The Elements of a Great Coffee Shop Design

19th February 2020

This month we’re taking a look at the different elements that combine to make a great coffee shop design and what independents can do to take on the larger coffee chain brands. Last year saw a sharp slow down in growth for the larger branded coffee chains. Having previously grown 8.7% year-on-year it was perhaps obvious that some of the larger coffee chains would not be able to such rapid growth forever, in what has become a rather crowded marketplace. You can now find a coffee shop on almost every corner of every high street in the UK and you are never more than a few feet from a fresh brew whenever you venture into town. According to figures released by the Allegra Group, last year the level of growth slowed from 8.7% to 0.9% year-on-year. Just 70 coffee chain outlets opened in the UK in 2019 taking the number of branded stores to 8,222. Despite this, half of the industry leaders remain positive and still believe there is potential for growth in the branded café industry, once the Brexit dust settles.

Coffee Shop Photo by Afta Putta Gunawan on Pexels

Industry experts such as Jeffrey Young of the Allegra Group suggest that outlet growth will regain momentum during the next two to three years. He forecasts better times ahead for operators that are able to readily capitalise on opportunities in 2020 and adapt to challenges in this highly competitive market –  with major brands launching new formats, including travel kiosks, more drive through outlets and specialised sub-brands.

Despite this decline for larger chains, many independent coffee brands and pop-ups have been experiencing growth and some larger brands, such as Starbucks are working hard to put their own spin on the level of intimacy and connection achieved by independent stores. So what exactly are the elements of a great coffee shop design? In this article we look at the best features, design elements and customer experience ideas that some of the UK’s best coffee shops are using in order to stay on top of the game, with some tips for how you can incorporate them into your own coffee shop interior design.

The features of a great coffee shop design

Before we start delving into the design and customer experience elements, lets us not forget the product! Hot water and a swirl of granules just don’t hit the spot for many millennials. The quality of the coffee can have a huge impact on the success of the business as many consumers become coffee connoisseurs, seeking out the best coffee houses and sampling different roasts. Amazing coffee beans grown in an eco friendly or sustainable way and sourced from far flung places along with additions such a rice milk, goats milk, almond milk and other vegan options are all elevating our coffee experience to the next level. There is so much choice in some coffee shops one can almost become overwhelmed – but it is always a delight to discover something special.

Coffee Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

Coffee Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

One great example of a small independent chain with exceptional beans is the Monmouth Coffee Company. With three shops in London, they source and roast coffee from single farms, estates and cooperatives, trading in a sustainable and ethical way with these growers. They also sell their coffee in store and online, taking the time to make sure their customers are getting the very best from their service, Monmouth are evidently passionate about coffee and this is clearly reflected in their wonderful level of service.

Monmouth Coffee, West End Eyal Naor on Google Maps

Monmouth Coffee, West End Eyal Naor on Google Maps


Sustainable retail is becoming more and more of an issue in the minds of consumers and coffee shops who have dispensed of single-use plastics and encourage reusable cups, low energy lighting and sustainable initiatives are clearly going to have an advantage over others who are not. Ensuring ethical practices in the supply chain, fair trade deals, organic or eco-friendly products and packaging are a great way to attract and keep consumers in 2020, as long as your message is sincere.


People go to coffee shops for different reasons, but predominantly it is a social occasion, catching up with friends and one of the most fun coffee shop interior design ideas we’ve seen recently is the ‘New Ground’ pop-up in Selfridges. New Ground is an ethical coffee shop that trains ex-offenders from the Thames Valley area – with the aim of reducing re-offending rates. Ethical and sustainable, the company recycles its paper cups and turns them into shopping bags as well as giving ex-offenders a chance to improve their lives – but this isn’t the reason that they hit the headlines – it was one epic physical feature inside the store that had people flocking to try the coffee. A giant yellow adult-sized slide. Not only was did this provide a fun element to the customer experience (it was positioned in a corner window at the corner of Oxford Street and Duke Street – which meant that passing shoppers and traffic could watch visitors whizz down) it also created an enormous buzz on social media and was featured in the national press. What a great way of getting national attention whilst also providing a fun experience for your customers.

Yellow Slide photo by Jonathan Dibble on Google Maps

Yellow Slide photo by Jonathan Dibble on Google Maps

A workspace or meeting space

A lot of people nowadays are using coffee houses for meetings or work. They come for the Wi-Fi and stay for the coffee. Some use them as a second office –or even in some cases, a first office! We held an impromptu client meeting in a coffee shop not so long ago, near Oxford Street and were surrounded by people beavering away on their laptops. It is clear that there is a great opportunity right now for coffee shops to begin offering more of a blend of hang out and work space – perhaps providing separate, quieter rooms for this activity – along with private or semi-private meeting spaces where businesses can book and have food or coffee brought in – some sort of WeWork / coffee shop hybrid which can be booked online for an hour or so and pay as you go. This approach needs a clear policy whereby the space is either paid for with coffee refills included or that the customer has a minimum spend to avoid people abusing the system and simply using the Wi-Fi with a glass of tap water.

Cafe Photo by Helena Lopes from Pexels

Cafe Photo by Helena Lopes from Pexels

As well as meeting rooms or virtual offices, coffee shops can also be used as a venue for other kinds of unique get togethers. Grind is another great example of an independent chain that is embracing forward thinking. Their original store opened in Shoreditch, with a walk-in recording studio upstairs. They now have six locations across London selling coffee, cocktails and a casual all day dining menu. But it all started with the coffee. They are absolutely nailing their brand, selling their own house blend of whole bean or ground coffee in pale pink tins bearing their coffee shop logo design and compostable coffee pods in store and online via a subscription service. They also sell branded merchandise and you can book a table online too.

Shoreditch Grind photo by Grind on Google Maps

Shoreditch Grind photo by Grind on Google Maps

Building a following or a tribe or a sense of community in store can be vital to the success of independent coffee stores and some of the larger chains are embracing this in their design elements too.

Design elements

Starbucks have been working to embrace community, local and personal features into their store design and now have 3 different types of design for their stores. Rather than going for a ‘huge harmonious chain look’ they now look at each store individually and design each one to look ‘distinctively local’ on a mission to ensure that no two Starbucks will ever look their same. They apply one of three approaches to each coffee shop design; Heritage, Artisan or Regional Modern:

“Heritage coffeehouses reflect the merchant trading roots of our first store in Seattle’s historic Pike Place Market with worn wood, stained concrete or tiled floors, metal stools and factory-inspired lighting. Large community tables, club chairs and wooden blinds evoke a turn-of-the-last-century feeling.

“Artisan stores echo the industrial past of urban markets, taking inspiration from the Modernism of the 1930s. This motif celebrates simple materials like exposed steel beams, masonry walls, factory casement glass and hand-polished woodwork in a creative gathering place for culture and the arts.

“Regional Modern embodies a trend-setting style that is comfortable and welcoming. We use bright, loft-like, light-filled spaces punctuated with regionally inspired furniture and culturally relevant fabrics to create a calm and contemporary respite from the clamour of the fast-paced world.”

Café design that acknowledges the local area

Local naval heritage and a seaside theme were something we took into account for our design for ‘the Galley’ Food Court at the Sovereign Centre in Weston-Super-Mare, producing a light and airy, modern design with a traditional feel with a nautical theme.

Sustainable coffee shop design ideas

Along with local, community features we’ve also noticed a trend for upcycling with vintage, sustainable, eco-friendly materials making an appearance in many new coffee store designs. As well as ticking the green box these design elements create a really homely feel where people want to longer and buy more coffee.

Coffee Shop Photo by Natalie Cardona on Unsplash

Coffee Shop Photo by Natalie Cardona on Unsplash


Lighting can also play a huge part in getting the right atmosphere in store. Our café design for Simmons Bakery in Welwyn Garden City utilised vintage style metal red and white pendant lamps to create a classic feel throughout the store. Monmouth coffee house has similar lamps at its store in Bermondsey and this use of low lighting combined with brighter functional lighting where needed create intimacy in small coffee shop designs, with less of a ‘coffee chain’ feel. Some stores are also using eco-friendly lighting, low energy bulbs and LEDs as a way to reduce their carbon footprint and entice eco-conscious coffee drinkers.

Monmouth Coffee, Bermondsey Arch by Janet Chapman on Google Maps

Monmouth Coffee, Bermondsey Arch by Janet Chapman on Google Maps

Our final tip when considering coffee shop design is to make it Instagrammable. Everyone is snapping and posting so if you add some interesting art work, carefully curated displays of food and crockery, inspiring colours and quotes your brand is more likely to be shared online and this could lead to more footfall or website sales.

Café customer experience

We’ve looked at the features and design elements of a good coffee shop but what about the customer experience? It is important to have a good idea of your customer base and the understanding that you are going to build your business on repeat trade and word-of-mouth so those customer relationships will need careful consideration and nurturing in order for the business to grow.

Coffee shops have to think differently now and appeal to the community. Many larger coffee chains now offer table service where you can order from apps and special events in order to retain customers. For independents, their unique selling point will often be their chance to create a home-from-home meeting hub with players and vinyl, houseplants, books you can borrow (and return), board games, poetry reading, meeting spaces and cinema nights. Turning a coffee shop into a place that is part of a community.

Shoreditch Grind photo by Hassan Jaffar on Google Maps

Shoreditch Grind photo by Hassan Jaffar on Google Maps

Repair cafes

Repair cafes are also on the rise. Usually hosted in community centres or libraries, coffee shops should consider hosting this sort of community event too as they send a clear eco message. Repair Cafes are all about bringing broken things to be mended by a team of volunteers – be that a bicycle, a toaster or a mobile phone – as consumers become more conscious about waste and seek to repair their items rather than throwing them in landfill as they might once have done.

Meeting spaces

Some cafes also hold after-hours events such as comedy nights or host meet ups for book groups or other enthusiasts. Events for mothers and toddlers, storytelling or talks. There is so much they can do to make a community hub that becomes more than just a coffee shop. If you want to develop this idea and attract new groups to your space it might be worth looking on to find out which groups are gathering in your area and offering them a space to do so.

Shoreditch Grind photo by Hassan Jaffar on Google Maps

Shoreditch Grind photo by Hassan Jaffar on Google Maps


Of course with so much going on, it is important to make sure that there is room for privacy too. People who have come in to work don’t want to be surrounded by enthusiastic toddlers and if there is enough room in store then clearly divided areas are desirable – or perhaps sticking to one theme (e.g. workspace rather than meeting place) instead of trying to become all things to everyone. Which comes back to making sure you know your customer base before you begin to develop your experience – and if your customer base is the sort to come in and nurse a cup of tea for six hours – how to encourage them to buy more, or attract a fresh crowd with deeper pockets.

Cutting the queues with good coffee shop counter design

No one likes to queue for coffee, so making the checkout system run as smoothly as possible is one way to entice new customers. Clear signposting and well-defined signage with pricing and information can go a long way to ensure that newbies feel comfortable in unfamiliar surroundings and are not bewildered by options, ordering systems or piles of point-of-sale clutter. Finding a way to enable app-ordering or rewarding customer loyalty can also enrich their experience and ensure return visits. Some stores let regular customers keep their reusable cup behind the counter (a bit like Brits used to do with beer tankards in pubs) with a discount for reusing it, making it feel like a home from home with a reason to return. If you’re still short on ideas for developing your own coffee shop customer experience we highly recommend this article:  48 ways to surprise and delight your customers.

Despite the apparent downturn in growth for larger brands, it has never been a better time for independents like Grind and Monmouth to get ahead of the curve. Smaller chains have the ability to adapt to change quickly and try new things without committing to huge budgets, making rapid changes to things like eco policies and practices – getting rid of single use plastics or swapping to eco-friendly lighting – and responding directly to customer criticism or feedback.

Have you got a coffee shop? What elements are working best for you in store right now? Tell us about your experiences in the comments below. If you’re starting up and you want some professional help, get in touch to see how Barber Design can help turn your coffee shop dreams into a reality.