With Starbucks alienating its loyal customers by eliminating perks from the Gold Card program, independent coffeehouses have even more opportunity to differentiate themselves and attract new customers. But just offering free soy milk isn’t enough. Customers need to feel comfortable in the shop, and a clean coffee house goes a long way toward attracting and retaining casual sippers and caffeine addicts alike.

 Greg Ubert, founder and president of Crimson Cup Coffee & Tea, a coffee roaster and coffee business consultant that offers a coffee shop franchise alternative with no franchise fees, royalties or business restrictions, has a few tips for keeping the shop clean. “Customers form an immediate first impression when entering a coffee house, and cleanliness accounts for a big part of that impression,” he said.
 Ubert, who has helped to establish hundreds of independent coffee houses since 1991, believes cleanliness is so important that he devoted a chapter of his book, Seven Steps to Success in the Specialty Coffee Industry, to maintaining a sparkling coffee house. The following tips are excerpted from the book.
  1. Cleanliness starts with the parking lot. Train staff to observe their surroundings. When they arrive at work, ask them to scan the exterior of the business, pick up any trash and note any landscaping issues such as overgrown grass or untrimmed bushes.
  2. Set up shift checklists. Each shift should function as if they are opening and closing the store for the day. This helps keep the store clean throughout the day and ensures the dirty work doesn’t get dumped on the third shift.
  3. If there’s time to lean, there’s time to clean. When there is a lull in customers, the barista and cashier should wipe down counters and tables, straighten chairs, pick up magazines and newspapers, dispose of trash and clean the floors.
  4. Pay constant attention to the condiment station. It’s the biggest mess magnet in the coffee house, so it not only needs to be stocked frequently, but also needs to be tidied at all times.
  5. Keep the silver shining and the china sparkling. Make sure to keep glasses, cups, plates and flatware clean and ready for use. Discard chipped and cracked items, which make a poor presentation and present the risk of injuring customers.
  6. Out of sight can’t be out of mind. Instruct each employee to check the outside of the business regularly, especially in shops that offer outdoor seating. Keeping the outside picked up and orderly reflects just as critically upon the business as that first step inside the door.
  7. Follow maintenance schedules. Espresso machines, grinders, blenders and other equipment have maintenance schedules. Following those schedules religiously can preserve the life of equipment and will definitely protect the quality of the product you are serving to each and every customer.
  8. Always be prepared for health and safety inspections. Depending on locale, the health department may pop in for an unplanned inspection. Don’t be caught with inadequate facilities, which could lead to fines and, at times, closure of your business until the necessary issues are resolved.