A Coffee Shop Owner’s Guide to Thriving Through Summer

May 13, 2024 (Published: May 9, 2024)
View of coffee shop outdoor seating.

View of coffee shop outdoor seating.Running a coffee shop during the summer, especially from May to August, presents unique challenges and opportunities for the owners. That’s why we’re kicking off a series of blog posts with effective strategies for surviving – and thriving – during the season’s long, sweltering days.

Starting this month through August, our 7 Steps to Success consulting team will discuss how to handle everything from adjusting summer hours, changing inventory pars and scheduling your staff during “Band Camp” week (when your four best employees are in the band!) to thirsty dog walkers, offsite event opportunities and completing deep cleaning tasks before the school routine is back in full swing.

Read on for advice on handling the first crucial aspects of summer coffee shop management: adjusting summer hours and maintaining outdoor seating areas.

Adjusting Summer Hours

Coffee shop window with neon open sign.During the summer, you can impact your revenue and cash flow by extending your operating hours to increase sales or scaling back to reduce operating costs. However, the success of these strategies depends on your average daily traffic and customer demographics. You’ll need to analyze your business metrics and find the best solution.

As a business owner, you may have a gut feeling when trends shift, but you need hard data to back up your hunches. Evaluate your numbers, conduct needed research and analyze the results before you take action.

Most coffee shops experience at least some changes in customer traffic over the summer. For example, you might see a sudden surge in tourist traffic or a decrease in your regular customers because nearby schools are closed. Monitor traffic trends and customer volumes to decide whether to extend or reduce your operating hours. You’ll also need to consider proximity, product mix and labor costs.

After you do the math, you might decide that implementing seasonal operating hours during this time would accommodate this shift.

Review Proximity: What’s Happening Around Your Store?

Coffeehouse patrons enjoying outdoor seating in summer.Research what draws people to your area at certain times of the day or month. Consider examples like schools, offices, parks, practice fields, other restaurants, farmers markets, local shops and outdoor amphitheaters.  Make a chart of their hours and see how they compare to traffic in your store.

You can also count the cars passing your shop to track commuter traffic during your typical sales hours. Is it more or less than you see the rest of the year?

Is it quieter in the morning because school is out? Does it make sense to open at 6:00 a.m. during these months? If it’s consistently 7:00 a.m. before anyone walks in, you may be able to reduce labor costs and allow your opener to sleep an extra hour by adjusting your hours.

Young female singer holding a guitar inside a coffeehouse.If there is a reason for your customers to be near your coffeehouse in the evening, you may want to consider extending the hours to serve them.

If, on the other hand, your area becomes quieter because seasonal activities take place elsewhere in town, you might consider closing earlier and exploring other ways to generate revenue. For example, you could serve your product offsite at a sporting annex concession stand or a weekly street festival during the evening hours.

You can also consider drawing customers to your door via seasonal events, such as outdoor yoga on Saturday mornings, live music one night a week, hosting painting/gardening classes on your patio, or serving as the packet pick-up location for a local race.

Add Summer Bestsellers to Your Product Mix

Summer brew bar drinks at a coffeehouseYou should consider updating your product mix during the summer to cater to changing tastes when it’s hot. Cold brew coffee, iced teas, iced espresso-based drinks and frozen blended drinks are summer staples. You can also consider adding unique specialty desserts, grab-n-go ice cream treats, or caffeine-free and kid-friendly drink alternatives like fruit smoothies.

Some coffee shops are seeing increased demand for refreshing energy drinks made with our Piranha Bite concentrate. And don’t forget boxed coffee catering opportunities in the mornings for meetings or leisurely neighborhood get-togethers.

When considering changes, ensure you’re not disrupting core menu profit margins and efficient workflow behind the counter!

Optimize Staffing for Summer

Baristas behind counter in coffeehouse.Adjusting your labor model for summer can be challenging. Whether you decide to reduce or extend your operating hours, it will impact your employees. Therefore, it’s crucial to communicate early and openly with your staff about changes to staffing levels. This will help you avoid staffing gaps and hire seasonal help if needed.

Staying organized and communicating with your employees can help establish a more efficient and successful business. This will help ensure smooth transitions and may even give you some time off. In late spring, you should request notice from all employees regarding their vacation plans and obligations through August.

It’s great to have former employees who are loyal and willing to return to work during the busy season. However, having them show up after you’re already staffed for the season is not as great. Try contacting them proactively in early spring to see if they are available this year. Then, ask them for more notice next summer so you can plan ahead.

Inform Customers and the Community

When altering your business hours, it’s important to take a thoughtful approach that avoids confusion and frustration for your loyal patrons. You should communicate any changes well in advance, both through in-store signage and social media posts. In addition, your baristas should be trained to mention the changes to your regular customers.

If you’re considering making a permanent change to your business hours, it might be a good idea first to implement it as a “seasonal change.” This will allow you to gather data on how the change affects your business before making a final decision.

Adding Outdoor Seating

Image of a woman's hands working on an apple laptop on a table outside a coffee shop.Outdoor seating can be a terrific addition to your coffeehouse’s vibe during warmer months. It’s welcoming to foot traffic and eye-catching to passing cars and cyclists. It provides a place for people to relax on a crisp Saturday morning, hang out with the team after a big game, or meet a friend home from college and talk for hours in the sun while enjoying the great outdoors.

However, it’s not all fun and games for coffee shop owners. An outdoor seating area can also bring challenges such as blowing trash, sticky spills, loitering, and questions about pet rules.

When choosing outdoor seating, ensure it is comfortable, durable and visually pleasing. Before placing it out for customers, establish cleaning procedures and policies to inform customers of what they can and cannot do on the patio.

Keep it Clean

Barista cleaning patio outside coffee house.To ensure that your outdoor seating area remains inviting and well-maintained, it’s essential to have convenient trash cans with lids and empty them daily to avoid issues with vermin.

Watch for trash that has blown away, and clean up spills promptly to prevent unsightly stains and pesky ants.

Remember, the exceptional experience starts before customers open your door, so make sure your outdoor areas are as well-maintained as your indoor seating.

Set Up Policies and Signage

It’s important to set up and enforce conduct rules for outdoor seating areas, even if they differ from indoor rules. Patrons may not realize that indoor rules don’t apply outside. Here are a few rules you should set before setting out your chairs:

  1. Are pets allowed? (Make sure you know the rules from your local health department on this one!) If yes, it’s always welcoming to have some water bowls available for your favorite furry friends.
  2. Is smoking/vaping permitted, or is your outdoor seating a non-smoking area only? Again, checking to see if your local health department has rules you must comply with is a good idea.
  3. Loitering and bringing outside food from other establishments. These seem like obvious no-nos. People who don’t patronize your shop shouldn’t use a space you maintain for customers. And if it’s not permitted inside, it’s not permitted outside.

Whatever your policies, you might have better success enforcing them if you post signage in the vicinity. Depending on your traffic and business model, it’s crucial to have employees available to monitor the cleanliness and comfort of the area, especially if there’s a limited line of sight from the inside service area.

Planning Ahead for a Successful Summer

Summer breezes are definitely blowing in! The name of the game is to plan ahead and be flexible with the changes and opportunities they bring. In next month’s blog post, we’ll talk about keeping your employees productive during slow times, improving backhouse efficiency, and the importance of checklists.


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