Café Culture : My Top 5 Café Interior Tips To Help Your Business Thrive

We all know how much Melbournian's love to eat out… if we could afford it we’d happily café hop from breakfast to lunch daily!  And why not when café culture is well and truly ingrained in the fabric of life here in Melbourne.  Coffee is that one affordable luxury we all have to have and for many Melbournian's, including me, it has now become a daily ritual to enjoy a fresh barista made coffee in a fabulously designed cafe interior.

Sarah Elshaug : Tuesday 23rd January 2018

Lello Pasta Bar, on Melbourne's iconic Flinders Lane, has undergone a recent refresh of its cafe interior (design by Maitland Street Interiors), setting it up to thrive in the competitive cafe industry. Interior Stylist: Sarah Elshaug, Maitland Street Interiors.  Photographer : Stephanie Rooney

In fact, according to Hospitality Magazines’ recent industry report titled “Eating Out in Australia 2017; Fast Food to Fine Dining — State of the Industry”, eating out IS big business. 

“There are just over 24 million Australians, who eat out an average of two to three times a week. That’s more than 50 million meals out each week, or 2.5 billion in a year. Each Australian household spends an average of $94 a week eating out. That’s a total of $45 billion a year.”

And, with beautifully designed cafe interiors and equally as pretty and nutritious food available on what seems like every street corner, the café industry in Melbourne has become uber competitive.  For the newbies on the block, cashed up and ready to chase their dreams, café life seems effortless.  But if you have been running a café for 5-10 years it can feel daunting trying to stay relevant with these trendy young entrepreneurs making their mark in the industry! 

So here are my top 5 interior tips on how to ‘keep up with the Jones’s’ in the café biz by making some simple updates to refresh your café interior and reach a new found following in Melbourne’s café culture.  And because we all admire a stylish interior I’ve included my 5 favourite Melbourne café interiors to demonstrate the essence of how you too can thrive by implementing these simple refresh ideas.

1. Feature Lighting & Paneling

With so many custom lighting designers in Melbourne we are spoilt for choice when it comes to lighting design.  For a small investment, creating bespoke and memorable light fittings to compliment your café’s style will add instant wow factor.  Bespoke lighting adds interest at the Penny Drop Cafe, referencing penny’s dropping from the ATO office above the café.  Simple timber battens on the wall also add visual interest and warmth to the space as they effortlessly follow the curved wall. 

The Penny Drop Café, Box Hill.  Interior Design: We Are Huntly, Photography: Brooke Holm.

2. Unique Art

From a custom mural to large scale original paintings, Melbourne has a wealth of talented artists work to choose from.   And with a number of artists now producing their original works as limited edition prints, impressive artworks are now more affordable than ever. 

With a focus on celebrating their coffee credentials, Au79 in Abbotsford features a bespoke mural of a coffee plant created by artist Sammy Barry.  This unique artwork is the reference point for the sprawling indoor botanical garden that fills the space. 

Au79 Café, Abbotsford.  Interior Design: Mim Design, Photography: Peter Clarke.

3. Colour Palette

For a small investment you can use the services of an interior decorator or colour consultant to point you in the right direction.  But if you are feeling game, then a handy tip for choosing a new colour is to select a feature artwork first and then draw a colour from it to get you started.  You can then dial up or down the hue and tone of the colour to achieve the perfect compliment to your existing colour scheme.  And be sure to first trial whatever colour you choose by ordering an A4 brush out from Dulux and placing it on different walls throughout the day to see how the colour looks in the morning versus afternoon light. 

Creating a direct link between their ‘modern muse’, the Dutchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton, the deep ‘royal’ blue colour palette featured throughout Middletown café references Kate’s rise to the pinnacle of British high society within the Royal Family.  So I encourage you to get creative with colour!  

Middle Town, Prahran.  Interior Design: Studio Tate, Photography: Peter Clarke.

4. Greenery plus greenery plus greenery

I’m a firm believer that you can never have too much living greenery in a space.  Not only does it help to keep the air quality fresh, it adds a calming connection to nature whilst enjoying your favourite brunch.  Melbourne is home to plenty of indoor plant specialists, some of which offer an indoor garden maintenance service - perfect if you don’t fancy yourself or your team as green thumbs, allowing you to set and forget your greenery.   

At Higher Ground in Melbourne, an indoor garden is well considered in the context of the scale of the space.  In fact a small tree even grows front and centre drawing the eye up to the vacuous cathedral ceiling above. 

Higher Ground, Melbourne.  Interior Design: DesignOffice, Photography: Sean Fennessy.

5. Feature Tiles

Tiles make a great feature and can also hide some challenging structural anomalies; like concrete pillars, old bricks and tired bench fronts.  Refer to point 3 above for tips on colour selection, then choose tiles that effortlessly complement your overall colour scheme.  You may like to opt for a subtle approach with your tile choice if applying them to an area with scale.  Or for a smaller area, like the front of stair treads, choose a striking decorative hand painted tile for visual impact. 

Unique in its timber structure, the ‘house’ like framework at Kitty Burns is grounded by a beautifully tiled foundation plinth below.  Solid in structure, yet soft in palette the tiles are both functional and essential to the success of the design of the central coffee bar. 

Kitty Burns, Abbotsford.  Interior Design: Biasol Design Studio, Photography: Ari Hatzis.

Ahh these café interiors are stunning!  Yet design driven, aesthetically beautiful interiors like these are just one of the success factors of a thriving café.  According to the recent IBIS World, Café & Coffee Shops Industry Report, published in October 2017;

“An establishment's success is largely determined by its customer service, the price and quality of its products, and the overall cafe experience. Coffee quality is crucial, with the coffee brand, texture, temperature, milk, and even crema in an espresso becoming increasingly important to customers. An ability to understand and cater to specific characteristics of consumer demand has driven the success of some players, but has also been an obstacle for other businesses… operators must understand preferences for quality, taste, presentation, ambience and customer service.”

Therefore, in this highly competitive industry, it can be invaluable for you to not only consider an interior refresh for your café, but to also utilise the expertise of industry consultants such as Howard Tinker.  Howard, a Restaurant/Café Marketing Specialist, is the author of ‘More Bums on Seats’ and the Founder of Restaurant Profits.   When we spoke with Howard recently about what sets a successful café apart from the rest, he said:

“Café owners are no longer able to rely on the staples of good old fashioned food and service to have a successful café.  Nowadays diners choose destinations based on atmosphere, experience, and a place that fits with their values and lifestyle.  In order to be successful therefore, café owners need to embrace ideas from interior designers, artists, marketers, software technicians and artisans of all shapes and hues...  Welcome to the hospitality industry in the 21st century.”

So, with the New Year underway, now is a great time to start planning for your café’s success in 2018.  Set your goals, tap into the insights I’ve shared and consider engaging some industry expertise in order to boost your café’s potential.  Dream big, take action and success will follow!


For more tips on refreshing your café interior, hop on over to our Contact page and drop us a line.  We look forward to partnering with you to make your café thrive in 2018.

xx Sarah