Coffee shops are the meeting places of our communities. It’s the reason many of us start our days off on the right foot, and the livelihoods for business owners, coffee roasters, baristas, and farmers. COVID-19 has impacted the coffee industry in a myriad of ways and will continue to do so in the coming months, even as our society seeks to exit quarantines and reboot our economy. The coffee industry, and the sense of community it’s known for, will survive this. The key is staying nimble and making shifts to meet the needs of coffee’s beloved customers and the new state of our world.

Shift to contact-free selling

While all 50 states in the U.S. were under emergency orders at the same time for the first time ever, coffee shops across the country prioritized the safety of staff and consumers through contact-free selling solutions. Shops with drive-thru options are thriving. Many cafes have shifted to carry-out only or curbside pick-up. Some have limited their in-store capacity to one-at-a-time, set social distance markers on floors and sidewalks, and implemented creative delivery services to make sure cups of coffee are still heading out of their doors and into the hands of loyal customers craving some sense of normalcy.

Highlight on-site roasting as a key differentiator

Retailers who roast their own beans on-site have an advantage for many reasons, especially during a pandemic. Coffee shops who already roast their own signature coffees and those just starting to do so are largely protected from potential supply chain disruptions—they don’t have to rely on other sources to get their roasted coffee product. They are often rewarded with brand benefits like customer loyalty and recognition, and are nimble enough to shift all or a portion of their business online, which opens their business up to an even larger audience. Additionally, they’re able to roast on-demand, minimizing inventory risk while realizing a more impactful margin, which is more important now than it’s ever been.

Engage in e-commerce

Coffee retailers may need to place more emphasis on e-commerce selling now than ever before. It could end up being essential for all coffee shops to have an online presence with an easily shoppable website and active social media channels that are consistently engaging new audiences. A growing online presence will lessen the need for coffee shops to rely on the age-old importance of “location, location, location” with their physical storefronts, which could turn into an added benefit in keeping overhead costs down over time.

Prepare to clean and sanitize

Customers are anxious to get back out into coffee shops, restaurants, and other gathering places that were once part of their daily routine, but are equally as anxious about the safety of doing so. It will be important for shops to maintain a new standard of cleanliness to ensure retail locations are a safe space for both customers and staff. Changes in procedures will need to take place across the board, and customers will want to visibly see surfaces being sanitized, machines being cleaned, and workers wearing basic protective equipment.

We’re all facing this crisis in one way or another, but businesses that stay nimble, adapt to change, make smart business decisions, and support each other will come out stronger on the other side.

Following start-up careers in technology and wine, Bellwether Coffee’s Ricardo Lopez dove into his admiration for the artisan-lead world of coffee roasting in 2013. Since then, he’s made it his mission to make the coffee industry more accessible, sustainable, and inclusive.

Outside Insights, Restaurant Operations, Story