After strict lockdown measures were finally relaxed this month, many cafes and restaurants have been able to open up their doors to the public and begin reviving their businesses back from the brink.
This has meant popular coffee chains such as Costa and Starbucks are now back in full swing, and if they’ve been lucky enough to hang on, plenty of independent coffee shops too.
However, just because they’ve returned, it hasn’t necessarily meant a return of clientele too.
Although it certainly feels a lot more acceptable to go out of the house and mingle a little more, the public is still concerned about a pandemic which still isn’t over and many have taken to methods of home brewing instead.
So while we’re now free to go inside coffee shops whenever we like and soak in their strange socially distant seating areas – not too many people have jumped at the chance.
The coronavirus has therefore continued to weigh heavy on all coffee shops, including the behemoth chains we thought untouchable.
Considering they are the biggest coffee chain in the world, it’s not hard to imagine how badly independent stores are still suffering.
They might be back in business, but are coffee shops praying for a post-COVID income boost that just isn’t coming?
We examined some of the many issues our old java haunts are facing…
A Change In Structure
Although a lot of coffee shops are now back in business, they’ve all had to seriously change up their structure in order to guarantee the safety of customers.
Just think for a moment about some of the coffee shops you frequent…
Chances are a good few of them are small, cosy atmospheres with no more than four or five tables in a room, a perfect getaway for you and a friend or a quiet spot for you to get some work done.
However in a post-pandemic society, they’re nothing short of a nightmare and the harsh reality is that plenty of little shops like these simply haven’t been able to open, as they can’t adhere to social distancing measures.
And even for those businesses who are lucky enough to have plenty of space at their premises, the guidelines for re-opening cafe’s, bars and restaurants still make getting back to their best a tricky task.
One metre is now the recommended distance you should keep from another party and while this isn’t always adhered to in public open spaces, coffee shops are expected to get their measuring tape out and position tables in an exact way so that every customer can remain safe.
Ultimately, this has meant most coffee shops are only able to host three or four tables max before they run out of room.
So even if they have managed to re-open and get their business running again, they’ve been unable to house a large percentage of their clientele, effectively losing consumers.
In short, they’re still operating at a loss even with lockdown measures severely relaxed.
There are also concerns about how lingering COVID fears will affect customer service and a coffee shop’s relationships with its customer base.
Many hospitality businesses are able to build their reputations and identity purely on the strength of their staff’s interactions with clientele and the advice and friendly conversation they can offer.
With employees suddenly placed under strict instructions to only engage with customers when necessary, and everyone adorning masks, it ruins the social experience and comfort of coffee shops.
It’s certainly been a much colder and more awkward atmosphere on return and certainly not somewhere friends want to spend a long period of time in.
So far, no one’s been rushing back.
Hampered by Hygiene Rules
As well as social distancing rules, the UK has begun to recommend ways in which the public can improve their own personal hygiene and help prevent the spread as we begin to return to a more normal way of life.
The most recent of these is the wearing of a mask, especially in enclosed spaces like on public transport and in shops.
However, when it comes to coffee shops, trying to consistently sip a cup of java while remaining masked is not exactly a relaxing way to spend your afternoon and of course isn’t really possible.
The government, therefore, relaxed this rule for those dining inside so that people could eat and drink without issue.
But sitting in the shop without a face covering is an obviously much more risky endeavour and so for the time being, it’s uncertain whether folks will feel comfortable enough to flock back to their social hangouts.
For now, takeaway methods are more preferred, as customers can still get a great coffee and avoid unnecessary contact.
Robert Robinson, the co-founder of Notes Coffee Roastery & Bars in London, operates 10 coffee shops across the capital but has only been able to re-open half of these in the confusing early stages of post-lockdown.
Robert explained to us that although it’s good to be back, things are still very different for the time being:
“Long term I’m hoping things will return, but in the short and medium-term it will be slower,
“All our sites are reliant on office workers and high footfall from public transport, so it will be a while before people are confident to come out as much as they used to.”
For the last few months then, Notes have instead still been relying on online sales and delivery to keep things going.
“We’ve seen an uptick in our online sales, both for beans, pods and other home brewing methods, but also for contactless pick up for drinks, and even delivery of coffees” Robert told us.
“I never thought we’d be on Deliveroo, but we are!”
Due to Notes being specialist coffee roasters, they’ve thankfully been able to sell their own blends and beans to clientele online, giving them a source of revenue to use as a lifeboat in these desperate times.
But for every coffee shop that doesn’t boast its own roastery, things have been even more difficult.
Without online sales to fall back on, or enough prominence to strike up deals with Deliveroo, many have been forced to shut up and sell up, while others are on their last legs.
They quite simply need this pandemic to end as soon as possible.
Threats To The Industry
Once things do get back to normal, there are also substantiated fears that the ever-growing love for coffee in this country may have taken a hit.
Before quarantine took place, coffee shops weren’t just a place to get your caffeine fix, they were also the goto meet-up destination or hang-out space for most of the population.
However, in a social distancing society, a more mindful public may be more inclined to visit each other in open spaces as they have been these last few months.
Will a cup of coffee be enough of a pull to once again encourage mass gatherings under one roof? Potentially, but there’s no doubt it will take time.
The main issue for coffee shops though is whether spending will ever get back to normal.
Before lockdown, it was predicted high-street coffee shop purchases would surpass the £4bn mark this year, in what would have been an all-time record.
It was a remarkable prediction for a nation that has primarily been one of tea drinkers for the last few centuries and coffee culture in Britain was undeniably bigger than ever.
Unfortunately though, this prediction is now woefully incorrect and all the cafe’s praying there will be a business rescuing boom in sales once restrictions are lifted may well have their prayers fall on deaf ears.
Because from what we’ve seen so far elsewhere, consumer behaviour appears to be changing.
China is currently one of the few countries to have fully reopened its cities after a wavering in COVID cases and so economists have naturally been keen to study the analytics and data coming out of the country so that we might better understand how our own country may manage post coronavirus.
Interestingly, consumer spending has been a lot lower than expected, with people continuing to make most of their purchases online. The feeling is that lifting lockdown alone is not going to save the high-street and that sales are likely going to be slow to recover as people become more comfortable socialising en masse once again.
There’s also stats to suggest we are in one of the worst recessions in decades and a horrific rise in unemployment will also reduce people’s spending habits too.
A daily trip to the coffee shop tends to add up to a significant amount in a short space of time and so anyone financially struggling after the crisis is far more likely to switch to a cheaper, home-brew alternative.
Even worse news for cafes is that for every person who can no longer afford the extra expense, there is another consumer who has invested their unspent caffeine cash on a new home coffee machine.
In a world without coffee shops, anyone who can afford to has gone out and bought themselves top of the range machines, equipment and coffee beans to see them through lockdown and who’s to say they’ll ever go back to cafe trips or a quick nip into the shop before work once it’s over?
Baristas now face the unenviable task of trying to convince consumers that the coffee they make is twice the product one could brew themselves at home.
Because if it isn’t, there’s no chance of their business staying afloat.
Why You Should Support Independent or Local Coffee Shops Post-Lockdown
While the likes of Starbucks and Costa will continue to survive and thrive once COVID is well and truly over, it’s your local independent coffee shops who need your support more than ever at this time.
COVID-19 has already ravaged its way through many businesses and it’s a sad fact that many of your beloved coffee hot spots have been forced to close due to financial difficulty.
Small, start-up coffee stores are completely reliant on their day-to-day income to help pay their staff, suppliers and rent, but were of course forced to close their doors in order to help decrease the spread of the virus.
With complete freedom from restrictions and guidelines still months away in the UK, many shops have been forced to lay off their employees in order to stay afloat.
Some may be re-hired if the shop ever manages to fully open its doors to the public again, but others will not be so lucky, finding themselves jobless in a world where no one is hiring.
The choices owners are having to make in order to save their businesses are gut-wrenchingly difficult, as no one wants to fire their staff or cut off suppliers, but the fact remains that these coffee shops are in desperate need of money.
Any avenues that can help them stop the bleeding, they’re going to have to take.
Independent coffee shops are no fools either and they’re perfectly aware that no one is going to view them as a charity case, so there’s no use in asking for donations or handouts with so many other people and causes in such desperate need of support and assistance.
Therefore, they’ve had to drastically alter their business models and create new ways of attracting customers and continuing to earn money through consumer purchases on top of takeaway options
It might seem dramatic to say, but choosing to make a purchase from such cafes at this time will literally be a life-changing act for the owners and anyone still working there because every sale is the difference between keeping afloat or shutting down.
How You Can Support Local Coffee Shops During COVID-19 Crisis
To continue to source income, coffee stores have naturally had to devise ways in which they can offer services which respect the rules of social distancing and do not conflict with any lockdown measures.
Amazingly, there are a few ways they’ve managed to do this, and so if your local store offers any of the following, we suggest you get down there and lend them a helping hand!
With coffee shop visits no longer on the cards, many consumers have been seeking out how to make their morning coffee comforts at home without skimping on quality.
And as any expert will tell you, the taste of your coffee will always come down to the quality of your beans.
The sales of premium quality, roasted beans have therefore gone through the roof in the UK, with smaller, specialist roasters benefitting just as much as the more recognisable brands.
Any coffee shop who stock their own signature blends has had a huge advantage when it comes to making money during the crisis and they’ve essentially become coffee bean distributors to support themselves.
Boasting their own roast allows them to maintain a fairly loyal customer base by taking advantage of the growing interest in barista-quality coffee from home and if they’re smart enough to get some e-commerce going, can also help spread their name to a wider audience.
Vouchers & Gift Cards
Just like with certain restaurant chains, plenty of independent coffee stores offer long-time lovers of their brand vouchers and gift cards to redeem in-store or as part of an online order.
This is a really smart way for shops to earn money now for coffees they will serve you later!
Whether you’re buying the voucher for yourself or a friend, it’s a sure-fire way to give an independent a significant sum which could help them survive the coming months.
Eat Out To Help Out
An upcoming government scheme for August, the Eat Out To Help Out initiative aims to kick start the economy of the UK’s struggling cafe and restaurant sector by offering 50% discounts across the month on set days.
The hope is that the savings on offer will entice people enough to visit open establishments for food and drink, giving people more confidence when it comes to going out of the house and making purchases, especially in the lucrative hospitality sector.
Although plenty of favourites such as Nandos, McDonald’s and Starbucks will be taking part, it’s worth looking up which local or independent businesses in your area are also signed up to the scheme.
You can look up which restaurants and cafe are part of the Eat Out To Help Out Scheme by heading to the government website and typing in your postcode HERE.
If there are a few independent coffee shops near you taking part, why not prioritise them over your nearest Pret or Caffe Nero?
The most obvious and easy way to support a coffee shop you love is by signing up to one of their subscription services should they offer one.
Most subscriptions will allow you to order a monthly or weekly delivery to your home, this generally being a supply of beans or some kind of goody box from your local coffee shop
These types of subscriptions are a way for a struggling cafe to guarantee themselves a steadier monthly income, and so many roasteries are offering huge savings and offers on their packages in order to entice people into joining their delivery lists.
If it’s a service your own local coffee store provides, you should seriously consider partaking if you still want them to be around the corner in a year’s time!
Venturing Into Other Products
Cafes that take their coffee very seriously tend to want their customers to do so too and so will often offer more than just a latte to go within their stores.
This obviously depends on how specialist your independent coffee shop is, but it certainly isn’t unusual for one to sell coffee-making appliances or equipment to their customers.
Be honest, with lockdown in full swing, how many times have you browsed Amazon or some other such e-commerce site looking for the AeroPress, the grinder or the perfect machine that is going to bump up your home efforts to the cafe quality blends you’re missing!
Instead of pumping more money into a billion-dollar company, why not visit the website of a cafe you often frequent and see what equipment and machinery they have on sale?
With the majority of coffee shop income now being made through online ventures, many coffee shops who are not too hot on their e-commerce have been forced to revise the way in which their business is run.
As they are unable to allow customers inside of their premises without breaking social distance cues, plenty of cafes have opted to turn their shops into takeaway and delivery services.
So next time you’re out for a daily walk or spot of exercise, it might be an idea to check whether your favourite java joint is still operating a more mindful service.
This way you can continue to support them on a daily basis while continuing to adhere to social distancing rules!