2024 GUIDE - Get to Know Coffee shop design standards

28 March, 2024

Coffee Shop Design


Interior Design Fundamentals


A key component of creating a profitable Modern coffee shop design is creating an efficient and cost-effective space that increases customer satisfaction and expedites service. Quality service, short waiting times, and great ambiance are expected of every coffee shop, especially in recent times when the market is becoming more and more competitive.

Implementation of this requires a good working knowledge of the coffee shop interior design standards and good practices that experts use to create great-looking spaces that aid brands in growing.  It’s important to know what equipment is necessary, where everything goes and how much space it takes to create a successful coffee shop brand. We also went into some of the latest coffee shop colour trends of 2024.

In this article, we will go through some of the fundamental coffee shop technical knowledge and interior design standards practices to help maximize your resources and build a very successful and efficient coffee shop.

Coffee shop design standards: Create a layout that takes advantage of the space

Layouts have a substantial impact on multiple aspects of a coffee shop, from profitability and efficiency to the customer experience and your ability to retain them long-term. Creating an efficient layout starts with a good understanding of both the brand, the space that you wish to operate in, and the requirements for coffee shop equipment.

Coffee shops have the advantage of being able to create flexible layouts. Unlike restaurants, which have to adhere to stricter guidelines, coffee shop owners can get very creative with the way they organize their business. There are essentially two areas in a coffee shop, the front of the house, which is for the clients, and the back of the house, which is for the staff. Between them, we have the counter, which acts as the divider.

The counter divides the space into two halves, and each has its requirement. For the front of the house, the seating layout and customer flows are essential. For the back of the house, the staff flows and equipment placement has the largest impact. Before designing the back of the house it is very important to have the menu for the coffee shop either completely designed or at the very least generally outlined. The menu plays an important role in the sizing of the back-of-house component so it’s important to keep track of it from the start. A larger menu will require a much larger back of the house, due to the increase in equipment.

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Case in point: The impact of an efficient layout

The design of the layout will have a strong impact on ambiance and efficiency. Both the front of the house and the back of the house need to have a proper layout.

For the back of the house, for a single linear counter, a minimum of 100 cm or 36 inches are necessary to allow for staff mobility. If the counter becomes a galley or U-shape style, then double that will be required, 200 centimeters or 72 inches. The design for the back of the bar should take precedence over the front of the house, even though it will be the front that generates revenue. An inefficient back of the house will cause slowdowns which will impact customer satisfaction, as well as have a negative impact on staff efficiency and raise operational costs.

A good perspective of the front of the house is a great timesaver, giving clients the option of deciding what to order beforehand. This is where a cleverly designed menu can also help.

In terms of general seating, placing tables diagonally can save up floor space, as well as using deuce tables or placing tables next to the wall. Ensuring adequate flows through them is also essential. Having a direct flow from the entrance to the counter can help in speedy service and increased customer satisfaction.

Coffee shop design standards: Understanding the counter and how it works

The counter is important both from a functional perspective, as well as an aesthetic one. It not only impacts the look and feel of the coffee shop, but it also plays a part in the flows which impact the efficiency of serving.

From a functional perspective, the coffee shop functions in a linear manner, with the various components placed along the way. At its most basic, a counter will have two zones: the first that will take the client’s order and process the payment, and a second where the coffee is made and served. This list of zones can then be expanded further. Many coffee shops for example also have a display area where customers can make additional purchases, such as a dedicated display for specialty coffee or various beverages or coffee accessories, and if the menu also includes food as well, then an additional preparation area will be required. The standard practice for food preparation is to have it organized in the back of the house or the backside of the counter. The choice between the two will depend on the availability of space and typology of the coffee shop.

This added complexity, as well as the layout of the space, will shape the counter further. It’s possible to split the zones, having a galley or U-shaped counter, with the beverage and payment processing at the front and food preparation at the back. It’s important to consider the space requirements at the back of the counter as well, making sure that the staff has enough room to work efficiently and not cause bottlenecks.

Case in point: The impact of the counter design

Every zone needs to be separate and not overlap. For example, you should never place a fridge under the espresso machine, as to not get into the barista’s way.  An ergonomic bar results in fast customer service and increased turnover. A counter should be a minimum of 90 centimeters or 36 inches high, with a maximum of 110 centimeters or 42 inches. It’s important to also consider the number of baristas that will operate simultaneously as that will have an impact on the design. The height of the counter should take into account the type of equipment that will be installed. To exemplify this, a standard espresso machine and a more contemporary modbar espresso machine (which hides the complexity of the traditional machine under the counter) will have different counter height requirements.

While there is no standard width, in order to fit all the equipment, the countertop should be at least 60 centimeters or 24 inches wide. This is the smallest width possible and if the space allows, should be increased to 100 centimeters or 40 inches wide. Usually, the espresso machine is the largest piece of equipment the counter needs to accommodate, so it's very useful to start from there before making the design. Regarding length, that will depend on the equipment the counter needs to fit as well as the layout. The length is much more flexible and can be adapted.

Usually, coffee shop counters are custom-made, so all of these decisions will need to be factored in before the final design. Check out our Notorious Memorabilia Cafe project, in which we created counter-centred design.

Coffee shop design standards: Keep an inventory of off all the equipment that will be necessary as well as their requirementsz

The list of equipment will have the biggest impact on both the menu and the staff., so it’s important to start from the menu design, considering in parallel the space you will require. A large menu will mean a larger back-of-house requirement, but it can also mean that more specialized staff is necessary to handle. This will finally translate into the budget impact, so it’s essential to keep this in view from the start.

You can opt for a simple quick-service operation or choose to include other dishes as well. Keep in mind the distinction between a coffee shop and a cafe or restaurant. Coffee shops can operate with smaller costs and have fewer regulations, but the closer you get to a restaurant, the more the budget will increase and there will be many more regulations to keep in mind.

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Case in point: Equipment and BOH size in Coffee shop design standards

At a minimum, the coffee shop will require the following: a credit or debit card terminal along with a receipt printer (depending on the situation as well as further analysis a cash register can also be considered), a jug rinser, knock tube, along with barista tools, water filtration system and an ice machine. To this, we can add the espresso and brewing equipment, dry storage, pasty case along with one or two sinks (the number will depend on regulations. Storage for cleaning supplies can also be added to the list.  If you wish to serve food as well then more equipment will be added. This list is not exhaustive and it only contains the essentials for a quick-service operation.

Food preparation is optional and will depend on the menu, with different dishes having their specific requirements. At a minimum, a food prep sink and prep table or area will be required. To this list, we can add a panini grill, sandwich and salad prep area, a toaster, and a soup warmer. If you wish to serve more complicated dishes, then an oven and range along with pans and additional prep space will be required. 

Keep in mind that all of the equipment added will increase the necessary size of the back of the house as well as require additional regulations to be fulfilled. At a minimum, for a quick service operation, around 30 square meters or 300 square feet will be necessary. With added food prep, the requirement goes up to around 50 square meters or 500 square feet. If you wish to serve more complex dishes then the necessary area will go up much more, possibly even to 100 square meters or 1000 square feet.

In terms of placement, there are a few basic principles that ensure efficiency. The brewed coffee should be as close to the register as possible, to allow for a quick swap. Grinders should be placed to the left of the espresso machine and retail, as well as baked goods go before the register to increase upselling. Also ideally there should be about 185 centimeters or 6 feet of space between the point of order and the point of pickup.

Coffee shop design standards: Seating layout options and requirements

Fundamentally, the more people you can sit the greater the income potential is. Multiple factors play a role in this, from the size of the space to the type of seating to the structure of the menu. Flows need to be adjusted for two separate situations, clients that chose to sit in and clients who prefer a takeaway order. Coffee to go is very popular for coffee shop clients so it’s important to plan ahead. Customer flows need to be optimal to avoid confusion or potential bottlenecks in service.

While these can seem very technical issues, they play a large part in the image clients will have in time of the coffee shop. If the business will look disorganized and inefficient to potential customers, then there is a good chance that they will go elsewhere. So presenting an organized image is essential in establishing a loyal customer base. A great design will ensure the appropriate flows without sacrificing workability. 

Case in point: The importance of the seating layout and standard sizes

To put things into perspective, a 100 square meters or 1000 square foot coffee shop focused almost exclusively on serving beverages will have a maximum capacity of 15 to 20 people. So it’s important to factor in from an early point what type of seating you wish to have, how much you can accommodate, and what type.

If space is limited then it can work best to use exclusive cafe seating and tables. These will ensure that people won’t stay for long and not take up too much space. As per coffee shop design standards, a good amount of space to keep in mind would be around 1 square meter or 10 to 12 square feet per person.

It’s essential to leave an aisle between tables, around 60 to 100 centimetres or 24 to 30 inches, to ensure enough room to pass. A square table of 60x60 centimetres or 24x24 inches can accommodate two people. The average cafe table is 75 by 105 centimetres or 30 by 42 inches, with enough space to seat four people. Adding to this, about 45 centimetres or 18 inches are necessary from the edge of the table to the back of the chair.

At this point, you can take paper, tape measure and a laser meter and get to work…

Or you can seek professional help. In either case, we would like to be there for you. If you have any questions during this challenging process, feel free to send us an email or contact me here.

Coffee shop design standards conclusion

There is a lot of planning and knowledge that goes into making sure a coffee shop runs smoothly and works at maximum efficiency all the time. Having a good understanding of general rules and an overview of how things fit is an excellent starting point to create a more pleasant and client-centric coffee shop, as well as a great foundation for building a sustainable business. When starting a coffee shop business we'd recommend having in-depth look to the coffee shop requirements.

Fast and high-quality service is no longer an advantage, but rather becoming an essential part of creating a great coffee shop brand, due to a steep increase in competition. So, a good understanding of how it works will prove foundational in your journey and the expansion of your business.

Need help with your coffee shop design?


Yaiza Martinez

Founder and Lead Designer

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