20 Ways to Make a ‘Fine’ Coffeehouse

by on December 1, 2022 · 2 comments

in San Diego

Editordude: The following list is by John Rippo, who knows a thing or two about coffeehouses. He used to publish a coffeehouse-oriented newspaper called The Espresso. Currently, it’s on line.

By John Rippo

SOMETIMES PEOPLE ASK what I would propose as a fine coffeehouse. In case you don’t know, I’ve been in a few and have some preferences. One of them is to never under any circumstance have anything to do with running a coffeehouse; this is because I was imprisoned in a retail operation by family as a mere child and had enough of “serving the public” to last a lifetime. But I do have a few fond concepts and list them below. Add your own if you’re so inclined.

1. A coffeehouse should be big, with high ceilings, lots of windows that open, and preferred to sit on a corner. It should have decent parking and bike racks.

2. Art, paint, lighting and bling should create a fair contrast everywhere the eye goes. Too much harmony is dull and makes the eye vibrate

3. A cafe can cater to the poor, too. An urn, filled with Folgers and marked by a danger sign should stand near a door, asking for donations. Another sign should tell of the good stuff within the cafe.

4. There should be a coffee bean menu. Stanley Fried did this at Java, where one could choose the type of beans from which a filter cup would be brewed. For the life of me, I do not know why cafes don’t do this.

5. Old fashioned wooden phone booths should sit at each of the four corners of the cafe, into which cell phone screamers would be STRONGLY ENCOURAGED–by force when applicable–to use when yakking into their noisemakers.

6. Sharing tables would be mandatory. No hogging Karens sequestering valuable real estate during a rush allowed. And Have a section set aside for the laptop/tablet/electronically compromised. “TABLE FOR ONE!” shouted out by the clerking barista when a hampered customer befuddled with electronics orders ought to be a regular occurrence. They bring it on themselves; they are a waste of pity…

7. A fine cafe needs at least one item that is always on the menu, always excellent and always available. it can be a fine in house made biscuit, or a bowl of veg soup, a scone (I miss Rebecca’s) or whatever. Something that fits the place and its public and what a public can always depend on.

8. A fine cafe should roast its own, bake its own, make its own and vertically integrate everything it can. Suppliers are fickle, expensive, undependable and willing to cut their cost no matter the loss to the cafe’s reputation.

9. Lighting, mood, ambience and feel are important. So is cleanliness. Bassam’s once lit his house by candles and the mood soared; a fine locale on Mission Bay is somewhere I’ll never set foot in again since it’s filthy. Everything matters in a coffeehouse, especially these things.

10. The cafe should be a hub for art (on the walls) music (live, local and often, thank you very much) and gathering (Lestat’s has small rooms available upstairs; wise addition) The 21st century notwithstanding, coffeehouses function best when people interact with each other. Anything the cafe can do to help that needs to happen, daily.

11. The coffeehouse should be crowded intentionally at only one spot; the line to order. Wise cafe operators who know everyone should make it their business to introduce those in line to those in line. This promotes camaraderie. Getting the customers to chat is the lifeblood of the cafe and should not be overlooked.

12. Staff should never be made to feel that their work is just a damn job. There is no job unimportant to a coffeehouse and no one is unimportant when doing the important work of keeping a good place going. To that end, every staffer needs to treated–and expected–to be able to run the place by themselves if necessary. This fosters dignity and respect. It’s a fine thing to do.

13. Disposables need to be disposed of. They’re a constant drain on revenues, tacky and imply impermanence. Coffeehouses need to signify permanence. Stability is what customers want and will bind to a business offering it. Use porcelain cups and plates and silverware; get a dishwasher.

14. Anything that can be done to attract more women ought to be done. Women, perhaps more than men, need coffeehouses, which are a safe place to relax, socialize, mingle and rest. Offering flowers, compliments, candies and quarters for parking helps.

15. Do not fail to know how to make a first class espresso. Do not fail to make it every damn time.

16. Another Stanley Fried excellence was the carafe service; this was an insulated filter pot filled with the customer’s preferred coffee, with dairy and sugar, etc. brought to the table. The customer paid well for it, and it returned fine revenues to the house for the time taken to consume it. It also relieved staff of having to service the table/customer for awhile. Worked like a charm for all concerned.

17. We may live in a grey, classless age marred by plastic, but a fine coffeehouse blithely ignores that ugly reality and strives to create elegance, grace, sophistication and excellence in everything it does; whether plating food, setting up a cup of coffee, or presenting a sandwich. If and when anyone asks about why this is done, the question should always turned back and the questioner asked why elegance, etc., should be ignored.

18. The ugly realities of San Diego cannot be ignored; a cafe has to have a plan to deal with rowdies, malefactors and the aggressive and insane homeless. One has a Super Soaker filled with vinegar and ammonia that will rot the clothes off a target almost instantly.

19. Beer and wine licenses are a good thing to have when well used. Trappist ales at $25 a bottle or prosecco at the same price might limit alcohol sales, but the profit from them is extraordinary. Limiting alcohol sales means preventing drunken debauchery, too. See number 18…

20. Outside seating, or roof top seats are a must, if at all possible. Cannabis is coming into greater use and more tokers will become the norm; its wise for the coffeehouse to have a place available for those whose dirty, disgusting habits need drama. The markup on cigars and foreign cigarettes is not to laughed at, either.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

unwashedwalmartThong December 1, 2022 at 10:43 pm

I add that a coffee house ought to have plenty of nooks, & the nooks should be made of a variety of woods, & the seats ought to be padded, & there ought to be a high quality music system (not too loud, not too soft), & there ought to be sound-absorbing materials built right into the structure, mainly so that I can read the OB Rag on my laptop while sipping a cuppa Joe & probably working on yet another screenplay.


Dude December 6, 2022 at 8:03 pm

Prompt service would be nice.


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