When the Covid-19 pandemic started, governments around the world announced restrictions that affected the hospitality sector in a number of different ways.
However, after more than a year of living with the virus, we are finally starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. As of May 2021, more than 286 million vaccine doses had been administered in the US alone.
As a result, cafés, restaurants, and other hospitality businesses are starting to open their doors. However, for many owners and operators, this poses a key question: what will things be like as the sector returns to normal? And how should my business respond?
To learn more, we spoke to the owners of two coffee shops in Michigan. Read on to find out what they said.
Life after Covid
Olivia and Tiago Andrade are the owners of Mezzo Coffee House in Otsego. They explain that they actually opened in the midst of the pandemic, so operating with Covid-19 is really all they’ve known.
However, they are confident of better times ahead. “We've seen a vast increase in traffic in 2021, which makes us hopeful for the future and being able to get back to some sort of normalcy,” Olivia says. “However, as to what that will look like? We aren't sure.”
She explains that through the course of the pandemic, they have seen a number of small local businesses close. At the same time, however, there has also been an influx of new businesses opening.
Ultimately, for cafés like Mezzo, Olivia says that there will always be a demand for coffee. The key for successful businesses is being able to capitalize on that demand and win mind share from your competitors. This, she says, is where a focus on quality and service come in.
Focusing on quality
Peter van de Roovaart is the co-owner of Full Circle Coffee in Kent County. “Just because there's going to be growth doesn't mean that we don't want to distinguish ourselves from other shops and what other areas and locations are doing,” he explains.
He adds that there are a few different ways to set yourself apart from the competition.
Quality customer service
For many consumers, the experience of going out to buy a delicious cup of coffee isn't just about the drink they end up with; it’s also about the service.
Anything from a quick chat about how a customer’s day is going to recommending which coffee they should choose can help win mind share and improve the chance they will return.
This makes it essential for café owners and baristas to focus on providing the best experience they possibly can.
“I think the most important thing we can do to distinguish ourselves is just to get to know our customers and have really friendly customer service,” Peter says.
He points out that one of the easiest ways to do this is simply by being chatty. This way, you show your customers that you are actually interested in them, and not just in the transaction being made.
In addition, keep in mind that you never know when a customer might be having a bad day. Something as simple as remembering their favorite dessert or drinks order can make all the difference.
Olivia echoes Peter’s sentiment, explaining that one of Mezzo’s focuses is building real connections with their customers. This way, she says, they know that customers keep coming back for the experience they get, rather than the convenience of a chain or drive-thru. She adds that this also makes it easier to get feedback and find areas where you need to improve.
To serve great coffee, you need great beans – it is as simple as that.
This makes working with the right roaster a priority for every coffee shop looking to set themselves apart from the pack. Peter says that, in his experience, working with a great roaster makes a huge impact on how successful a coffee shop can be. “It’s going to be hard if your beans aren’t any good to start with,” he explains.
Olivia adds that customers don’t only just care about quality, however; today’s specialty coffee consumers want to know where their beans are coming from, too. She says: “They want to see the connection between their dollar and the impact on the world.
“Partnering with Higher Grounds was a no-brainer for us when we came into the business. Not only is their quality amazing but they care about everyone that enters their supply chain and their partnerships demonstrate that,” she explains.
Offering new and exciting products is a good way to keep your customers interested and make sure they’ll want to come back to visit your business.
Whether you’re innovating by launching new coffees, offering limited edition seasonal drinks, or partnering with other local businesses, doing something new is always a great way to stand out from the competition.
However, Peter adds that owners should make sure any new product or project makes sense for their business and aligns with their aims. He also notes that you should try your own coffee as often as possible to make sure it tastes as great as it can.
Finally, he adds that staff training “refreshers” are a good way to make sure your team is ready for things to reopen. Making sure your baristas are aware of what good customer service looks like is a must.
Even though the future remains uncertain for hospitality businesses around the world, this doesn’t mean that it’s not a good time to prepare.
Make sure that you’re committing to quality across the products you offer and the service you provide your customers. This will help you ensure that the customers coming through your door get an outstanding experience every time they visit.
Photo credits: Higher Grounds Trading Co., Mezzo Coffee House, Full Circle Coffee