From the corner cafe that greets the early risers to the cozy downtown evening spot, a cafe’s operating hours are a strategic choice. Deciding when to open and close your coffee shop isn’t just about convenience; it’s about navigating the ebb and flow of foot traffic.
However, understanding this customer rhythm isn’t straightforward. External factors like weather, seasons, traffic, and school schedules complicate things—yet your hours of operation greatly impact your long-term profitability and success. Here’s what five business owners across the U.S. are factoring in when choosing their operating hours.
Old Town Coffee
City: Santa Barbara, California
Hours: 7 a.m. – 6 p.m. daily
Once a late-night coffee shop in Santa Barbara, Old Town Coffee recently adjusted its operating hours in November 2023. Previously open until 10:00 p.m. from Wednesday to Saturday, co-owner Rachel Ward found that the evening hours weren’t bringing in enough profit to justify staying open late. “After running the numbers with payroll and needing cleaners to come out in the middle of the night, we’ve changed our hours so that we’re open every night until 6 p.m.,” says Ward.
After acquiring a beer and wine license three years ago, Old Town Coffee experimented with later hours, but things never quite came together. While they’ll keep the doors open late for special gigs like live bands or comedy shows, the decision to close earlier was also driven by safety concerns. “We would just have one employee there at the beginning of staying open until 10:00, but I don’t think it’s safe for people to work by themselves,” says Ward.
Old Town added a second closing shift to the schedule but, after six months, realized it wasn’t financially feasible. Ward says they settled on a closing time of 6 p.m. daily to establish consistency throughout the week. “Most [neighborhood] coffee shops close at five, and this gives students and commuters an extra hour to come in and grab something to drink before they drive home.”
Deeper Roots Coffee
City: Cincinnati, OH
Hours: Three locations; hours vary by location
Oakley: Mon-Fri: 6:30 a.m. – 6 p.m. | Sat: 7:30 a.m. – 6 p.m. | Sun: 7:30 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Findlay: Every Day: 7 a.m. – 6 p.m.
4th Street: Mon-Fri: 6:30 a.m. – 6 p.m. | Sat-Sun: 7:30 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Determining the opening hours for your cafe is more of an art than a science, according to Jon Lewis, co-owner of Deeper Roots Coffee. Their three Cincinnati-based shops operate with distinct schedules. In certain neighborhoods, Sunday afternoons are family time, and traffic dies down. Yet, their downtown location on 4th Street is next door to a bustling historic market open until 6 p.m. on weekends.
Extending hours may attract more customers, but Lewis prioritizes his employees’ well-being. “You could always gain some customers by extending hours,” he says. “There’s always somebody who wishes you would open earlier, but what we try to do is really consider our team and what extending hours means for them.”
Lewis and the team at Deeper Roots work to staff stores so employees feel supported and can run things efficiently. “It doesn’t make sense to try to stretch people too thin,” says Lewis. In most cases, a single person handles the cafe opening and serves coffee for the first 30 minutes to an hour when the store opens, and while sales numbers help Lewis make staffing decisions, he also considers how a fully-staffed bar helps employees make consumers feel welcome. “We’re looking at the numbers, but also how good a customer experience is when one person gets a little busy,” he says. “We keep pretty close tabs on the staff to make sure that people experience or feel the support that they need as baristas.”
Hexe Coffee Co.
City: Chicago, Illinois
Hours: Mon-Wed: 7:30 a.m. – 8:00 p.m. | Thurs: 7:30 a.m. – 10:00 p.m. | Fri.-Sun: 7:30 a.m. – 8:00 p.m.
When Hexe Coffee Co. reopened after lockdowns, owner Parker Slade realized the shop had lost most of their commuter traffic. Hexe shifted from its usual 6:00 a.m. opening time to 7:30 a.m., and Slade quickly realized the new hours were more profitable. “We actually made more money because we didn’t have to pay people to stand around for that first hour,” says Slade.
Hexe Coffee Co. is a popular night spot in Chicago, adjusting its hours according to the season. “People know that we’re open late—a lot of guests say they come to us because we’re open past all these coffee shops that close at 2:00 or 3:00,” says Slade. “During the summer, when it stays light later outside, we’re open as late as we can stay.”
That means the cafe might stay open until 10:00 p.m. during the week in the warmer months, with Thursdays featuring live music and extended hours year-round. However, as the harsh Chicago winters set in and the sun begins to set around 4:00 p.m., Slade adjusts the hours. “Since it’s getting colder, we’re going to start closing earlier because people aren’t coming and staying out late in the winter,” says Slade. “We’re probably going to shorten it by an hour because we lose a little money by staying open too late.”
Ghost Note Coffee
City: Seattle, Washington
Hours: Mon, Wed-Fri 7 a.m. – 5 p.m. | Tue 7 a.m. – 3 p.m. | Weekends 8 a.m. – 6 p.m.
When Ghost Note Coffee opened in 2017, they established their hours based on researching the hours of neighboring shops. “That was pretty much our starting point,” says owner Christos Andrews. “If it felt like the last hour or two were consistently extremely slow or busier than average, we could make that adjustment as needed.”
Today, things wind down around 6 p.m., except on Tuesdays when they close at 3:00 p.m. This early closure allows them to catch up on tasks that are tough to work on during peak hours. “Every Tuesday closing shift, we have tasks like washing the windows, cleaning the floor drain, washing the floor mats,” says Andrews. “We also use that early closing to do equipment maintenance, catch up on production, and any shop improvements.”
Even though he’s likely passing on revenue by closing early, Andrews doesn’t plan to change Tuesday’s hours. “It’s way more valuable to close a little early that day and preserve the last two hours for shop improvement that’s harder to do the rest of the week.”
Five Watt Coffee
City: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Hours: Four locations; hours vary by location:
Kingfield, Lyndale, E. Hennepin: 7 a.m. – 6 p.m. daily
Keg & Case: 7 a.m. – 5 p.m. daily
After the pandemic, owner Lee Carter decided to rethink operating hours across his four Five Watt Coffee locations. “One of the things I learned is that closing early is really nice,” he says. “It’s less demanding on the staff, easier to schedule, and everyone has the opportunity to have a night to themselves.”
Previously, all Five Watt locations stayed open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Since the shops were never that busy in the evening, Carter thought the decision to close earlier would benefit both the business and staff.
Carter says he determined the optimal closing time by analyzing sales figures, particularly during the last hour before closing. “If we do a certain amount in sales, it makes closing [at a particular hour] take a really long time,” says Carter. For example, one store might see a spike in foot traffic between 4 and 5 p.m., which makes closing tricky if the store closes at 5. While customers still visit between 5 and 6 p.m., traffic gradually slows down throughout the hour.
“It becomes worth it to push things an hour past your last lively hour, so you have some runway to get started on your close,” says Carter. “If you close right after a busy hour, you don’t save very much on labor because that close is going to take significantly longer to do. Whereas if you stay open through a slower last hour, the closing person can get ahead of things, and the close can be fast and smooth once we lock the doors.”
Photos courtesy of Five Watt Coffee