Cultivating Atmosphere

Just as the atmosphere around Earth supports life, the atmosphere in your coffee shop supports your business. Cultivating the right atmosphere is just as important as the quality of coffee you serve.

The atmosphere of a coffee shop is one of the first things we notice and has a great amount of influence on our overall experience. When it comes to restaurants and coffee shops we tend to “judge their book by its cover” and if a place gives off the image of low quality we will often assume the food and drinks will reflect that image.

You could pull the best shots in the world but if you have a bad atmosphere it can be hard to get people in the door and even harder to have them come back as repeat customers.

Here are a few questions you can ask to help you cultivate the right atmosphere for your coffee shop.

1) What kind of atmosphere do you want?

Maybe you want your coffee shop to be the first place people think of when they meet up with a friend, or would rather serve those who need a quiet sanctuary for getting lost in the pages of a good book. Maybe you want it to be a place for people to quickly stop and get their drinks during a busy week-day.

Whatever kind of atmosphere you want, you need to start by looking at the things you can change to cultivate that kind of environment.

For example, mellow music and comfortable chairs will be much more inviting to an individual who is looking for a place to read, while group seating and larger tables will be more appealing to people looking to meet together.

2) What kind of “life” is your atmosphere already cultivating?

An important thing to consider is what type of customer you are already attracting. Knowing who you are marketing to can greatly influence your decisions about the atmosphere.

Here are a few examples:

Are there a lot of group tables with only one person at them? It may be good to remove some larger seating areas in favor of single seating areas.

Are most people grabbing their coffee to go? It may be good to remove some seating and introduce better systems to help people get in and out more efficiently.

Are a lot of people using laptops or tablets? It could be a good idea to add more electrical outlets for people to charge their devices.

Small changes can yield big results! It’s important to be mindful of the full experience the customer has from the moment they walk in to the moment they leave.

3) What is the atmosphere like outside of your coffee shop?

As well as looking at the kind of atmosphere you’re already cultivating inside your coffee shop, you need to look outside to your surroundings. A coffee shop that thrives in an inner city may not thrive in a rural community. Adapting to your surroundings is a key to survival.


More than just coffee

Nowadays people are spending more and more of their money on experiences rather than products. Live music, poetry readings, board games, or even art showings are great ways to provide experiences that cultivate a specific atmosphere inside your shop while also keeping you involved in your community.

Interior Design

While there are no set rules on how a coffee shop should be decorated, it is important to keep your intended effect in mind when you are decorating.


Spend time in places and coffee shops that inspire you. Think about what it is that you like and draws you to those elements and how you could implement them in your shop. The end result will feel more authentic, and ultimately provide a better atmosphere for customers.

-Alex Koeppen


No Problem: Customer Service

It wasn’t my idea. In fact, I had been so oblivious to the phrase that I would spit it out like a spent sunflower seed. This time, though, haphazardly saying ‘no problem’ as a response would land me on a change in trajectory.  During a positive meeting with Bluebird Coffee Company* owner/operators Delene Patterson and her husband Ponciano Montoya were sharing about their training strategy. “As part of our goal to make Bluebird a positive, friendly part of our customers’ day, we ask our staff never to say ‘no problem’.  Thanking our guests expresses the gratitude we feel for their support and makes it clear we enjoy making and serving them wonderful coffee. Why imply anything negative is happening?” Delene says.

“It should never be a problem to serve someone,” Ponciano added.

This conversation stopped me in my track. I had been using the phrase to reply to our customer’s needs.  “Can I add decaf to the order?” a customer would ask. “No problem,” I would reply. “Can I please have cream in this coffee?” “No problem, we’ll get that right up for you.” I was saying this phrase without really thinking about what it meant.

This was further solidified in the article A Case Against the Phrase ‘No Problem’  by Alva Noe (2015). He goes on to say that the phrase ‘no problem’ connotes that a person’s request is a problem and by replying  ‘no problem’ one is granting forgiveness, inferring that the request actually is an inconvenience. Thus, ‘you’re welcome’ has been replaced by the sterile and impersonal phrase ‘no problem’.

Those of us who roast and serve coffee all work in the hospitality industry. We exchange a great cup of coffee and a warm human interaction for money. Our livelihood depends on this transaction, and if you take the warm human interaction out of the equation you end up with a shallow transaction. In America, one can get a cup of coffee almost anywhere. This is especially true of cheap commodity coffee (see my article on the price of cheap).

Most of us are not in the commodity coffee industry. We’re in the specialty coffee industry and looking to make the coffee world a better place. We are grateful and thankful for the opportunity to enjoy outstanding coffee and to work in the economy of sharing this incredible coffee. We are thankful for every person that we serve. Sure, there’ll be times when a person’s request may be more challenging than usual. Yet, we must not forget that it is our privilege and honor to grant this request. This attitude produces gratitude and compassion; which will inevitably come back to bless us in the long run. This is why the words we say matter as much as the quality we put into making the coffee.

Bluebird has challenged me to practice the same intentionality in how I speak to people as in how I prepare a Chemex. Are we perfect? No!  Perfection is a mirage in the desert. We strive for intentionality. We aim for mindfulness. It is as the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Every thought you produce, anything you say, any action you do, it bears your signature.”

Let us practice mindfulness. Let us practice gratitude. Let us practice compassion.

*Visit Bluebird Coffee in Bend, Oregon for fantastic coffee and out-of-this-world customer service!