Jan. 23, 2017

If you ever go to a fast food restaurant, you'll notice right off the bat that the menu is obnoxious.  There are far too many items to choose from and you can feel the migraine symptoms beginning to creep in as you become baffled with frustration. Plenty of times you know what you're going to order before you pull up to a drive-thru menu, however, it's still confusing.  I'm not sure if local shops began copying this trend or they wanted to ensure their clientele that they not only offer coffee, but tea, smoothies, bagels, pastries, pizza, steak, hamburgers, tacos, burritos and more. It's utterly ridiculous.  The fact is, a shop might offer everything, but it's never a good idea and here's why:

(A menu that offers you everything under the sea -- just too much.  Photograph courtesy of Jonathan Warren Carroll)

1) Stick to what you know.  Advertise what you do and who you are.  Use social media channels to the best of your ability, listing exactly what you're known for and why you're one of the best at it.  Create a story.  Create a timeline. Create mass interest in potential followers by offering something unique for a month or bi-monthly that nobody else is doing.  Create campaigns, partner with local businesses by cross-promoting your beverages with their products.  Don't sit around and wait for customers to come to you -- go out and get them.  Keep a simple profile and menu.  Don't over exaggerate the mission and purpose of the business or customers won't know what you're truly good at.

(Simple menu items:  Raspberry Cornbread with a cappuccino at Andytown Coffee Roasters in San Francisco, CA. Simple and beautiful with a nice design. Photograph courtesy of Jonathan Warren Carroll)

2) Maintain consistency in what you offer.  If you want to be known as an independent local coffee shop, offer 7-10 coffee drinks and a few loose leaf tea options.  Stick to a select number of pastries and/or breakfast burritos, but keep it simple.  Don't overdue it.  Don't spend and waste monies on inventory/products that are rarely ever purchased.  It just doesn't make any fiscal sense.  Find the best possible purchase price and profit rate you can by taking inventory every week to determine what sells and what doesn't.  Trying to offer new products is always a good thing.  It's about marketing and figuring out what works and what doesn't.  

 (Simple menu and design.  The Mill in San Francisco, California.  Photograph courtesy of Jonathan Warren Carroll)

3) If you're a shop that offers, makes and sells smoothies or fluffy sugary drinks and you turn a profit, stick to what you do.  You don't have to be a specialty coffee shop.  If your business plan included selling these types of drinks and you're doing well, keep them on the menu, but stick to a select number of flavors, not 100.  By taking inventory, what people purchase, you can easily figure out what syrups sell the most.  Just exclude the ones that are rarely ever ordered.

(Fruit smoothie at Cupz Coffee in Tempe, Arizona.  Photograph courtesy of Jonathan Warren Carroll)

4) Just because other random shops have tons of items doesn't mean you have to do the same thing.  Be unique.  Offer a drip or a pour over, cappuccino, latte, macchiato, cortado (standard coffee drinks) and make a few unique concoctions in the process.  Be different.  Stand out in the coffee crowd.  

5) When a shop lists 10,000 items on their menu (okay, I'm being a bit facetious), it's a drag.  The first thing that I think is that the shop is clueless on how to run a business, in so many words, they're stating that they're mediocre at what they do and offer -- it also doesn't help to rate them on Yelp.  Every time I walk into a shop like this, my first impression is always a bad one because I've experienced shops like this over the last six years (randomly hitting local shops and coffee houses out of town I'm not familiar with).  Keeping a menu simple means you're expressing to me without words that you're crafty, you believe in the items on the menu and you're quite good at what you do.  At least, that's the overall impression that I get when I see a well thought out menu, design and layout and decor of a shop.  I think it's safe to say that there isn't more than a handful of people that want to stare at long list of items on a menu for three to four minutes.  Make it easy for customers.  Make the path to the cashier a nice flow.  It will work.

 (Mixed berry Tart from Songbird Coffee & Tea House in Phoenix, Arizona.  Photograph courtesy of Jonathan Warren Carroll)

Written by Jonathan Warren Carroll