How to design a great cafe

cafe design sydney

Top tips for designing a great cafe

As experts in hospitality fitouts, we are often asked what is the best approach to take when designing a new cafe. In response to this question, we have developed a guide for those starting out the journey to create a great cafe experience for their clientele.

We all know that feeling when we walk into a cafe for the very first time and everything just seems to fit together perfectly. It’s the sense that all the design choices were carefully made to create a place that you’d want to spend time in every day. 

In the highly competitive world of cafes, bringing a unique vision and customer experience to life requires more than just a great idea or concept.  So if you’re thinking about opening a brand new cafe in your local area, these tips will guide you from your initial vision to project completion. 

To help you understand what a successful cafe design and fit-out involves we have put together the following guide.

1. Define your target customer

Understanding the demographics of the area you’re going to open your cafe in is crucial. While most urban areas have a mix of students, professionals, families and retirees, the challenge is to cater to a wide range of needs.

Who do you envision as the primary customer, the type of person you can see as a regular? Will they just pop in for their daily coffee fix or are you looking to create a place where people want to hang out and spend time working or having meetings? 

If your cafe is located near an office building or a university campus, then you’re likely to get high foot traffic from people on the go. If you’re opening in a quieter residential area, you’re likely to have customers who aren’t in a hurry. 

Whilst you may not be able to determine the impact of your cafe, understanding the local market, and competitors in the area, can prove to be beneficial in the initial planning phase.

cafe design

2. Developing a clear cafe concept

Once you have established a target customer, you should start to consider choice of lighting, furniture, materials, colours, textures and finishes you envision in your space. At this stage, your concept can be as broad or as specific as you would like. It could also include details such as shopfront signage, branding on coffee cups or live music.

Lighting and colour choice contribute to building character and establishing the tone of your cafe. Soft accent lighting and a dark colour scheme can create a more relaxed ambience. Conversely, the use of bright hues and lively colours can create a more vivid and energetic atmosphere.  

Understanding how all these elements work together to create a distinct cafe mood and customer experience is where skill comes into play.

cafe design

3. Balancing Aesthetics and Functionality

Practicality is also a key consideration when developing your cafe culture.  Is your counter space responsive to on-the-go customers?   How much space is required to facilitate this?   Do you need one point of sale or three?  Would you like your customers to have a personable experience where they are individually greeted or would you prefer efficient in and out mobile ordering?

You will need to consider floor to ceiling height, aisle width, existing walls, indoor / outing eating areas, the counter size, and the positioning of tables and chairs. What kind of food will you be serving?  How large will your kitchen need to be to support this? How many kitchen staff can work effectively there?  Will you be prioritising your state of the art coffee machine or will you be focusing on seated lunches?

Aesthetics and functionality go hand in hand when developing a successful cafe concept.  Getting the balance right is probably the trickiest part of the café design process. This is where you would rely on the input of an experienced retail interior designer who can work with your brief and deliver the best outcome for your café.

4. Establish your cafe’s brand identity

Just like a popular household brand, a cafe with a consistent look and feel that delivers on its promise to customers is going to be successful and stand the test of time.

Branding includes your name, logo, signage, menu design, uniforms, cutlery, ceramics and any other distinct aspects of your cafe, such as artwork and decorative lighting. 

If you‘re in the early stages of developing your brand identity, a moodboard is a great place to start. What are the main colours your brand will consist of? What fonts and imagery appeal most to you? Get as creative as possible and take inspiration from anything and everything.

Your brand identity also needs a mission statement and core values at its foundation. Why does your cafe exist? Besides great coffee, what does it contribute to the local community? And how will your core values live up to the mission statement, both to your customers and your staff?

Building a brand identity that forms a strong relationship with your customer is going to lead to repeat business. 

5. Custom furniture makes a big statement

While every new cafe owner will be working with a budget in mind, there are many creative ways to provide a truly unique customer experience. This includes custom furniture and distinct design elements for your cafe fitout. 

An experienced design and construction partner can tailor your cafe’s experience to the customer, providing advice on customised countertops, shelving, tables, chairs, booths, lighting and signature pieces.

High quality, well-crafted furniture can contribute to a place of comfort and enjoyment for your customers, but its durability can also save you money down the track. A few custom furniture pieces can take your café design to the next level. 

Thinking about designing your new cafe?

The team at Inset Group has extensive experience in partnering with new and experienced retail and hospitality clients. We offer a turnkey solution which encompasses design, joinery, signage, shopfitting, construction and project management.  We collaborate with our clients from the initial design stage.  Drawing on our knowledge and experience, we communicate and interact with you while we refine the design and guide you through the process of taking your vision from idea to reality.   

Our enthusiasm for design, attention to detail and commitment to excellence means that our clients receive a quality outcome from cafe concept to completion.


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