Unicorn Cafe

1723 Sherman Ave
Evanston, IL 60201

I was visiting Evanston for an academic conference with my girlfriend.  I came across this cafe while doing a search online for places to work during the day.  Judging by the pictures posted it looked like a great place to meet up with friend, sip coffee and work.

The cafe was just what I expected.  Very comfortable, plenty of seating.  Lighting and electrical outlets were in abundance.  Also got a chance to meet the owner.  I found here to be pleasant, welcoming and eager to make sure her customer have a great experience.

I liked the cafe so much I bought a Unicorn Cafe t-shirt for my barista back home.

Fuel Cafe

818 E Center St
Milwaukee, WI 53212

I’ve been to Fuel a handful of times, all for various reasons. I’ve had lunch, met someone for coffee, and had a beer while waiting for a table at Centro. Every time has been nothing but perfection.

I forget what I food I have had from Fuel, but I recently discovered that they have $4 burritos on Wednesdays, which seems too good to be true, so I will have to check that out for myself.

The last time I was there was to do some homework. I had a pint of the house coffee, a bottle of Lakefront’s Fuel Cafe, and busted out some work, all while the entirety of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours album played. Any place that jams out to that album is alright by me.

Coffee Shop Marketing Strategies That Cost Less Than $100 A Month

Simple, inexpensive strategies used by coffee shops around the world to earn new customers and build brand loyalty

Remember that Death Wish Coffee commercial from Super Bowl 50? Focusing on your customer is the most important one of a long list.

The 30-second commercial with burly vikings on a ship made big waves for the independent coffee roaster, who made the most of their moment on advertising’s biggest stage. Owner Mike Brown said it resulted in 20x increase in sales in the weeks following the Super Bowl, do not get me wrong I love my Dandelion Tea.

This type of high-gloss, big-budget advertising is practically unheard of in the specialty coffee world. In fact, Death Wish would not have had the $5 million commercial spot if it wasn’t for Intuit Quickbooks, who ran a contest for one small business to be featured in the big game.

According to a survey we recently conducted with the help of Barista Magazine, the typical marketing budget of a specialty coffee shop is much more modest.

In the survey that received 1,200 responses from coffee shops and customers, we found almost 70% of coffee shops spend less than $100 per month on marketing.

That means Quickbooks could have covered the monthly marketing budget of nearly every coffee shop in the United States for the same cost as Death Wish’s one Super Bowl ad.

Even more amazing is that nearly 40% of shops spend a total of $0 on marketing. In the age of multi-million dollar commercial spots, how does an independent coffee shop attract new customers?

Thanks to the data we collected from the survey, we were able to identify six different marketing strategies coffee shops are using to attract new customers.

The following six points include interesting trends in coffee shop marketing as well as advice from real coffee shops. Employing a mix of these strategies can help coffee shops earn new customers for less than $100 a month.

1. Appealing Storefronts

The simplest way to earn new customers is by making your coffee shop appealing to people passing by.

We asked coffee shop customers to think about the most recent time they visited a new coffee shop and how they discovered it. Surprisingly, the number one way customers discovered new shops was by passing the physical location.

Graph of most common ways customers discover new coffee shops: saw physical location, word of mouth, google

This means looks still matter, as much as we’d hate to admit it. Neglecting the storefront could mean missed opportunities for coffee shops to catch the potential new customer wandering by.

How can coffee shops make their storefronts more appealing? Many have used simple tactics to grab attention of passing traffic.



Despite the growing trend of sign-less storefronts, many shops still find them critical.

Signage goes beyond the letters hanging above a front door. Signage can help direct traffic into a coffee shop whether it’s on Main Street or on the outskirts of town.

“We are a drive thru espresso stand, so we have signs at the major intersection in our town, directing traffic our way.”

– Kara Yusi, owner at Free Bird Espresso, Okanogan WA, USA

Free Samples


If a shop is lucky enough to have foot traffic outside the shop, slowing customers down with free samples is a great way to introduce them to the store and product.

“Offer free samples out in front of your shop. Word of mouth really works. Talk about your place of business with local business owners. Encourage partnerships with businesses who could become a part of your business.”

– Alyssa Steele, The Bean Pedaler, Cañon City, CO, USA

Visual Appeal


First impressions matter, and the first impression for a coffee shop is the storefront. How do coffee shops make their storefronts stand out from the others?

Houndstooth Coffee in Dallas, Texas is a great example of turning a boring storefront into a piece of art. The visual appeal of the shop catches the attention of everyone passing by whether or not they’re looking for coffee.

Houndstooth coffee in Dallas, Texas
Houndstooth Coffee in Dallas, TX. Photo courtesy of Gornado.com

Shops don’t need to completely renovate their storefront to stand out. A coat of new paint or an A-frame sign on the sidewalk can work just as well. Creativity and individuality are key in standing out among other businesses in town.

Have you heard about the Handground Precision Coffee Grinder?

This article was created by the same community of coffee enthusiasts that created the Handground coffee grinder. The communities goal was to make it easy to achieve a consistent grind for any brew method.

Handground is an affordable alternative to expensive electric burr grinders for new coffee drinkers and the perfect tool to add to a manual brewing setup for experienced coffee drinkers that prefer to leave their electric grinder dialed in for espresso. Handground is selling well in coffee shops around the world and we would love to work with you to introduce it to your local coffee community.

Click here for the Handground Wholesale Partner Application

2. Word of Mouth Marketing

Every customer that walks into a coffee shop is a marketing opportunity. This is because people talk, and people tend to trust friends and family more than they trust businesses.
When we asked customers about visiting a new coffee shop, the second most popular way they discovered it was by a friend recommendation. Coffee shop professionals agreed with customers on the importance of friend recommendations, with 34% saying that word of mouth marketing was an important part of earning new customers.

“Creating a really great customer experience is key to everything because they are by far our best marketing tool,” said James Yoder, of Not Just Coffee. “Everyone wants to be the one to tell their friends about a great spot they go to and we have so many customers who were referred by friends.”

Generating word of mouth marketing starts and ends with the customer experience. Average things doesn’t inspire many people to talk, but people love telling others about an exceptionally good–or bad– coffee shop experience. That’s why going above and beyond customer expectations is the key to generating positive buzz.

Coffee shops have discovered a number of ways to exceed customer expectations and get them spreading the word to friends:

Offer free drinks for friend recommendations

There’s nothing like a little bribe, right? Shops can offer treats to customers to recommend friends. Tech companies like Dropbox and Uber offer free storage and rides, so why shouldn’t coffee companies reward their evangelizing customers?

“Bring a friend in for their first time and you get a free small coffee!” -L. Powers, Nomadic Barista, ID, USA

Make the customer happy


Nothing turns a good experience into a bad one like a coffee shop acting selfishly. The number one goal of a coffee shop should be to make a customer happy, and that extra effort will go a long way in positive word of mouth marketing.

“We have gotten quite far on mostly word of mouth. If you can create a memorable experience for each customer them telling their friends about it is the best advertising you can buy. If this means switching out something they didn’t prefer or honoring an expired coupon it is worth every penny to have them tell a friend the story about the excellent customer service they received.”

– Avocado Cafe, California, USA

Reach out to local bloggers


Word of mouth doesn’t just start with customers. Influential bloggers in the area can start the buzz if shops give them an exceptional experience.

“Reaching out to local food bloggers/media to spread the word.” – Ryan Jensen, Peregrine Espresso, Washington, DC, USA

Listen to recommendations from customers


Listening to customer feedback is an easy way for shops to make customers feel connected. Following through on feedback is a way to earn customers for life.
“Having important amenities and listening to those initial suggestions is important: we added Stevia on a customer’s request, we noticed that a lot of children were coming in with parents, so we’ll be adding a high-chair and changing table, etc.”

– Ryan Barker, Bourbon Coffee, Washington, DC, USA

More Advice on Word of Mouth Marketing


We learned early on from the Barista Magazine survey that a positive customer experience boils down to two things:

  1. Quality coffee
  2. Customer service

We had so much great information on these two topics that we actually have entire articles dedicated to them. Check out “What is Quality Coffee” and “48 Factors of Surprise and Delight” for more ways to please customers and generate word of mouth marketing.

3. Social Media Community

Social media is no longer new, but we found some interesting data that suggests coffee shops still have new opportunities to engage with customers online.

Graph of social media habits of customers and coffee shops

While both coffee shops and their customers use Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter regularly, coffee shops are largely absent from other prominent platforms like Youtube and Snapchat.

Snapchat is still young and is the least popular of the social media platforms we asked about, but we found customers use Youtube almost as much as they use Facebook, which begs the question, how could coffee shops use this platform to reach new customers?

So far we only know wouldn’t work, at least according to the survey. We asked customers if a coffee shop video walkthrough would be valuable when deciding to visit, and the majority said no. However, very few coffee shops do this at all and customers may grow to appreciate it once they see one.

Still, a ripe and underutilized social media community is available on Youtube and Snapchat to creative coffee shops who want to stand out from the crowd.

There are a few tactics for social media marketing that apply regardless of platform:

Don’t be a company, be human


Some coffee shops fail to recognize that social media is a different type of marketing platform than TV, newspapers, and radio. Companies should be human by holding real conversations with customers and genuinely trying to help.

“We make sure our social media posts are diverse. We engage on a personal level, inspire and encourage them to try new things. ”

– Kim Wilson, Commissary Cafe, Portland, Oregon, USA

Coffee shops should be active on social media before they open


Social media gives new coffee shops a chance to interact with future customers before they even open to the public. This spreads awareness about the new company and creates an audience for important announcements like the Grand Opening.

“We did a lot of social media before opening the store, which I suspect helped us a lot in the beginning. We still maintain social media. For us, being located off the main avenue, I think word of mouth also has been a big help.”
– Dennis, Astoria Coffee, Astoria, NY, USA

Consistently post and share online


Consistency is important in every facet of the coffee business. In fact, the Handground Content Team determined that consistency is the most important characteristic of quality coffee. Just as customers expect excellent drinks every time they enter a shop, they expect a consistent flow of content from coffee shops online as well.

“Consistency is the most important thing. Consistently posting content on social media, being open consistent hours, and consistently having great coffee and great staff is really important.”
– Alex Evans, M5 Espresso, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA

Become the coffee expert


Sharing expert knowledge is a perfect way for independent coffee shops to differentiate themselves from big box coffee stores. Educating customers in person or through a company blog can help coffee shops earn customers interested in learning more about coffee.

We sponsor coffee related events, produce a daily blog and continually are out in front in the community. Starbucks may have a ton of stores in our city but the expert in coffee is Avery’s Coffee.”

– Avery’s Coffee Roasters, Las Vegas, NV, USA