Why Are Coffee Shops So Cold? (I’m Shivering!)

Are cold coffee shops an urban myth or something, as I’ve honestly never noticed? So why do so many people find coffee shops to be chilly?

If coffee shops are cold they aren’t doing it on purpose. Twice as many people sit in than take out, so it’s not in the shop’s interest to be cold. Coffee has a high profit margin and most shops operate in the black, so utility bills are only 2% to 8% of their total monthly costs anyway.

Let’s pull on a warm sweater and dive down into the subject of cold coffee shops in more detail, and discover if they’re doing it on purpose so we have to buy more hot drinks (editor: lose the tin foil hat please Laurence!)…

Why Are Coffee Shops So Cold?

How Come Coffee Shops Are So Cold All The Time?

T​here are a lot of negative posts from customers about the chilly temperatures in most coffee shops. Maybe, they say, the shops are trying to get your chilly body to crave another hot drink. Or, maybe they are trying to get you to buy your coffee and then leave quickly?

OK wait, let’s think this through. Sure, coffee shops are in the business of selling you a hot beverage – coffee. If customers just walked in, bought their hot beverages and then left, the coffee shops would still make their money, right? 

So what’s up with the comfy sofas? In fact, why do coffee shops have places to sit at all? 

W​e checked the statistics. The truth is that twice as many customers wanted a place to sit down and enjoy their coffee than those who just bought their coffee and walked out. Any coffee shop owner would be remiss (read stupid) to ignore this coffee shop business reality.

T​he thing is, coffee shops are about coffee, yes, but they are also about culture. Coffee shop customers are looking for a delicious cup of coffee, enjoyed at their leisure in a comfy spot with ambiance. They want a “third place”. 

Coffee shop customers want a place they can stay that has art on the wall, books on the shelf and baristas who know them by name. They want a place where they can surf the internet in privacy or meet up with friends or colleagues. 

O​K. Coffee shops actually want you to stay. So why are they so uncomfortably cold? Let’s break it down.

Why is Starbucks So Cold?

While independently owned coffee shops may have their fingers on their thermostats, S​tarbucks baristas say that the temperature of their shops is controlled by a corporate office far, far away. 

We may never know whether all the Starbucks thermostats in the US – and there are over 15,000 of them – are controlled Big Brother-style in Starbucks HQ.

But we do know that most Starbucks these days have drive through windows. In a cold climate, on a cold day, a drive through window is guaranteed to let in frigid air. Over and over.

Are Coffee Shops Kept Cold So You Buy More Hot Drinks?

T​his is a common theory, but – no, probably not. T​he truth is probably less about evil, money-grubbing shop owners and more about physics.

It’s hard to keep a small room at a predictable, warm temperature when one or two doors are constantly opening and closing, letting freezing cold air inside. Or when a drive-through window is rolling open and shut every few minutes. More freezing cold air.

Then, there’s a bunch of machines on counters producing searingly hot temperatures. Hot milk pours out of tubes. Steam rises and the baristas are sweating.

A coffee shop is a small space. On a freezing cold day, with one or two outside doors, a drive-through window, several steaming hot machines, and where it’s sometimes packed with humans and sometimes almost empty, you have – t​hermostat chaos.

The reality is that one poor thermostat – set by Big Brother or not – simply can’t keep the temperature under control.

Just remember, coffee shops want the ambience for customers to be just right – like this:

Do Coffee Shops Turn Up The Air Conditioning To Stop Customers Staying Too Long?

No. Coffee shop owners do not jack down the thermostat so your chilly body craves more – and more – hot stuff inside it.

There are plenty of internet posts claiming that coffee shops deliberately freeze their customers out. But let’s unpack this claim.

Statistics say that coffee shop owners can double their customer base by providing a nice place to stay awhile. Let’s say that again. Double. The. Customers.

Of course coffee shop owners want to make a buck. And for a coffee shop owner to make the biggest buck, they know their shop needs to be a friendly, appealing, and comfortable space that folks will want to linger in.

T​hat’s why they provide comfy sofas, tables and chairs. And fast internet for customers to browse or work. And great coffee served by friendly baristas. And a small assortment of yummy snacks. And a clean bathroom.

Coffee shop owners do all that to double their customer base. The cold shop – well, that just happens in small spaces with lots of ways to let freezing air in. It’s not deliberate.

Are Coffee Shops Cold Because They Don’t Make Much Money? 

S​ure, a handful of small coffee shop owners may be turning down the thermostat to save money. But heating costs are not the largest expense they’ve got. The largest expenses are labor and coffee.

S​tatistically, most coffee shops operate in the black financially. That’s because, unlike restaurants, coffee shops have lower overheads. And coffee has a high margin.

A​ coffee shop’s monthly expenses will vary by town, city and state. But on average, according to Toast, the cost to operate a coffee shop monthly runs between $13,000 and $65,000.

Of those costs, the number one and two costs are labor and food, each of which can cost up to $25,000 per month.

Toast says that the average utility bills run between $1,000 and $1,200 a month. That’s between 2% and 8% of the total monthly bills. Utility bills just aren’t that big a deal.

I​nterested in opening your own coffee shop? Here’s the Toast reference

Are Coffee Shops Kept Cold So You Buy More Hot Drinks?
Are Coffee Shops Kept Cold So You Buy More Hot Drinks?

Are Their Legal Limits On Hot & Cold Temperatures in Coffee Shops & Cafes?

Currently, O​SHA (Occupational Health & Safety Administration) recommends that employers of all kinds keep their thermostats set between 68° and 78°. 

OSHA sets a large range, instead of a single temperature, because human beings handle temperatures differently. And, finally, here is the final piece of the “why are coffee shops so cold” puzzle. Honestly, not everyone finds them too cold. 

Human bodies react to temperature differently. Doctors say that your gender, your height, your metabolism, and your overall lifestyle all affect how your body manages temperature. So what may be a freezing room for one may be just right for another. Or, it may be too hot.

Final Words on ‘Cold’ Coffee Shops

S​o: the next time your coffee shop seems cold, consider the temperature outside. Baby, is it cold outside?

Is the outside door constantly letting folks in and out? How about a drive-through window that opens and closes non-stop? 

I​s your favorite coffee shop packed or empty?

Finally, look around. Are some folks still wearing jackets while some have shed them? That’s because all bodies handle temperature differently. 

Try some layers, or take some off. Just make sure you enjoy your coffee! 🙂