Church cafés are on the rise in large churches. But, launching a successful one requires expert advice.
By Mike Bacile
Over the past 19 years, I’ve helped hundreds of church leaders and corporations start and run successful cafés. If done correctly, a church café not only provides a revenue stream, but acts as “the bridge between the outside world and the sanctuary” — a safe space for new members to adjust to the church community, and for current members to gather and bond.
What might seem like a straightforward process actually carries quite a few nuances. So, if you’re considering launching a café at your own church campus, keep these frequently-asked questions in mind.
Isn’t plain coffee in the lobby enough? Generally, the word “coffee” conjures images of drip coffee or black coffee in people 50 and up. But, people in their 40s and under often think of lattes, mochas and other espresso-based drinks. It’s these younger generations who are driving the surge in church cafés.
How big does our church need to be before it’s reasonable to build a café? Usually, churches with a weekend attendance of 500 or more will be able to create great fellowship with a well-planned café, as well as generate revenue to cover its costs and support the church.
Isn’t a church café just like a regular café — but in a church? No! Secular cafes are designed and operated as destination stops where people steadily come and go a few at a time. But, a church café is what we call a “quick-hit” operation, meaning there might be no one around and then, all of a sudden, the flood gates open!
Up to 35 percent of worship service attendees will visit the café for their favorite drinks. If your church doesn’t have a good, fast system to move them through the line — and deliver a great drink — they probably won’t be return customers the following week.
Should we use paid staff or volunteers to run the café? A paid staff member is always necessary. He or she makes sure product is ordered, shifts are covered, and other managerial issues are taken care of.
Aside from this individual, most churches enlist volunteers to run the café during service times. We’ve been told that working the café is often the most volunteered-for ministry because everyone wants to be a “weekend barista.” Also, a reliable group of café volunteers creates recognizable faces; people will come to the café because they already know the people behind the counter.
We strongly advise against bringing in an outside vendor to run a church café because it so often fails. These vendors don’t always understand how to run a quick-hit café, so the church’s setup ends up looking like an outside business which no one recognizes.
The only time volunteers become a non-option is if your church chooses to keep its café open to the public during the week. Then, you’ll need a handful of paid employees — but be careful! Payroll will become the most expensive part of running your café.
What’s the correct way to set up and run a church café? It’s extremely important to ensure as little space as possible between the counters and grouping equipment. According to a recent article in a coffee trade magazine, bad layout can cost a café up to 35 percent of its business. For a quick-hit café (the best option for churches), it will most likely kill the café — or, at the very least, run it into the red.
This is why we spend most of our time with customers and architects before the foundation is even poured. Every step a person takes behind the counter adds about one second to that drink order. Imagine a blender that’s located five feet away from the ice and another five feet away from the sink and refrigerator. That kind of layout adds an extra 20 seconds to every frozen drink; so, the person 20 deep in line ends up waiting an additional seven minutes for a drink. After a while, your church won’t have anyone willing to wait in line.
How much should we charge for our drinks? A 16-ounce (large) latte costs about $3.65 at a local Starbucks. The cost to make that drink — including product, cup and lid — is about 60 cents.
Some of our church café clients have decided to charge $2.50 for the same size latte with the intention of providing a discount to their communities and still making a great profit. However, every church that made this choice ultimately struggled to keep their cafés afloat. Why?
Because human nature plays a big part in what people choose. Since customers are used to paying $3.65 for their drinks at Starbucks, seeing the same size drink for only $2.50 had most thinking it was a cheap, low-quality product. As such, we suggest that churches price their drinks between 10 cents and 25 cents lower than their local Starbucks.
Do cups really matter? Yes— very much so. Aside from pricing, cups are the next biggest factor in a church café’s success.
Looks matter to coffee drinkers, and the cup you choose defines who you are. A white cup with a dome lid and sleeve says “Starbucks.” A colorful or pattern-installation cup with a dome lid says “race track” or “7-11.”A Styrofoam cups says, “Please don’t pay more than $1 for me.” The cups you use create an image and dictate the prices you can charge.
All this talk of layout, pricing and cups! What about a quality product? We strongly urge churches to carry only the best product available — not something that can be found at the supermarket or in a convenience store. We sell only award-winning products because we know how important this is to a café’s success.
Consistency is key. The more important predictor of success — in any café (church or otherwise) — is the ability to reproduce the same product over and over. Starbucks is so successful because of consistency of its drinks, not because of their quality. No matter who’s making a drink, consumers know it will taste the same in any Starbucks on the planet.
Mike Bacile the is owner of The Daily Java in Dallas, TX. The company offers a monthly newsletter and free consulting over the phone and by email.