How cafés can adapt to change

cafés adapt change

Jared Chapman on how cafés can adapt to change, the importance of staying relevant and chasing new opportunities – and not just when a pandemic hits.

Wow. What a challenging and different year 2020 has been so far. They say the only constant in life is change, and we have seen more than our fair share of change this year already.

What has been fascinating is seeing how well people and businesses can adapt when there is little choice. Innovation springs to life and many people have found ways to keep their businesses running in clever and inventive ways. For some of these businesses, this new way of thinking is reluctant – a result of difficult circumstances forcing them to change to be able to stay open. For others though, challenging the status quo is not foreign, it’s just part of their DNA. In a lot of ways, the businesses who have always pushed the boundaries have set themselves up for greater success when things go unexpectedly pear shaped. They often have more diverse businesses, have learnt how to successfully implement innovation, and are more likely to have staff that embrace change rather than resist it. More importantly, there’s a good chance they have already put in place many of the initiatives that other businesses have recently been scrambling to introduce.

Jared Chapman is Group Customer Manager at Suntory Coffee.

Which brings me to my point. Regardless of whether there’s a global pandemic or not, the most successful businesses are ever changing. For them, new ideas are seen as opportunities rather than a hassle. They do this to stay relevant, keep things fresh, and to continue to find new ways to give their customers what they want. It just so happens that as a result they are more resilient in times of crisis.

To illustrate, I’ll start by sharing some “innovations” that many businesses have only implemented because they needed to in the age of coronavirus, while other businesses have been doing these things for a long time:

  1. Online ordering and delivery. This one is pretty obvious when everyone is forced to stay home, but it’s also a great example of how there are many cafés that were more prepared than others when the pandemic hit. This trend isn’t new and isn’t going away any time soon, so if you haven’t already, get onto it, get a website, and get set up.
  2. Social media. Socials have long been a great way to engage with customers and keep your business front of mind. But businesses who had been procrastinating on building a social media presence were kicking themselves when all of a sudden the only way they could try to bring customers in or keep them updated was through talking to their followers on social media.
  3. Retail coffee beans. Retail coffee tends to not only have a higher margin than many other products that cafés sell, but also helps to increase the value of an existing customer – which is easier than winning a new one. An added bonus is that it’s easy to sell online.
  4. Giving back. A lot of businesses have taken the opportunity to help or thank others, such as providing free coffee to health care workers. But being seen to be a generous business is always a good thing, and what’s more is it makes it more authentic in difficult times. A great example is Café Two 14 in Brisbane, who always gives back to support Australian military veterans and their families. When they started selling retail coffee and contributing $5 per bag directly to their staff during coronavirus, it was clear to their customers that it was genuine and not just marketing.
  5. Merch sales. Selling coffee gear and apparel is another great way to increase customer value and also create some walking advertisements for your brand. If you’ve already got a reputation for cool merch, you won’t have any issues selling an “I only leave the house to go to Johnny’s Café” t-shirt.
  6. Ready-to-eat meals. Service stations and supermarkets have been on this for a while now. Let your customers kill two birds with one stone and grab their lunch with their morning coffee. A great recent example of this is a gym partnering with a café to offer calorie-controlled take-home meals for a one-stop health and fitness shop.
cafés adapt change
Expand the horizon of takeaway orders to include groceries or ready-made meals.

Not all of the innovations cafés have implemented recently have been old news, however. There are plenty of examples of new and clever ways I’ve seen cafés tackle the challenge of continuing to run a successful business during the pandemic. What’s interesting is that while these ideas are largely new for cafés, once again there is no reason why they couldn’t have implemented the ideas any time – and no reason why they still can’t.

  • Selling groceries. Actually, let’s kill a third bird with that same stone. Pick up your morning coffee, your ready-made lunch, and a meal kit for dinner later. Talk about convenience.
  • Virtual cupping session. What a great way to sell some retail coffee. Send out the same coffee to a bunch of people and then run an online cupping session to show them how to use it. If people can make it to the café to participate, that’s great, but now you can get anyone involved.
  • Lending coffee equipment – some cafés are letting people borrow brewing equipment when they buy retail coffee (with a deposit on the equipment). This seems like a great way to encourage more people to get brewing at home, and even better, brewing with your coffee. Why not lend the cupping equipment they need to get involved with the virtual cupping session while you’re at it?
  • Virtual coffee training. A great example I’ve seen from a few coffee roasters for their wholesale customers, but also a great idea for cafés to teach their customers to become home baristas and loyal retail coffee buyers. And if they don’t have an espresso machine at home, why not get some of those in to sell as well?
  • Bottling hand sanitiser. Okay, so this one might not have been particularly obvious or relevant until recent times. But still, a great example of adaptability. Again, I think the key here is that if you’re used to trying new things, you’ll have a much better idea of how to get a project like this up and running in a short space of time.
cafés adapt change
Online or direct phone orders are likely to be an ongoing part of café operations.

The message is clear. Rather than waiting for something to come along and force innovation, take the time to sit down and think about how you could do things differently and improve your business. Hopefully you won’t need it to support you through a crisis, but it’s sure to help you build a better business.

This article appears in the June 2020 edition of BeanScene. Subscribe HERE.

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