Coffee Shop Designs for Small Spaces: 7 Ingenious Ideas

Starting a Business
A small coffee shop bar with a barista, POS machine, and espresso maker

Coffee shop owners are a creative and talented bunch. There is so much competition and so many factors that go into the operation that it takes a special type of person to make the leap into the industry. For most, it starts with a passion for coffee and community. But there is so much more that goes into starting a great coffee shop.

Like most businesses, interior design and efficient use of space is a vital step toward success. Cafés, in particular, must battle with real estate constraints. Coffee shops benefit from being in urban areas with high foot traffic. But it comes with a high price tag.

So many coffee businesses are forced to get creative and design their café for areas with less square footage. With it, they must find the perfect balance between the espresso/pastry counter space, food and beverage storage, roasting equipment, and customer dining space. So, if you’re planning on opening a coffee shop in a small space, consider these designs. Hopefully, you’ll find some inspiration, and let us know about your own experience!

1. Try to Discourage Coffee Shop Campers

Coffee shops are a big draw for students, remote workers, and readers. With the constant flow of caffeine, a good atmosphere, and a strong wifi connection, many coffee shops are ideal spots to post up for 6+ hours. Unfortunately, if you have a small café, you can’t afford to have people taking up a precious spot for that long.

There are several ways to discourage this type of behavior from your customers:

Man studies for hours with laptop at coffee shop

  • Make certain spots laptop-free areas.
  • Turn off the wifi or set a time limit for connection.
  • Eliminate power outlets on the floor area.
  • Offer time-limited wifi codes with every purchase.
  • Politely ask people to leave.

These may sound too aggressive (or perhaps passive-aggressive), but for many coffee shop owners, they’ve worked. But starting a coffee shop can be expensive, and turning tables more quickly allows for more customers to come through your doors.

And with the average transaction for most coffee shops being lower than other industries, increasing your customer base is critical. Even if you lose a few regulars who get upset by the rule changes, you’re likely to turn a bigger profit in the end.

2. Think About a To-Go Window

Whether it’s a drive-thru or just a walk-up window, keeping some quick-service outside of the shop is a great way to reduce congestion inside.

To-go windows also add convenience for the customer in a hurry. With the rapid growth of take-out cafés, more consumers expect ridiculously fast service. While most small coffee shops won’t be able to compete with Starbucks’ pre-order loyalty program, a simple additional window will still attract a new segment of customers.

3. Add Local Accents and Art

Small cafés don’t have the luxury of adding any design element that they want. Space is a limiting factor, but there are ways to make the shop your own without taking on huge design projects.

Use your wall space to highlight local artists or other art that you enjoy. Add other accents that highlight your city or state. Consumers, now more than ever, appreciate coffee shops that stay true to their roots and are fixtures of the community, so don’t be afraid to show it off.

If you have a little extra room, create a small corner that can be a stage for local talent, like singer-songwriters, poets, or other creatives. 

4. Pay Attention to Lighting

If you are running a coffee shop with limited square footage, great lighting can have an incredible impact on a space. In fact, for many small coffee shops, their lighting is central to their design. After all, design elements like lighting should be both aesthetically pleasing and functional.

Start by using lighting to highlight certain areas of the space. Keep lights near the register area and over the bar. Your overall look can be dim, but it’s good to direct customers to the main points of interaction. Plus, you want them to be able to take great Instagram photos of your beautiful latte.

You can layer other lighting throughout the shop; there’s no need for just one type of light or level of brightness. Have fun with it and use it as a space-free way of adding your own touch to make the café even more unique.

a coffee shop design with lots of plants and greenery

5. Use Your Walls and Maximize Your Vertical Space

While you don’t want to create a cluttered space, small coffee shops must use walls wisely. And there is so much that you can do with all this space.

  • Add artwork or other visuals.
  • Get vertical planters and turn your walls alive and make your store greener.
  • Build lots of shelves to display products like coffee beans, books, etc.
  • Put menus and other signage along the back wall.
  • Use walls as storage for equipment – it adds an industrial look and provides easy access.
  • Paint accent walls to add some life and color.

Don’t be afraid to try different things and see what works. And also don’t be afraid to check out IKEA! They have plenty of affordable, space-saving items that can become part of a new beautiful wall in your café.

6. Get a Tablet POS System

Great coffee shop POS is a necessary part of your operation, but that doesn’t mean it has to take up half of your store. It’s great to take advantage of the space around your point of sale to add impulse purchases and snacks, but your point of sale hardware should be minimal. Most coffee shops need only run on a tablet rather than a large desktop. Tablets look sleek and take up a small amount of space. They’re also mobile, giving your staff more flexibility during the checkout experience.

Tablets can also perform all functions that a desktop POS takes care of. Most importantly, this includes inventory management. All updates are made in real-time, keeping your coffee shop running smoothly and efficiently.

7. Coffee Shop Designs for Small Spaces with Downsized Equipment

It’s worth thinking about other coffee shop equipment that you can downsize.

Your espresso machine is the most obvious place to start. They are big, bulky, and heavy, but some are bigger, bulkier, and heavier. Take note of your business and drinks made per hour and see if you can get by with a small machine. A two-group is much smaller and more affordable than a four-group machine. Too often, businesses invest in a larger machine, only to run it at half capacity for its existence.

The same goes for refrigeration, sinks, and dishwashers. Build your dishwasher under a prep table, for instance; buy one large refrigerator rather than several lowboys; minimize the number of sinks you’ll need.

You don’t want to sacrifice anything that will truly improve your operation, but most shops have some areas of inefficient use of space. For shops that are more crunched on real estate, identify things that you can live without and you’ll see the difference immediately.

And if you’re looking for a great mPOS for limited space, click below to find out more about how KORONA POS software for coffee shops can help your store succeed.

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Written By

Michael Chalberg

Michael has long focused his writing on the world of retail and small businesses. He''s been a part of the KORONA POS team since 2018 and loves helping entrepreneurs find ways to adapt and succeed. In his spare time, you'll likely find him hiking somewhere in the Southwest.