Updated: Jan 25, 2020
Everybody loves a signature drink. They are fun, creative, and typically delicious. Having signature drinks will definitely help your coffee shop stand out, but it can also bring brand loyalty. Having some sort of “secret” that your customers don’t know about brings adventure and intrigue into their experience.
In the coffee industry, it can be very hip to have a small simple menu: espresso, latte, cappuccino, house coffee. Period.
But having something different for your customers to drink will heighten their experience. Sure, some people will always order the drip coffee. But they also might not hold any brand loyalty to your coffee shop. Having something unique will give your customers a reason to come back to your shop - not just the closest one to them.
Signature drinks should go beyond the norm. Offering “caramel macchiato,” white chocolate mocha, and cinnamon dolce latte don’t necessarily qualify for signature drinks. A signature drink should be more than just the typical blend of bottled syrups in a latte that any other coffee shop could reproduce. These must be unique to your coffee shop. If they aren’t, then you might be making a one time sale, but you aren’t gaining a long-term loyal customer and you aren’t building a brand.
Signature drinks should go beyond the norm.
Why is this important?
Because you want to give your customers a reason to come back. Let’s say the typical customer orders a "caramel macchiato" from the big green coffee giant, and they come into your store for the first time. If they see a drink on your menu called “caramel macchiato,” chances are, they’ll order that. But they won’t see it as any different as the one offered by the corporate chain. Maybe your’s is a bit better, maybe not. They really won’t care. They probably won’t even notice. You’re offering something they associate with another brand already. It’s a one-time transaction, and that’s probably all it’ll ever be.
Main idea: Signature drinks with traditional titles are helping build someone else’s brand. Not your own.
I see other coffee shops offer these sorts of drinks with the “what’s the harm?” attitude. But the harm is that you are trying to be for everyone. You’re trying to appeal to the mass market. Be mediocre. This is not the way to success. This will get you stuck. You’ll be a mile wide and one inch deep.
Instead, focus on creating real signature drink experiences that are unique to your coffee shop. Be creative. Try things no one else has done. Or maybe you’ve seen coffee shops out of town do something that isn’t currently in your town. No shame in utilizing what’s worked for other people. I’m not saying you have to completely reinvent the wheel, but push the envelope. Take risks.
In my coffee shop, I revamped the whole drink menu. I organized it so that the customer’s eyes were drawn towards our signature drinks. I also got rid of the "caramel macchiato” name, I changed it to “sweet caramel” latte and kept the recipe the same. Small changes like this are huge to build your brand that differentiates you from the others.
In my shop, we had a section on the menu labeled “Craft Lattes,” don’t those sound incredible? The main difference was that these lattes (there were only three drinks) had coconut oil steamed into the milk. No other coffee shops in town were doing this. Yet, it made the drinks taste creamy and delicious. Plus, the added health benefits associated with coconut oil.
Our most popular was the “white gold” latte. Just a mix of coconut oil, white chocolate, and vanilla. Then, I renamed another latte the “illuminate” latte - the same name as the coffee shop. So, when new customers came in to the shop for the first time, they would see a drink named after the shop and assume that is a safe, delicious choice for them. And this would build brand loyalty. Lots of other coffee shops have a “caramel macchiato,” but no one else has an “illuminate” latte.
Adding coconut oil was one of our unique differentiators. We also had the capacity to make our own syrups to flavor lattes and other drinks. We tried many different things and used as many whole and natural ingredients as we could. A popular flavor was lavender - we made it with organic cane sugar and real, dried lavender. It was delicious and unique. Making your own syrups doesn’t have to be hard, and it can really give you creative freedom to try new things. We used a 4-quart pot and an electric hot plate. We tried out several recipes until we were satisfied. After that, it was usually just small adjustments or swapping out a couple ingredients to create a new flavor.
There is a coffee shop in Albuquerque, NM called Little Bear Coffee that does a great job of making something unique, hip, and simple. They have the “super-hip” style menu with only one drink size, and just the basic options for espresso beverages: espresso, cortado, latte, cappuccino, and americano. BUT, they also have one more option: the LB Latte. LB stands for Little Bear, and I believe it’s just a blend of caramel, brown sugar, and vanilla. But that offering for someone coming from a big coffee chain and looking for a sweet latte is a lifesaver.
Now, they could’ve added a vanilla flavoring or put a “caramel macchiato” on the menu. But instead, they took the opportunity to make a signature drink that was associated with their brand.
The other thing about signature drinks is that they are fun. People talk about them. People RAVE about them. The coffee shop with a thousand different options probably doesn’t have anything that’s marginally better than anything else on the menu. And on the other hand, the ultra-hip coffee shop that only has five items (with great coffee) but nothing that stands out actually isn’t doing themselves any favors. But, having a few signature, unique drinks will get customers talking about your coffee shop.
I would get new customers all the time coming in saying “my friend told me I had to try the Illuminate Latte, so here I am.” The customer heard about it from a friend (social marketing, plus its free), then they came in and new exactly what to order. A simple, easy-to-remember name made the buying process that much more streamlined.
The ultimate goal is to get more people in your store, coming back, and talking about your drinks. Signature drinks are a great way to do that, but do them right.
Take a look at signature drinks you offer now. If you don’t have a shop yet, visit a few of the most successful and see what their signature drink menu looks like.
Are there too many options? Maybe too many bland names that don’t tie back into the brand?
What can you do differently that no one else is doing? Maybe a secret ingredient? Maybe just making a flavor that hasn’t been done before.