something light like some bread or cakes to pair with their coffee.
Nonetheless, you can go with the trend of offering some comfort food to match the casual atmosphere of a café but do add a bit of your own twist so as to avoid being forgettable.
It’s no secret that from time immemorial cafes have been a social sphere and now, a constant meetup place for groups of friends who want to catch up or even just bounce ideas off each other alongside a cup of joe and some comfort food. Even so, your café evidently isn’t the only place they could opt to hang out in; that's why, in order for you to secure the loyalty of these groups to your cafe, you need to get the most out of the fact that they are more likely to linger in places that have an extra cozy and homey vibe in them.
“If I’m studying, I don’t want it to be cozy or too comfortable because I’ll be sleepy, but when hanging out with friends, it needs to be cozy” says Rachel, a 29-year old lawyer by profession who likes to have meetups with friends in local cafés.
Splurging a bit on some ceramic cups to serve “for here” coffee in and some comfy lounge furniture can probably get those cliques hanging out in your your café and probably even getting more traffic from these groups via word of mouth and invitations to their other friends.
In addition, a very timely and game changing tip that we’ll leave for Rachel to explain is that:
“What makes a good café for me is the lighting, not just for when you’re studying but also when hanging out with friends. When the place is dimly lit, I feel sleepy even when I’m having coffee, and it’s difficult to see the faces and expressions of the people you’re with. And of course, the lighting also matters for when you’re taking pictures with your friends.”
The most difficult type of regulars to interview for this has got to be the couples that are obviously enjoying a date. The heartwarming fact that most of them seemed to be so immersed in their own little world that they’ve built together and brought along with them to the warm setting of a café really didn’t help. Any sane person would probably think twice before interrupting whatever it is they were all smiles with each other about.
After quite some time, though, I did manage to interview a middle-aged couple of lawyers about what they looked for in a café. Though, this is not to say that it wasn’t a bittersweet triumph. As I asked them about what they—as a couple—looked for in a café, the answer that I got felt like someone had pulled the rug out from beneath me. PRIVACY had been the first and automatic word that came out from one of them. Just like that, no further elaboration about that part was needed.
“The best café we’ve been in is probably at Starbucks Tagaytay because of the view of the Taal volcano and because of the rare cold weather there […] yes, it was romantic to share that view with him.” 30-year-old Lawyer Emma, the other half of the said couple shares.
With all this in mind, we can say that a good café for a date would probably be somewhere spacious and serene where they could feel as though most people could mind their own business. But even though not all cafes could have a breathtaking scenery of an actual volcano, we can add that an interesting interior might do the trick. Though, as the said couple also suggests, some couple promos or discounts can help as well.
“Well-lit space, moderately cold temperature—so you could kind of relax and then, calming and reassuring music.” This is the seemingly simple formula for a good café or really, just a good place to study for 21-year-old accounting graduate and board exam reviewee, Nathan. Nevertheless, do not resign yourself to the fact that catering to them will be the easiest, as I have come to know that students or people who study in cafes are probably the most complex types of regulars.
Having emerging young minds that are still grappling with the facts of the world before them, the needs and circumstances of students demand more consideration. Most of them actually go for places that aren’t jam-packed, take 22-year-old Juris doctor student Philip as an example, as he shares that:
“I typically go for the non-commercialized types of cafes or those underrated local cafes because they’re more peaceful and have less people, so I get to focus more.” Philip relays.
He also consistently emphasized on the primacy of one of the most obvious basic needs today—sockets, alongside a good Wi-Fi connection.
Furthermore, students are more likely to come back to cafes that have approachable baristas and accommodating staff that they could occasionally ask for assistance, or even just someone to talk to and keep them sane through it all.
“When we were still students, the only interaction we had from someone else was from the baristas and the staff of the place. You get a nice break while talking to them. It’s also touching when they remember you.” Rachel shares as she reminisces about the days she was a law student.
On top of it all, it would also be wise to broaden your beverage and menu offering as these students tend to stay day to night in cafes when deadlines are looming.
You might be wondering why we had to separate the regulars who like to study in cafes from those who like to work in café. This is because we found an undeniable contrast from the ideal café that can serve as an extension to a professional’s workplace to that of a preferred place for students to do some reviewing.
We realized the difference in the desired ambiance after Lawyer-Professor Carlo, who often brings his work to a café, explains that:
“I like a coffee shop that’s not too crowded but still busy, because if it’s a busy café, I’m encouraged to work, be productive, and be efficient; I don’t feel like sleeping or slacking off. When you’re in a coffee shop, the television isn’t there, the refrigerator isn’t there, and the bed isn’t there, so there are no distractions, just your work materials—it sets the professional mood.”
As we can see, a conducive café for workaholics like Christopher is one that mimics the eventful atmosphere of an actual workplace—that is, a lively place equipped with only the necessities, but where people like him could conveniently jump on the productive bandwagon. The area I found Christopher in really made sense now as being sat in a communal work table in the middle of an eventful café can really nudge you to put on a straight face and get on with whatever you have to finish.
A further note for the staff of a café is that customers like Carlo appreciate their gestures as well. “I absolutely care if the staff are friendly, because I need the internet, so when the location is bad for signal, I ask about the wifi so I like it when they go the extra mile and when they’re nice.” He exclaims.
Finally, a café is easily one of the most common and needed places of respite to this day. People lounge in cafes because it is simply relaxing and enjoyable to be in a cozy but unique setting where you could spontaneously watch the world go by whilst basking in the profound taste of coffee and whatnot.
“Being with a very religious and strict family makes me feel constrained and so, I go to this cafe to meet up with friends, or like right now, to get away from it all. What I’m looking for, at times like this, is the social quality, the time for peace, and the proximity and availability of the café” 23-year-old, industrial design student Tom from De La Salle University.
With that being said, this category can be extra arbitrary, there’s really not much else to say on how a café could be a constant mini retreat for people since it is usually out of convenience and spontaneity for them to discover such places. Aside from ‘keep it cozy', what we can say is that: it is mainly up to you how you can draw in people who would want to escape the mundane, with your café’s distinctiveness and by adding your own special touch of individuality that will set it apart from other places.
In the end, the biggest takeaway from all of this would be to keep a balance between your café being an establishment that you can sustain and be proud of (despite having certain limits), as well as it being a place where your target customers would want to spend their time (and money) in. Hitting the nail on the latter might be a bit tricky but that’s what this article is ultimately here for. Now that you have an idea of what these sorts of people usually look for, you can take them into consideration to achieve that balance.
*Quotations from the interviews for this article have been edited and condensed.
**Fictional names were used to protect the identities of the respondents.
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