Intentional Design

By Michael Phillips, Co-Founder, Handsome Coffee Roasters

Over the past year, I have become a member of a very interesting new group, consisting of people so enamored with coffee that they threw caution to the wind and opened a retail location. I have never opened a coffee bar, but I do have years of experience in some of the busier specialty shops in the country and have conducted coffee training in dozens of others. Throughout this experience, two things have stood out to me: one is that there is a great pool of passionate coffee professionals and that pool is growing every year. The other is that professional retailers do not place enough emphasis on store design in terms of bar flow and customer experience.

Often when setting up a new space there may be structural elements that cannot be worked around, but there should still always be an eye for efficiency and customer experience. When we set up our shop those two elements were key.

First, let’s look at things from a production standpoint. What steps are required to make a drink with the equipment you have and to the standards you hold? Looking at your space, how efficiently can you fit your tools in a way the makes sense with the order of those steps?  Visualize how the bar flow would work with just one staff member, then two, then three. It is important that your set-up works well both during peak hours and the low points of the day. This should also influence your decision on what type of equipment to use. Will you be able to build in the space needed for a pour over bar, or is batch brew better suited for your location?

The second angle I look at with design in mind is the customer’s perspective, something that seems increasingly lost in many new coffee bars. The last thing you want is for your customer to walk into your space and not know where to go, and have to be forced to stand there awkwardly trying to figure it out. The whole process should be intuitive. I believe there are three main points of interaction to consider:

Where to order. When entering a coffee bar for the first time, the area where customers place orders needs to be both obvious and welcoming.

Where to pay. This can be the same as the order point or elsewhere, but needs to be a logical path from the order point.

Where to pick up. This area is ideally not far from where the drinks are produced and allows customers to wait without obstructing line flow.

The more that these steps are seamless, the more comfortable your guests will be. This does not mean that you need to have giant signs and footprints painted on the floor; there are more subtle options. A little bit of forethought will go a long way toward making your staff, your customers, and your pocketbook happier.

Michael Phillips has a well-developed history of working with, training the staff of, and designing the bar flow for coffee bars. He cut his teeth at Intelligentsia, leaving the role of Director of Education to co-found of one of Los Angeles’s newest roaster retailers Handsome Coffee Roasters. He brings the title and experience of being awarded the 2009 and 2010 US Barista Champion and 2010 World Barista Champion to the role of education and service for Handsome Coffee Roasters. You can most commonly find him on bar at their location in the Arts District of downtown Los Angeles.