Should you add a Coffee Shop?


I have no idea how many comments I’ve fielded about how synonymous a used bookshop and a coffee hangout are.  It’s just the perfect, most fitting environment for it, right?  I mean, you’re sitting around with fine literature almost waiting to grab your pipe and coffee.

But, let’s consider the business side of it…

How many times have you walked into the big chain bookstores and seen aisles partially empty and coffee shops buzzing with activity?  This is the obvious proof that they work… so I thought.

Think about it.  What does providing a comfortable hangout attract?  Children.

What kind of profits does it offer?  Whatever is in the wallets of an illiterate nation.

The last time I checked, teenagers are not often seen in my store perusing the indexes of classic anthologies.  Simply put, they do not bring the kind of financial potential you would think.

Now, I know that teenagers are not the only people who enjoy a coffee shop.  But, we all know of those places that the teens flock to in the evenings.  Generally, the adults don’t also frequent those same hideaways.  If you are in a town that loves—or is in need of—a place that teenagers can go to just sit around, be careful with the coffee decision.

One big bonus is that it does add to the ambiance of the bookstore experience.  Like I said, though, you shouldn’t necessarily expect it to supplement revenues.

I primarily wrote this article to find out if the coffee shop decision is working for any of you out there.  We are soon to open our second store ( and we have the room to do it… if it will make sense.

30 thoughts on “Should you add a Coffee Shop?”

  1. One factor is that, from what I understand, the profit margin on a coffee shop, small as it is, is better than that of a bookstore (for new books, anyway).

    I don’t see as much of the teenage clusters in our store. And they do seem to be the same kids who are buying the Twilight books and manga. And we are in a small mall right next door to a much larger mall, which might be more of a draw for them

    One complication is whether the coffee shops have WiFi. That’s where I start to see the people who hunker down with a single cup of coffee for an entire day, taking up space and buying nothing.

  2. Of course coffee shops would work very well in your book store. Just go to any Barns and Nobles and see for yourself.

  3. The profitability of adding a coffee shop to any bookstore is always questionable at best. Do people come for the coffee and to hangout or do they think of it as a secondary attraction to the books. If you are trying to sell a bunch of classic anthologies of outdated literature that no longer holds any relevancy then a coffee shop probably won’t do you any good. If you sell the latest mass media blitzed books and what ever teenagers are into at the moment a coffee shop selling froo-froo coffee drinks laced with plenty of sugar and soy milk will do pretty well and be a catalyst for more book sales.

    In the end the addition of any sort of business expansion needs careful planning through a properly worked business plan. Don’t expect to make a major change and just hope it works.

  4. I believe that having a coffee shop inside a book store can at least attract more readers to that book store and to some extent, it also increases the sales. Well, this is just my belief and I am sure you know better than me in this regard. Irrespective of all age, people love to have a cup of coffee while going through any kind of book (though I love tea in stead of coffee).

  5. I think its a great idea we have a local Waterstones and Borders, the Borders has a coffee shop and the Waterstones doesn’t. Generally when I go shopping or to town I am with my wife and daughter and 5 minutes in Waterstones and they are both board and want to go. When we go to Boarders on the other hand they are happy to go and have a drink and cake while I browse and look for books to buy, which keeps everyone happy. So a coffee shop can have more than one use.

  6. I forgot to add – have you checked out the health dep’t regs for serving food/beverages? There was discussion of this on a forum I’m on and the requirements in some jurisdictions were pretty stringent.

  7. Coffee shops still work for bookstores. It provides an area for readers to sit down and read. While it’s true that many are there only for the coffee, we still see readers young and old reading books and sipping coffee. 🙂 From where I come from, it works. period. 🙂 hope this helps!

  8. My suggestion to draw the right kinda of crowd (targeted buyers) for a used bookstore would be to hire (or do it yourself) a professional story teller/book reader to come in say once a week and read to children. That way the children would have some great entertainment, and hopefully pick up a love of reading, while the adults/parents could shop the store in peace.

  9. Both stores will be 98% used books, Bob.
    I will check on the health regulations. I wonder if simply putting a free pot of coffee would raise any eyebrows from the health department…

  10. I agree that coffee shops and book stores are a good combination and seem to go hand in hand. However, like some others pointed out, it does add another level of complexity to the store, that should be carefully considered.

    Perhaps a really small scale coffee bar, that simply sells regular coffee, using some nice beans and perhaps some local pastries would be the best choice to start with. This is something that could likely be handled by the existing staff, at least at first, and wouldn’t represent a very big investment.

    Like Shane suggested, even just a free coffee pot might be a good way to go with it. If you go through a wholesale food distributor, you can get coffee for pretty cheap and being able to come in and get a free cup of coffee is kind of neat.

  11. For me, a bookstore can thrive without a coffee shop add-on. But please let the couches stay.

    Couches give off that homey and relaxed vibe that you can take your time in choosing your books. So, that’s definitely a plus for the bookstore business.

    Coffeeshops are also good at enticing visitors. BUT, there is that downside of people hanging out there because it’s normally a quiet place and there’s coffee involved. So you really must weigh it if your efforts of including coffee will actually call the right market.

  12. I agree that you should test your options with a free coffee pot first. I don’t think if it’s a short term thing that anyone will say anything about it legally.

  13. My teenage sister is always at the coffee shop but more so just for the coffee I don’t think she normally goes there and also buys books. But I suppose if she keeps coming to the coffee shop she at some point will at least buy one book. So there is some kind of profit to be made but I do agree that you should put some real time and effort into making sure you can make some money with the combo.

  14. I think adding a coffee shop to a bookstore is a great idea, i mean, if they have enough clients already it’s a way to earn a few extra bucks per customer. I’d like to have a bookstore to hang out in to watch anime online at AnimeTip! Always liked the setting in libarys and bookstores, i find them quite soothing 😉

  15. Ah, now I’m in the mood to sip a latte and go book shopping! Personally I think having a coffee shop could be a nightmare, with finding and keeping reliable staff especially. I would happily accept a simple pot of coffee or tea at my favorite bookstore. 😉 Good luck with your stores!

  16. In 1992 I set up a coffee/capuccino bar in a store next door to a theatre at the suggestion of our customers at the time.
    Operated it for two years and when I moved the inventory to a high-rent outstanding location in 1994 gladly left the coffee/capuccino equipment behind.

    Lessons learned? Plusses – The store had a nice atmosphere and was a hangout for many of the nearby business operators.
    Negatives – demanding attitudes of customers in that part of the business was a sharp contrast to the agreeable attitude in the book part of the business.
    – health inspectors always on the prowl for infractions.
    – many coffee drinkers were mainly there to watch our female staff work while they nursed their drinks.
    – book sales were the worst in any store we ever operated – before or since.
    Plusses – 1 – Negatives – 100’s

    We are planning on opening many more stores – none will ever have coffee or capuccino for sale.

    • Thanks a lot for that George. We had a coffee shop in our bookstore as well. We thought it would help bring in folks but it took up to much space, brought in the wrong kinds of Patrons (this simply being based on dollars spent vs. time-space used). I hate to say this but it was another reason for our struggles.

  17. I have to agree with Bruce. I have a friend that owns a bookstore and they also put in a small coffee shop thinking it would help business, but all it really did for them was bring in local coffee drinkers and newspaper readers. It didn’t help them and ending up costing them money.

  18. Hm. A provocative article, to be sure. I once seriously considered opening up a coffee shop/art gallery/poetry reading/mini bookstore with my significant other, because we simply LOVE the environment of some of the lovely coffee shops in our neighbourhood. But when we voyaged to other cities, we learned that each place has it’s own culture, that is very difficult to articulate or encapsulate in words alone. There are most definitely places out there, such as London Ontario, where opening up a coffee shop would be a major risk (especially of the nature you speak of). I currently live in Montreal, and everyone here is cafe-happy, especially in the tighter, cozy neighbourhoods. I’m sure your coffee book shop would do very well here (many unique things do).

    And I must interject: I don’t ‘feel it are all teens who are deterred from coffee shops. Many teens are in high school, have a plethora of homework to do, and I’m sure would appreciate a good environment to study. To succeed, however, you would have to be established in a culture where teens in that society recognized this as an acceptable/pleasurable thing to do. I do understand your dilemma though. I wish you the best of luck in your endeavors, if you open shop, I’m sure it will have a beautiful touch all it’s own! 🙂

  19. Your original post was back in Feb of 09, so I figure you’ve already made a decision about the inclusion of a coffee shop. Care to share your decision?

    Really, I believe it comes down to your primary objective. If your goal is to sell more books, then the space may be better used to house additional faster selling inventory. Perhaps an expansion of your best selling categories (Pareto Principle – 80/20 rule). Give them more of what they already love. Although many people accept the matching of coffee shops and bookstores, I’m not convinced that it is a good model from a direct dollars and cents perspective.

    From a branding perspective, yes, perhaps over time, encouraging repeat visits creates a pattern of habit for your visitors. And if you can figure out ways to monetize the traffic that “hangs around” through the sale of more books, then you’re golden. Where are the margins stronger, books or coffee?

    At the end of the day, are you a coffee shop, or a book store? Personally, I go to chapters/barnes and nobel a lot. But, I don’t go for the coffee.

    Interested in knowing what you chose to do.

    • We are up to four, almost five, locations now, and we aren’t doing coffee in any of them.
      Our newest store opened today, and the closest thing we’ve done is offer free poundcake to our customers.

      To me, there is still no sense in doing coffee.

  20. Well, I run a coffee shop and not a bookstore. Margins- Very good actually. I average 65% profit margin per drink. You can’t compare Barns and Nobles to an independent book store as a good model to follow because they have a coffee shop business within a bookstore. It is an entirely different business and the staff is solely focussed on that part of the business.

    There are so many questions that need to be answered before I could give an answer to the question. What are your demographics. How close is the nearest coffee bar? Is this an underserved market for coffee? Etc.

    My business is profitable and the most popular coffee location in town because everyone else who does coffee do not do so exclusively. The other business are are food places who happen to serve coffee/espresso and all of them do not serve the coffee very well. Most believe that coffee is easy and but in fact it is easy not to do well. This allows someone like me to come in and not only fill in the need but dominate it over time. Anyhow, I could provide more help if there are still questions.


  21. I would actually recommend doing a tea shop within a bookstore. Tea stays fresher longer, does not require expensive equipment to make and is much easier to brew. For coffee- a new trend in the specialty coffee world is pour-over coffee (i.e. Chemex, Hario,) and that too is much easier and cheaper to do.


  22. “If you are in downtown Kuwait City, do stop by our bookstore. We even serve you coffee if you bring your own mug!” Thats on my website.

    A few people have actually come into the store with mugs. As for the others, I offer them coffee/tea in styrofoam disposable cups. I reckon that a cup of coffee costs very little. If this will encourage someone to come into the store and buy a book or two, or even stay a little longer, it would all be worth it. And all it takes is a kettle, some coffee powder, disposable cups and a big heart!

  23. We opened our used bookstore in 2009. WE added the coffee shop in November 2010, selling organic, Fair Traded Coffee and Teas. We are a Big Ten University town, with minimal bookstores and coffee shops. Yes, we get the students using our free Wi-fi, drinking a cup over 6 hours…yet they tell all their friends, bring their parents here when they visit, tell their Professor friends, etc. They also help the store look busy, which only helps with people feeling more welcomed, versus an empty store.And, when they grow-up and become Professional Writers, this will be the first place they do their book signing!! It definitely won’t hurt! 🙂

  24.  To open a coffee shop, you get to carry out your own time, meet and talk to a lot of different people. Before you open a coffee shop, there are serious 5 steps to determine  your success

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