A coffee shop can be a lucrative business, though it's difficult for an independent store to compete with large chain operations. The number of customers a coffee shop owner can expect depends on many factors including location and atmosphere. However, the business depends on walk-in traffic and many extras that have nothing to do with coffee to build a customer base. An independent coffee shop owner must enjoy being around people and demand strong customer service to succeed, though a taste for coffee is also a plus.

Customer Numbers

While the number of daily coffee-shop customers varies wildly, a shop often draws anywhere between 0.2 percent to 1 percent of vehicles driving by. Pedestrian traffic usually captures a better percentage. According to the INeedCoffee industry website, shops with larger square footage tend to draw more customers than smaller shops. A Carnegie-Mellon University student reported that a coffee shop in Hawaii, using videocams, recorded an average of 20.1 customers per hour during peak periods. However, the videocam only recorded those who stepped up to the counter to pay for drinks. The findings, released through Data Privacy Lab, didn't include any guests sitting at a table while one person pays for coffee, or how long a customer stayed in the shop.


Competition among coffee shops is sharp, and it's tough for an independent operator to thrive among the larger companies. A small coffee shop must compete against larger chain coffee shop operations. According to Starbucks, 60 million customers visit its nearly 18,000 stores per week, bringing a daily average of 476 per store. Smaller, less-expected venues such as fast-food restaurants and convenience stores offering premium coffee also compete against coffee shop owners, along with the customer's own coffee pot at home.

Attracting More Customers

Although a good variety of coffee, latte drinks and baked goods will bring in more traffic, customers often look to other inducements. Wireless Internet, plenty of electrical outlets, outdoor seating and a mix of large and small tables help bring in more clientele. Customers also like atmosphere -- a sense of community, friendly baristas, good background music and a clean shop.

Numbers Aren't Everything

Many coffee shop visitors visit for several hours at a stretch, using the shop as an occasional office. They're popular for smaller meetings and the lone entrepreneur who runs his business from a laptop. While this helps give a coffee shop a reputation as a good place to visit and longer visits may generate more sales, expect a few freeloaders. Someone who takes up a table for several hours and nurses one cup of coffee the whole time will limit available seats and the potential number of clients.