How to “Count Customers” for Coffee Shop Owners or Competitors

Are you interested in buying a coffee shop? Are you interested in opening a new coffee shop in a new location?  Perhaps you have already walked through the personal costs and benefits of starting a coffee shop and still want to move forward. If so, keep reading.

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Starting a coffee shop business requires a variety of research areas. This includes doing market research in the specific area you are planning to open your coffee business. One way to do this is to simply count customers, which can give you a pretty good indication of how many customers you can expect to have.

There are many reasons why you would want to “count customers” if you are perspective coffee owner or you are already a coffee shop owner. We’ll discuss both, but first, let’s talk about the basics: Why would you need to count customers?

Counting customers is a great way to estimate the customer flow and sales volume in a location that you may be interested in purchasing or in your competitor’s location. Without the ability to count customers, you're essentially “going in” blind when it comes to figuring out your estimated revenues and profits. 

Counting Customers Will Give You The Confidence You Need In Your Math

If you are purchasing your coffee shop from someone who is selling it, you simply do not want to rely on their word for determining or predicting sales volume. In fact, if you are in negotiation to purchase an existing location, you may or may not want to tell the owner that you are going to be counting customers at their location.

Most owners will already know why you are counting customers in their coffee shop and should have no reason to impede your research objectives. After all, this is only the right and prudent way to do business.

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Additionally, counting customers as a new owner will help you frame your hiring and scheduling necessities. How many staff will you have to hire full-time and part-time to meet the demands of your customers?

There is no “right way” to count customers at any particular location. Certainly, each location will be different from the next. But there are a few “best practices” techniques you should do and we’ll discuss those.

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When counting customers you have a few options, but here are two basic ones:

Counting the Door – Here you only count how many customers come in that door way. The assumption is that every customer who walks in your door will buy something. This give you a straight estimate of how many customer you should expect to serve.

Counting the Cash Register – Here you keep your eye off the door and only keep your eye on who orders. If two people come in and one buys a coffee and the other does not, then you might not have an accurate number. Counting the register gives you an accurate picture of how many orders you will need to take.

However, you have to be aware that one person may be ordering for the pair or the group of people who walk in, so you will need to be vigilant about making sure you understand the context of the information you receiving.


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Counting Customers Before Buying a Coffee Shop

Your experience at any café is only a snapshot. What you want to do is take many snapshots to provide yourself with a moving picture to help you better estimate customers and sales of your coffee shop business.

Count more than one day – You simply can’t make a determination of customers based on one day. You will have to go a couple times a week and even during the weekend, perhaps over the course of a couple of weeks.

Be aware of special days – if you are buying a coffee shop next to a university be aware of the times associated with student traffic. For example, the first week of school you will be able to assume that you are going to have higher traffic, as opposed to winter, spring, or summer breaks.

Give it the time of day it deserves – While you should go to your coffee shop several times over the course of a couple of weeks, you also need to consistently measure periods throughout the day. Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday mornings might be a good start.

Keep in simple and be consistent – Whatever you do, from one day to the next, you want to keep things consistent. Try to cover the same periods of time so that you have something to compare your data to.


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Counting Your Competitor’s Customers

Counting the customers of your competitors may seem awkward but it may be necessary. As long as you are not impeding sales (and have bought a cup of coffee), then you shouldn’t feel like you are doing anything wrong. After all, we all have the right do basic market research, right?

The same best practices from above really matters, but you should also consider what the customers are buying – are they buying the bagels or taking home bags of their custom roasted coffee? Are they staying and meeting friends – or are they simply going in and out?

Counting their customers along with finding out what their customers are actually wanting is important too! Counting customers can really crash up against your initial thoughts about the success of a coffee shop location or the coffee shop success itself. When you look at the data you collect, they may or may not add up. The numbers don't lie. So, you'll have to think about what the numbers are telling you.


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So, why would you want to count your competitor’s customers?

Well, the data collected allow you to determine if you are experiencing similar “ebb and flows” of daily traffic. Are you missing on potential sales because you don’t serve a particular menu item, etc.

Understanding why customers are visiting other substitutes to your business will be helpful in crafting a strategy to deliver better, more enticing coffee or customer service – which will ultimately determine your coffee shop success.

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