What are the next café trends post-COVID?

BeanScene and Barista Technology look at the next café trends post-COVID and how COVID-19 may change the café industry long-term and what businesses will need to remain profitable and successful.

A respite from intense lockdowns and restrictions earlier in 2021 showed there was still a healthy demand for coffee out-of-home, but even once Australia is out of lockdown for good, COVID-19 will have presented cafés with new challenges and opportunities.

SMARTER COFFEE 

According to Barista Technology Australia CEO Brett Bolwell, new technologies are providing coffee businesses with greater transparency of what is going on in and behind the coffee machine to improve the operations of their cafés.

“I’ve been in the industry for 20 years, and over that time, objective information about coffee quality and consistency, or the need for servicing, has largely been invisible to the business owner,” Brett says. “We’ve mostly judged our shots and the need for servicing based on time, but I don’t think that’s going to be reliable moving forward.”

The Flow telemetry system can be installed directly into a coffee machine and tracks the machine’s performance with every shot. This information can help the barista stay on recipe, draw attention to problems with the equipment, and provide the business owner or coffee roaster with a wider picture of the café’s performance.

Barista Technology is working on a similar system that gathers information about water filtration systems so cafés can make sure they are running as efficiently as possible too. 

“If you’re a coffee roaster, you want to know when your accounts have a problem, even before they do. You don’t want to wait weeks before finding out there’s an issue with their coffee quality, because by then they’ll have lost customers,” Brett says. “Telemetry has been adopted well in the super automatics market, but we’re only scratching the surface of what it can bring to manual machines. The ultimate goal is our coffee equipment to be able to ‘talk’ to the barista for immediate feedback, the business owner or coffee roaster to know what’s going on at the coffee bar, and other equipment to streamline efficiency.”

OUT OF YOUR HANDS

While robots won’t likely be replacing baristas anytime soon, Brett says it’s important to embrace technology that can streamline workflow while reducing overheads.

“One of the interesting things we’ve seen with Flow is, that as soon as you introduce ‘smart’ or automatic equipment, you start to see immediate results,” Brett says. “A friend of mine operates a local café and uses a Puqpress tamper, two Perfect Moose [milk steamers], and two Mahlkönig grind-by-weight grinders. We were having brunch the other day and he said to me: ‘Brett, how do other people do this?’ He goes through 75 kilograms of coffee per week, so it’s a reasonable sized café, and he didn’t know how people could run a business efficiently without having these systems in place.”

Almost as soon as lockdowns ended in late 2020 and business picked up, cafés were presented with a different problem: skill shortages due to international border closures. Brett says cafés that don’t embrace a degree of automation will struggle even more to attract talent.

“They won’t be able to get the calibre of barista they could’ve in the past without paying significantly higher hourly rates. Even if they do find someone, they don’t generally stay long term,” Brett says. “Automation shouldn’t be about replacing baristas. It’s making the job and training easier, so more people can jump straight behind the deck and pull a good shot.”

THE NEW LOOK CAFÉ 

Rental costs are another big constraint on a café’s profitability, which was not made any easier during the pandemic. On the other side of COVID-19, people looking to reopen in new locations or branch out on their own will need to weigh up if the space is worth the cost.

Brett says popup cafés using converted shipping containers are an on-trend and cost-effective alternative to traditional café spots. 

“For a small café in a retail or shopping centre environment, the fit-out alone can cost $150,000 before even factoring in equipment. Then you’re looking at around $1000 per week rent, outgoings on top of that, and in some cases a refit every two or three years,” Brett explains.

“We’re working on shipping container solutions for customers now for an upfront cost of just $100,000. That includes compete ownership of the unit including equipment. For another customer, we’ve been able to finance it for as little as $350 per week. We’re even helping them scout and negotiate for good sites that cost half the rent you’d usually pay for a café. For a complete café, they’re paying less than they usually would on rent alone.”

If a location isn’t working, it’s not difficult to relocate a shipping container café, and Brett says that’s not the only flexibility the pop-ups can offer.

“Have other passions you want to explore? It’s not hard to put up a partition and turn the shipping container into two businesses. One idea we’ve suggested is sharing the container with a barber shop, so you have an espresso bar on one side and a barber chair on the other,” he says. “You get more control over your opening hours than in a shopping centre, so we’ve spoken with a few entrepreneurs that want to run a café during the day, then from 4pm or 5pm switch it up to a gin bar or brewhouse. That’s where the pop-up shines, maximising and utilising one platform to do multiple things with a very low risk point.”

ON THE GO

Another use Brett has seen for the shipping container café is as a quick drive-thru option, particular for large coffee chains with new sites still under construction.

“The drive-thru market is going to be insane for the next few years, and I’ve spoken to a few big companies that tell me it is their sole focus going forward. When the big guys who have done their homework and studied the data commit to something like that, you know the rest of the industry will follow,” Brett says.

“Even if it’s not drive-thru per se, we’re going to see a bigger focus with speed and convenience. People are more used to ordering things online now, pre-ordering apps are going to keep growing in popularity and pop-ups are perfect for a business model where you’re set up in a car park and bring coffee to people waiting in their cars.”

COLD WAVE

With more customers ordering on the go and before they even reach the café, it will be important for businesses to establish a clear point of difference with their menus that they can offer quick and easily.

“Acai, for example, has become a popular café product, but when you think about it, it takes so much time and effort to make. It can’t be done quickly and requires extra work that hits your profit margin,” Brett says. “We’re working on adapting a soft serve machine to instead serve acai, and that means a café would be able to deliver it quickly and consistently without it impacting the workload of the business.”

Barista Technology Australia is similarly developing a soft serve unit for a vegan cold brew-based ice cream, also efficiently adding a product to a café’s menu without increasing workload.

“Cafés typically struggle in summer when their entire focus is on brewing hot drinks, so they really need to think about how they can increase their turnover over Australia’s long and hot summer,” Brett says. “Cold brew isn’t as big in Australia as it is in markets like the United States, but that means there is room for it to grow, which is why I think an innovative product like cold brew soft serve could really catch people’s attention.”

Ultimately, Brett says cafés the embrace efficiency and profitability are the ones that will succeed in a post-COVID world.

“Too many cafés are run week to week and that’s why so many have folded during the latest waves of COVID-19. The cafés that will be successful coming out of lockdowns are the ones run with proper systems in place,” Brett says. “We have such a strong coffee industry, but some people will have to change the way they do things if they want to stay profitable.” 

For more information, visit www.baristatechnology.com.au

This article appeared in the October 2021 edition of BeanScene. Subscribe HERE.

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