Restaurant Coffee Shouldn’t Suck

The truth is, customers want to spend their money on quality coffee. And if your restaurant serves poor tasting coffee, customers will spend their money somewhere else. To put it simply, you are throwing away real dollars and depressing your average ticket sales by not making your coffee program the best that it can possibly be.

Craft Roasted Coffee From Stockton Graham & Co.In celebration of International Coffee Month — we think coffee deserves a month of celebration instead of just a day — two Stockton Graham & Co. coffee experts explain how restaurant owners can see over 1000% return on investment (ROI) simply by modernizing their coffee program.

It’s the same presentation that our coffee experts Thom Swain and Brady Butler delivered at the North Carolina Restaurant & Lodging Expo (NCRLE) on September 22 for hundreds of North Carolina restaurant, bar, hotel and foodservice operators.

At Stockton Graham & Co., Thom and Brady both focus primarily on helping our customers succeed through smart, effective and efficient specialty coffee and beverage programs. Occasionally, in order to do so they must be brutally honest and forthright. Their presentation, titled Why Restaurant Coffee Sucks, was exactly that. The audience was visibly curious, maybe even a little offended, but everyone listened closely and walked away with a sure-fire way to boost their restaurant profitability.

Why Restaurant Coffee Sucks

Thom started by outlining the causes for bad coffee. Things like coffee quality, water quality, and freshness, which are all results of either poor training, apathy, or general cheapness. “I happen to think the most problematic factor is the recipe. A lot of restaurant operators aren’t willing to put enough coffee in the pot to give it the flavor that it needs,” said Thom, who began working in the coffee industry in 1998 and has lead concept development and franchise operations for several well-known beverage brands.

Drip vs Espresso Methods Stockton Graham & Co.Brady, who previously worked at Dilworth Coffee and his family’s Matthews, NC-based store The Coffee Garden, countered. “I tend to lean more towards cleanliness and improper cleaning methods than coffee quality,” Brady said. “Fact is, there are a lot of things that contribute to bad coffee. Let’s understand them so we know how to avoid these things.”

At this point, pockets of the crowd were growing visibly anxious. They were probably realizing that their very own coffee programs might be hindering their business’s potential. But they were in luck, because this was the good part. “Quality is not an act; it is a habit,” Thom quoted Aristotle before showing some tips for achieving the best coffee:

  • Coffee quality – good quality beans
  • Water quality – appropriate filter
  • Freshness – rotate stock and store properly.
  • Recipe – Golden Cup 3.25-4.25oz coffee/half gallon
  • Consistency – weigh coffee or use a timer grinder
  • Cleanliness – everything that touches the coffee
  • Equipment – properly set up and serviced
  • Holding conditions – time and temperature

Why Better Coffee Matters

Brady easily held everyone’s attention, explaining exactly how better coffee directly translates to higher profits. He referenced some impressive data, reflecting how coffee is the fastest growing item on a restaurant’s beverage menu and proving that people spend their dollars on quality.

Coffee vs Espresso Cost Stockton Graham & Co.

  • Coffee is the FASTEST GROWING item on a restaurant’s beverage menu, growing from 10% of all restaurant beverage sales to nearly 15% today.
  • An average of $1,111 is spent on out-of-home coffee by each coffee drinker annually, whether at your establishment or somewhere else.
  • Coffee sales in restaurants reached $23.4 BILLION in 2014 and sales are growing at a more rapid pace in 2015

In modern commerce, which is increasingly driven by customer reviews on Yelp, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and other social networks, customer opinions matter more than ever. According to the National Coffee Association, 68% of customers say coffee QUALITY and TASTE are the reasons they choose one eatery over another. Less than 1/3 of coffee drinkers are price sensitive and would prefer lower-cost coffee to higher-quality coffee, the NCA research said.

Celebrity chef, restaurateur and Food Network star Robert Irvine, who delivered the NCRLE Keynote address, noted that socially networked consumers demand quality and will call out restaurants that don’t deliver.

“People come to you for quality,” Robert Irvine said. “When you do not deliver the quality, you suck.”

“And since every diner has two or three devices these days,” Robert Irvine continued. “The first thing they do when they have a bad experience at your restaurant is message their friends and post it on social media. Bad reviews on social media can kill a restaurant.”

Drip vs Espresso ROIWe couldn’t agree more. But just because the customer is not complaining on social media, doesn’t mean that everything’s good enough. “You need to strive to delight,” Thom advised.

“Positive customer feedback doesn’t come easily, but it is well worth the work. Especially the feedback of a particular type of customer – Millennials,” Brady said. “They are now the largest demographic, and they’re willing to spend their money on quality experiences.”

“The total satisfaction experience is hard to get, it’s hard to replicate, and you can’t cheat at it,” Thom said. “But that’s where you’re going to grow, that’s where customers become loyal to you, that’s when they come back and talk about you in a good way.”

If you operate a restaurant, bar, hotel or other foodservice operation and you are looking to increase profits by updating your coffee program, give us a call at 800 835 5943. Ask for Thom Swain or Brady Butler.


10 Habits of Highly Successful Coffee Shops

Once upon a time, you may have thought that opening a coffee shop was a no-brainer. After all, mostly everyone — including you — loves coffee. Plus, the hustle and bustle of everyday life means there’s less time to kick back at home with a warm cup of fresh brewed coffee. Folks need the convenience and kick of a cup of joe on-the-go.  And with over 100 million Americans drinking coffee EVERY day, there is a big and captive market for your brew. Easy sell.Stockton Graham & Co. Business of Coffee

Coffee is also relatively easy to prepare and serve. There’s no traipsing to the shop at dawn to bake scratch-made biscuits or juggling the multiple implements (and fire) of a fondue service, for instance. On most days, you can be open and serving as soon as you restock the cups and dial in your espresso.

But after a while, every operator realizes that running an independent coffee shop is tough business. It’s not easy to find and keep talented baristas and servers, and there’s always competition, whether from the big chain down the street or a new “coffee concept” funded by your local culinary celebrity.

Plus, although retail coffee is a high-margin business, it is also a numbers business. Say you sell 50 cups of drip coffee a day and make a respectable $1.30/cup on each sale; you’re only bringing in $65/day. Let’s say your business is in a high-traffic location, and you sell 150 cups a day; your profit will be less than $150/day.

As a comparison, the profit margins on espresso and espresso-based drinks can be twice or three times that of drip coffee. Although it takes a bit more time and training to pull a perfect espresso shot (vs operating the drip brewer), the overall benefit to your business can be tremendous.

So, what steps can your shop take to stay competitive? It’s a question many independent coffee shops think about a lot. It’s certainly front and center in the thinking of Stockton Graham & Co. customers. But it’s not enough to be merely competitive – independent retailers must position themselves to succeed.

Stockton Graham & Co. Blending the Art & Business of CoffeeFor more than 20 years, Stockton Graham & Co. has focused on the success of independent coffee shops and specialty coffee businesses by blending the art of coffee and business of coffee. Through these years we’ve helped hundreds of independent coffee shops succeed. And in doing so, we’ve discovered that there is a formula, of sorts, for success.

Here are our 10 Habits of Highly Successful Coffee Shops:

  1. Lead with your passion, and pass it on to all of your employees. There’s no substitute for genuine excitement about your product and your store, so don’t be afraid to flaunt it. Create a warm, distinctive, inviting store around your passion that engages customers in a visceral way. Make your store a place that people seek out and enjoy spending time at.
  2. Pay attention to profit margin. It’s calculated by dividing your business’s net income by its net sales. If the ratio is greater than zero, your business is making money and that’s a very good thing.
  3. Focus on espresso and espresso-based drinks, as the profit margins for these beverages are at least twice—and often three times—the profit margin of drip coffee.
  4. Build enduring relationships with your customers by paying particular attention to what they do and how they behave in your store. You should absolutely ask their opinion too. Yet your customers’ actions will tell you so much more about their true preferences than their words will.
  5. Make sure your store is in a location where foot traffic, or drive-through traffic, is high. The numbers just won’t work out unless the volume is there.
  6. Don’t skimp on training. Make sure your baristas are experts and your staff is knowledgeable. Teach the menu, and give your staff pointers on how to talk about the items you serve. Invest in your staff; hire, train, and support them well. Turnover is a killer, so create a positive work environment and competitive compensation package. Maximize effectiveness and efficiency and minimize frustration and work-related injuries by paying attention to bar layout and workflow (call in the professionals if you need to).
  7. Don’t commoditize your business. Focus on providing high-quality coffee and unique offerings that excite your customers. Deliver your offering with personality and panache. Define your concept and stay true to it – adding products that complement and dropping those that fall short of the mark.
  8. Keep your inventories lean to ensure your coffee is always fresh and keep your presentations clean to let your products breathe. When it comes to merchandising, whether it’s retail bagged coffee, mugs, muffins or snack bars, less is more. Research shows that more sparsely stocked shelves suggest that items are in high demand, which subconsciously makes them even more desirable.
  9. Do not let yourself get out on the slippery slope of price promotions. Strive for full retails and full margins that elevate and celebrate your offerings. Use loyalty tactics, like anniversary specials or a free cup of coffee on each customer’s birthday, instead of discounts to develop customer loyalty without eroding profits.
  10. Focus on consistency. Establish what you want your customer to experience and work to achieve that with every single cup of coffee, vanilla latte, muffin and customer interaction. Demonstrate the importance of consistency to your staff through Coffee College training, encouraging best-practice sharing and discouraging “special variations” on drinks. If “Sam’s chai latte is the best!”, find out why and have him share the secret (adjusting the price as needed).

Brady Butler Stockton Graham & Co.Brady Butler, our newest Business Development Associate and former barista, manager, trainer and equipment technician, recommends experiencing your store from a customer’s perspective. Pay attention to the details: how does the space look, feel, sound and smell?  “As an owner or manager, you may spend so much time in their spaces that it’s easy to not notice the progressively messier kitchen area, a chalk menu that’s unreadable from a distance or a cloud of acrid smoke from a panini grill,” Brady advises. “These are all things that turn customers off and can reduce sales.”

To help your store succeed, Stockton Graham & Co. runs several training courses for operators and staff, including our new Barista Certification course. Our monthly Coffee & Espresso Basics at our Raleigh, NC headquarters, also called Coffee College 101, is a good place for any coffee shop operator and staff to begin training.

The Business of CoffeeTraining is just one way Stockton Graham & Co. is a partner for your business success. We also provide:

  • Business planning
  • Menu planning
  • Product pricing
  • Store layout and design guidance
  • Marketing guidance
  • Promotional support
  • Custom packaging and labeling

If you’d like more information on how Stockton Graham & Co. can support your business, visit The Business of Coffee. To schedule a business consultation, call our Customer Care Associates at 800 835 5943.


Specialty Coffee Roaster, Stockton Graham & Co., Turns 20

STG513-ID-stickerJeff Vojta, co-founder and President of Stockton Graham & Co., a specialty coffee roaster and wholesale beverage, equipment and accessory distributor located in Raleigh, NC, announced that the company will celebrate 20 years in the business of coffee on May 12, 2014.

Stockton Graham & Co. started as a coffee shop, Classic Coffees, on Six Forks Road in 1994. The single store grew to include roasting and the business evolved into Classic Coffee Roasting Company. As the wholesale and distribution business grew, the business moved to the current 4320 Delta Lake Drive, Raleigh address in 1999.

To better reflect the wholesale mission and values, the name of the company was changed to Stockton Graham & Co. Today, their mission of roasting great coffee and helping customers succeed in the business of coffee is still a reality.

“Our success has been built upon helping our customers succeed in serving exceptional coffees and handcrafted beverages, while providing outstanding customer service,” said Vojta. “Our team of dedicated coffee professionals is committed, not only to expanding our knowledge of coffee, but to help our industry further develop and promote specialty coffee standards; thus ensuring our industry and company’s continued growth and enabling 20 more years of coffee excellence.”

Stockton Graham & Co. is committed to helping specialty retailers build superior and successful coffee businesses. For more information about Stockton Graham & Co. and its products, or to place an order, call 800-835-5943 or visit

About Stockton Graham & Co.:

Founded in 1994, Stockton Graham & Co. is nationally known for roasting great coffee, developing customized specialty coffee and beverage programs, providing operators the keys to building enduring specialty coffee businesses, creating and promoting coffee industry standards and trends, and offering customers unsurpassed knowledge and tools to serve quality coffees and other hand-crafted specialty drinks. For more information, visit