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What Should I Serve In My Coffee Shop?

What to serve in your coffee shop will always come down to two things: your value proposition, and what your customers want. Sometimes those will be at odds with each other, but the items that perfectly fit in the overlap between those two things are what you want to comprise your menu.

Having something on your menu that your customers don’t want will result in them not ordering it. While this sounds harmless, it means wasted money on unused equipment or spoiled inventory. It also fills your menu up, adding one more decision for the customer. This means one more decision trail your customer will have to consider when ordering.

You want as little friction as possible when your customers are ordering.

You want customers to feel safe, comfortable, and confident when making a purchase decision. This encourages your customers to feel good about their decision and become a repeat customer. Make your menu and ordering system as clear as possible.

A clear example of a brilliant set of product offerings is the early McDonald’s menu. It was very simple, and you couldn’t really customize it. They didn’t even offer the Big Mac in the beginning. You could ONLY order a hamburger or cheeseburger, fries, and a shake.

You might think, "but surely customers wanted more than that." You’re right, they did. But McDonald’s value proposition was that they were fast and efficient. This is the reason they were able to take off like they did. They could produce orders much faster than their competitors, and they could take order faster due to their limited menu options.

They were very slow to add other things to the menu. There had to be clear customer wants (or a very defined untapped target market) and it had to fit into their value proposition.

When deciding what to put on your menu, consider who your customers are and why they’re coming in.

Are they commuting to work? Are they stopping in for lunch? Are they looking for a place to study for a couple hours?

Your coffee and espresso drinks are clearly things you want on your menu, but consider what times people will be coming in. If they are coming in for a grab-and-go breakfast on their morning commute, you’ll want options they don’t have to wait for. If you have a large afternoon crowd, small light bites make for a good afternoon snack.

Remember to keep your menu small as you start out, you can always expand it later. But it’s more difficult to spread your revenues thin over a large product offering and then try to dial it back. At some point, you’ll want to cut your lower performing items. Like I mentioned earlier, even if they’re not being ordered, they’re still costing you money.

Have A Clear Value Proposition

The next thing to consider is what your value proposition is. Why are people choosing to come in to your coffee shop? How can you offer products that specifically meet the needs of those people while also maximizing time, labor, inventory, and profit?

Having a clear value proposition will help you make the decision on what and what not to serve.

Is your shop small with limited seating with mostly takeaway orders? Then you don’t want a food menu with items that take long to prepare.

Is your shop more of a destination with comfortable seating and neat design? You’ll want food items that you can charge more for, but also might take a little time. Since you’ll have more dine-in ordering, you’ll want to pay more attention to how you plate the food you serve. The dining experience of your customer becomes more important.

Maybe your value proposition is very quick service. You’ll want to stay away from manual brew options that might take 5+ minutes per single serving.

Clear and simple menus help you get more orders more quickly. But here’s a secret: you don’t actually have to have something on your menu to serve it.

At my coffee shop, I really wanted to point customers to order our specialty drinks. One in particular that included white chocolate. I knew that if I had a white chocolate latte on the menu, it would’ve gotten ordered more, and the specialty drink would’ve been ordered less. Since one of my value propositions was incorporating coconut oil into specialty drinks, I left the specialty drink on the menu, and took the white chocolate latte off. BUT, I still had the ingredients to make a white chocolate latte, so if someone did order it, we could fulfill it. This kept customers that REALLY wanted a white chocolate latte happy while not clogging up the menu, and it pointed other customers to our specialty drink.

While all this may seem intuitive, it can be exciting to want to shape our business to be just like the vision in our head, instead of what it actually needs to be. The opposite is also true - it can be tempting to serve everything a customer could possibly ask for. But the best way to run your business is to balance what’s best for you AND your customers.


  • What items on your menu are the least ordered? If you get rid of those, will anyone notice? Could you direct those customers to something similar on your menu?

  • Why are most people coming into your coffee shop? How can you better serve those customers?

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