Question: I hear all positive comments and few complaints from customers about my coffee, how do I know when something is wrong?

Consumers will not complain or offer constructive advice because they are not confident in their ability to taste and evaluate coffee, and certainly cannot articulate or communicate the experience to others. They will smile, say “thank you,” and never come back if they do not like what they taste (for whatever reason). I recommend that you establish a consistent standard of beverage quality for your brand that helps consumers understand what is possible with coffee, expected of your shop and should be expected of your competition.

You must take the lead role and set consumer expectations; if you’re not certain of what is possible with coffee, you need to get out and experience it for yourself. Just as it is difficult to, for example, run a top fine dining restaurant if you have only ever consumed food from McDonald’s, most independent shop operators struggle to match up to the only specialty coffee shop they have known: Starbucks.

Average independent shops and some chains are doomed to failure before they begin by attempting to establish a business model that is essentially a poor man’s facsimile of a fast food giant. You cannot beat the big QSR’s at their own mechanized game; you must change the game to do things that they cannot, lik make a flavorful coffee beverage that is not based on volume, dairy, artificial sweeteners or chemical flavorings. It can and is done in great shops around the world.

Join the Specialty Coffee Association of America (or your respective country organization), visit local, national and international events like barista competitions and cuppings wherever possible, cup coffees with your competitors, visit leading indie retailers and become immersed in the culture that is the world’s specialty coffee industry. Online resources, such as this one, are a great place to start, but lack the obvious sensory experience that our industry is founded on.

One can wait for consumers to tell them what they want, but the consumers do not know what is possible. Successful cafe owners show consumers what they want and cannot get elsewhere and do not want to live without.