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Crafting a Perfect Coffee – Cocktail Marriage
Crafting a Perfect Coffee – Cocktail Marriage

With a coffee shop on every corner, owners are finding they need to increase traffic flow to make a profit.  One way is to draw customers in with the next big thing, the next gimmick.  New product launches seem to help in the short term.  But how can one come up with a long-term solution?  The typical coffee drinker orders a hot coffee in the morning and an iced coffee or cold blended drink in the afternoon.  But what about the evening hours?  Is there a way to entice customers to come back to the coffee house for the evening?

The Hybrid Coffee-Cocktail Bar

Welcome to the hybrid coffee-cocktail bar.  What?  You say.  We’re talking coffee?  Why introduce craft beers and cocktails?  How does this work?  Why would we even want to do this?  Well, because the craft beer industry has been on an increasing trajectory for a while now.  No longer do you see 3 beers on tap…now you see 20.  And cocktails have established themselves as a form of art with ingredients specially selected and handcrafted by the resident mixologist.

The reality is that equipment is expensive for both the coffee shop and the bar, rent is now at an astronomical premium, and owners are seeing a slump in evening coffee sales while craft beers and craft cocktails are on the rise. It might be the perfect marriage.  The bar owner wants to increase morning traffic of the non-alcoholic variety and the coffee shop owner is looking for an increase to their evening traffic.

Marital Bliss

From a profitability stand point, it just makes sense. Think about it.  The equipment is sitting there unused, collecting dust during “off” hours.  Rent remains X amount of dollars whether you open at 5 am or close at midnight.  You still need to pay that employee regardless of whether they stand around with little traffic flow and dollars coming in or are busy with lots of customers.  But wait…here’s a question…we understand a barista can create all sorts of delicious coffees, but can they also make cocktails or pour your favorite brew?  Barista actually means bartender in Italian, so with minimal training your barista can learn the ins and outs of making cocktails and your bartender can learn how to make espresso-based beverages.

A Refreshing Concept

From a customer standpoint, this idea is refreshing. Everyone wants to try that “new place.”  Imagine meeting friends in a hip, cool atmosphere without the “bar scene.”  Can’t decide where to go tonight?  Head over to your local hybrid bar where everyone feels comfortable.  Sam can order a Nitro Brew and John can select a craft beer on tap.

With customers having more sophisticated palettes, they are eager to engage in the nuances of “flavors” that are in coffee, liquors and beer. They look for a premium experience; the flavors and processes are the draw, like Nitro Cold Brew (NCB) and craft beer and those unique cocktails.  This culture is what drives Millennials and Gen Zs.


What is NCB?  And how does it relate to beer?  NCB is “coffee on tap.”  Let’s go back to basics for a minute.  Traditional iced coffee is brewed double strength and poured over ice. Cold brew is iced coffee that is steeped for 16 – 20 hours.  No heat is used to make it.  NCB is cold brew infused with nitrogen gas, the same gas that’s used in a beer system.  NCB uses the same beer lines, although those beer lines need to be new and dedicated only to coffee. Even cocktails such as a fizzy gin and tonic or a mojito can be had by a pull of a tap handle. That’s why the hybrid coffee – craft beer- cocktail idea works.

Transcending through Design

What are the design implications of a hybrid bar? What will you need to figure out before developing a design?  Both use much of the same equipment, but will both use the same space? Will alcohol be served during all day parts, or is there a code restriction against alcohol served before 11 am? How does a customer know a café serves both coffee and cocktails? These are just a few questions that should be addressed in the early stages of design.

Heavy importance is placed on creating a versatile space that translates between the bar and café, allowing it to be separate and distinct areas or shared space, depending on the goals of the owner. The use of nooks, for example, helps to translate the space.  A sliding back bar or a curtain you can close that is implemented into the design gives the perception of a café, but can open during the night to become a bar. Stationary equipment such as juicers can become part of the exhibition preparation area of coffee and cocktails. Millennials constantly want to be engaged. This type of showmanship does just that. By changing the ambiance of a room, one can also change the design. Café s tend to have brighter lighting and softer music. Then during the evening your space transitions to a cocktail bar with raised music levels and lowered lighting.

Financial Implications

What are the financial implications of this? Owners can expect to have a stronger return on investment. Once the keg system goes in, Nitro Cold Brew makes sense. Both use the same system; why not expand the beverage line-up and increase revenue? Through smart menu planning, similar syrups can be used in cocktail and coffee beverages. This can reduce waste and increase labor production of prepared items. Your foot traffic increases as well. Now you are not just a coffee shop that is busy until 11 AM, but has a slow flow of customers for the rest of the day. The hybrid coffee-cocktail bar allows for that morning rush that continues as a steady flow of traffic until closing.

A Perk for Employees

The corporate world is embracing the concept by offering the hybrid bar as a perk for their employees.  In today’s world, it is not only about the pay an employee receives; but also, it’s about the perks and workplace morale.  How far is the nearest restaurant, or is there an onsite servery? Or a much-needed coffee bar for that 3 pm pick-me- up?  Companies can offer a coffee bar during the day and then utilize the bar for social functions and after-hours gatherings. Happy hour can foster conversation, laughter and connection.  The hybrid coffee bar provides the setting without the need for expensive outsourcing.

Let’s Do It

While the hybrid coffee – cocktail bar may not be the solution for every situation, it does provide a viable alternative for those willing to think outside the box.  The coffee house and the local watering hole will always be places where you can gather and satisfy your thirst.  This concept just marries the two to increase traffic flow and, ultimately, your bottom line.

By:  Tracy Diaz

Project Coordinator | Washington, DC

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