How to Optimize Your Coffee Shop’s Summer Labor Budget

June 20, 2024 (Published: June 19, 2024)
Coffee shop owner using calculator to compute labor budget.

A coffee shop owner counts costs.Attention coffee shop owners and managers: This month, optimize your summer labor budget for customer traffic and staffing fluctuations! Some coffee shops observe a noticeable downturn in customer traffic, while others notice a significant uptick in visitors. Regardless of your situation, optimizing labor costs to ensure profitability while maintaining the service quality that keeps customers returning is crucial.

Whether you are experiencing a surge in business or quieter moments during the summer, this guide is packed with valuable strategies to optimize your coffee shop’s summer labor budget. We’ll delve into changes in consumer traffic patterns, staffing adjustments, and practical tips to drive your coffee shop’s success.

Our focus on staffing will include:

  • Proactive planning for staff coverage,
  • Setting clear expectations,
  • Implementing operational best practices to gear up for the busy season,
  • And, most importantly, making time to have a little fun!

Read on to learn how to turn seasonal shifts into an opportunity for growth, engagement and a thriving coffee shop!

Understanding Shifts in Customer Traffic

Iced lemonade from Crimson Columbus.For many coffee shops, summer brings a noticeable shift in customer behavior. Understanding these patterns is your first step toward effective labor cost management.

Vacation Season Impact – During the summer, many customers go on vacation, leading to a drop in foot traffic. Coffee shops in tourist areas may surge, while business-district shops or those near college campuses may experience a lull. Knowing your specific location’s trends can help tailor your staffing needs.

Outdoor Activities and Events – People flock to outdoor events such as street fairs and festivals in warmer weather. If your coffee shop participates in or is near these events, it may attract more traffic. Monitor local event calendars to anticipate busy days and find ways to draw customers to your shop.

Shifts in Beverage Preferences – When the mercury climbs, customers want to cool off. They lean towards cold brews, iced lattes, frozen blended espresso drinks, iced teas, lemonade, smoothies, and iced energy drinks. This shift can affect preparation time and staffing requirements. Anticipate these preferences to ensure you have the correct number of baristas trained in making these popular summer drinks.

Adjusting Staffing Levels Based on Availability

Coffee shop owner showing barista the staffing schedule.As summer approaches and school ends, it’s crucial to assemble a dependable team of employees who can provide consistent shift coverage. Although more staff may be available when kids are out of school and college students return home, you may have weeks with limited shift coverage due to vacations, sports/music camps and special events. Hiring additional employees during these unpredictable months can help fill the inevitable gaps in coverage during the season.

Build a Reliable Staff Roster

Effective communication is vital to assembling and managing a great team. Reach out proactively to former employees who might be interested in summer jobs. Ensure current associates inform you about their summer schedules and plan any long absences (e.g., five days or more). Ask about their availability for the back-to-school season to help prepare for turnover and hiring needs in the fall.

Having a reliable number of staff members scheduled for the summer will give you peace of mind and help you effectively manage your labor costs. Consider having a smaller staff during longer shifts and using your employee roster to cover shorter shifts during busier hours.

Closely monitor your labor costs as a percentage of your total revenue. As our coffee shop business plan outlines, we recommend that labor be 30 percent or less of your monthly sales. As the owner, working more hours behind the bar might be a way to reduce labor expenses, assuming that’s part of your role in the business.

Keeping Employees Productive

There is ALWAYS something to do … check the list!

Checklist for coffee shop operations.Seasons of slower customer traffic allow time to focus on improving backhouse efficiency. By involving your staff in developing/revising operational checklists, you can communicate your expectations for cleanliness, timeliness and teamwork. Here are some examples of critical lists to incorporate into your shop operations.

  • Opening Checklist: Prepare the coffee shop for the bulk of your business each morning. This should include coffee and food preparation and ensuring the front house and outdoor seating area (if applicable) are clean and welcoming.
  • Shift Change or Afternoon Checklist: Support your teammates! During shift change, the bar should be restocked and left ready for the afternoon shift/closers. The next shift should clock into a clean store ready to serve the after-school and evening rush.
  • Closing Checklists: The closing process is labor-intensive and important. We suggest breaking it down into multiple checklists, such as tasks to be completed 2 hours before, 1 hour before, and after closing. You can also consider developing closing roles, where each employee has a certain list to complete. However you structure your closing procedures, the goal is to have a consistent close. Your employees should clock out about 30 minutes after turning off the open sign, resulting in controlled labor costs.
  • Weekly Projects / Deep Cleaning Tasks: These are important tasks to complete weekly or as needed when your customer traffic is slower or there are no customers in the store. Yes, you guessed it! This list is the best one to pull out during slower months! It’s the perfect time to complete much-needed deep cleaning in your shop and keep your staff busy.

Implementing the checklist system provides a documented standard for employees, making it easier to coach and hold your team accountable. It gives employees a sense of ownership and pride in maintaining the facility. They also gain a new perspective on the many facets of business ownership.

Have Fun in the Sun!

Young people having fun in the sun.In addition to buttoning up processes, the summer months can offer unique opportunities and flexible time to get more involved in the community. It also gives your employees a chance to get involved in your business in a fun way! Here are a few examples:

  • Grassroots marketing: Whether it’s walking in a 4th of July parade, serving coffee at a local farmer’s market, or dropping off coffee samples and coupons to surrounding local businesses, allow your star employees to represent your business in the community.
  • Giving back: Giving your time and talent to worthwhile community initiatives is a meaningful way to build your brand, cultivate teamwork with your staff, and have a positive impact as a leader. Look for seasonal opportunities to involve your team in initiatives like charity 5Ks, yard clean-up for those in need, or children’s safety programs at your local police department. 
  • Brainstorming new ideas: Your employees have great ideas, and listening to them will make them feel like they are a part of your business. Involve them in decisions about social media planning, events, charitable giving, and new products to roll out in the fall months. Ask them to create a small menu board highlighting “staff picks” for the week.

Take Time for Gratitude and Relaxation

A coffee shop owner relaxes in a hammock on a tropical beach.Amidst the deep cleaning, number crunching, and schedule juggling, consider planning a fun gathering with your staff after hours. Whether you hit the local ice cream stand or gather for a picnic at a nearby park, take advantage of this slower pace to have fun together and show appreciation to your employees.

Most importantly, take time away from your business. As busy operators, this is not always easy, but it’s valuable time. Use this season to develop your staff leadership by allowing them to do just that … lead!

Rest and recharge. You will have a fresh perspective on your business when you return.

Next month, we’ll brainstorm creative promotional ideas to drive traffic during the second half of the summer season.


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