Book Review: What I know about running coffee shops by Colin Harmon

I have no intention of ever opening a coffee shop. I am interested in the coffee shop industry, how it operates, and the impact it has on society; but for me I only ever intend to be on the customer side of the coffee bar. So, why did I read this book? As the introduction highlights, ‘What I know about running coffee shops’ wasn’t just written for those in the coffee community it was meant for a broader audience, and I think the author has successfully managed to do this in.

The author, Colin Harmon is the founder of 3FE (a coffee company with a series of shops in Dublin), an Irish Barista Champion and co-host of the Tamper Tantrum podcast.  3FE is seen as one of the pioneers of specialty coffee in Ireland, and has expanded since it was established in 2009 to now include two shops, a sister café, a subscription service and online store, a wholesale business.

3FE Ireland coffee shop

The book would of course be of interest to those working in the coffee industry, and in particular those contemplating opening a coffee shop, or who run one already. But more generally, the book provides interesting insights into the world of running a coffee shop to anyone that visits coffee shops.

After an introduction which documents how Colin’s coffee shops came to fruition, the book is organised into six sections: the building, the café, coffee, staff, culture and numbers, each of which is broken down into a series of small sub-chapters a few pages in length. The organisation of the book really helps its readability, short sections providing a range of vignettes into important considerations for running a coffee shop, from choosing a location, loyalty cards and how to hire people, to social media and understanding margins.

What I know about running coffee shops

Towards the beginning of the book Colin makes a couple of statements which illustrate what I have been trying to explore in my research about cafes to date:

‘Cafes serve a purpose beyond making money. They become a social hub for friends, families, businesses and strangers to meet and interact in a safe, friendly environment’.

‘A neighbourhood café does so much to bring communities together’.

Cafes in many places act as community hubs, whether this is a place for individuals to begin interaction with their local community, or for groups of people to gather for work or leisure; it’s good to see this acknowledged from the industry side too.

I recently wrote about coffee shops and social media, and it was interesting to read Colin’s views on how coffee shops should use social media, and they mirror much of what I have heard from several other coffee shop businesses:

‘…social media accounts need to be reflective of the business itself – and its customers – or it really starts to jar. Small businesses have a huge advantage over large businesses because you’ve a massive opportunity to show your audience that there are real personalities behind the business. That does more to engage your customers than any hashtag ever will’.

There are many highlights to this book, which for anyone running a café (or contemplating doing so) would I’m sure find useful, and for anyone who visits cafes, provides an interesting perspective to consider from the other side of the coffee bar. There’s a lot more to running a coffee shop than just serving coffee.

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