What does the future look like for cafés?

Cosimo Libardo

CEO at Carimali Holding (Carimali, Elektra, Slingshot)

Our guest contributor today certainly has extensive knowledge of the coffee sector. Over the last 22 years, Cosimo has managed several companies across different continents, involving various aspects of the coffee supply chain.

Cosimo's professional journey began at Nuova Simonelli in 1998, managing the US market, where he witnessed the start of the specialty movement. This inspired him to get further involved, which he did by participating in WBC’s sponsorship and volunteering for SCAE (Speciality Coffee Association Europe). He became President of the SCAE in 2014, promoting the foundation of the Barista Guild of Europe.

In 2014 he moved to Australia to manage Toby’s Estate Coffee, before returning to Italy in 2018 to become Group CEO for Carimali Holding. Cosimo currently sits on the Specialty Coffee Association’s Board of Directors.

The Future of Cafes.

Covid-19 changed the direction of our lives in matter of days.

I bet anyone we know would agree with this statement, whether individuals or businesses. Some say covid-19 has determined a paradigm shift that will change our lives and the way we do things forever. Some say things will go back to where they were in no time, as we don’t want to change the way we live. I believe, as usually happens, the truth is somewhere in the middle: we will re-establish what was existing before, but it will take some time and tweaks to the way we do it. Speaking of the “café life”, which we all still love, we will definitely see some changes.

The Acceleration of

Portable & Flexible Experiences

Consumer behaviour was already evolving pre-covid: customers were demanding improved portability of the flavour experience – for example with ready to drink cold brew – while requesting a broader offer of experience paths within the café space. I believe covid-19 has had the effect of simultaneously accelerating and blending these two trends into the demand for portable and flexible experiences. Safety will be a concern at the beginning and will definitely influence consumer behaviour. Manufacturers are starting to respond by offering contactless solutions for customers to pay and brew their coffee drink without touching the machine: Carimali created a new QR code platform for example, which allows customers to operate the machine from their phone screen. The user simply aims their phone camera at the QR code, positions the cup, then confirms the selection on their mobile screen – which is effectively a copy of the machine screen. Perception of safety will definitely be a selling factor in the short term. For this reason, UV-C modules to sanitise objects, such as ceramic cups, are quickly proliferating. The initial quest for enhanced safety, over the next twelve months, is expected to fade into demand of a coffee experience available where people want it. Coffee will likely travel to more and more customers, rather than having them travelling to a café to get it. Don’t get me wrong: cafes will still exist and be loved by many, but the ones that will do well, are the ones that will become a destination and go the distance...


Diversification is the obvious word. Customers will want to have options when they go to a café; from a take away window, to a coffee flight brewed at their table, paired with a unique food experience. Some do not want to go inside a café, yet they like great food in a bag and coffee to grab and go. Some will want to sit comfortably inside, while taking their time and enjoying the vibe around them. Workflow architecture and the counter’s role within the café space will have to be reviewed to allow for this kind of flexibility. New types of services have also started to appear, like home delivery, where the most sophisticated operators offer a gourmet croissant or eggs any style, newspaper and flat whites. Modifying the offer depending on the time of the day / week will also be a way to differentiate. I do recognise running a menu that changes many times a week is operationally challenging but, on the other hand, it does create an opportunity for differentiation and customer retention.


Mobilisation will be the extension of diversification. Homes and offices will likely demand ad hoc delivery of food and beverage experiences. Enthusiastic customers in love with what their favourite café has to offer, will definitely think of that. This is something that’s quite tricky to do, especially for quality coffee drinks, but technology is now starting to help: on the horizon there is a new generation of light weight, energy saving, espresso and coffee machines that use induction to heat water. They will be a lot easier to carry around, potentially on mobile carts, scooters and bikes, as they can be battery operated. This will open a new frontier for light mobile coffee service.


In order to be mobile and flexible, a digital experience will become the extention of the physical one. This will extend all the way to people’s homes to create a deeper connection with a more loyal customer base. Sharing a café’s values, practices and quality is important for many customers. They need to be provided a clear “why” your café is more likeable over your neighbouring competitor; they need to recognise themselves in what you do. A digital platform is key to create this interaction, knowing who your customers are and why they like your offering. In addition, digital platforms allow the café to take orders and payments in, schedule deliveries, record preferences, share promotions or give rewards that are intrinsically connected and amplify the physical café experience. Technology nowadays has made huge progress in this space, just by looking at what companies like Deliveroo or Peloton have achieved in their respective space. Obviously the café won’t have the possibility to do that on its own, but roasters or equipment suppliers / manufacturers could start offering this new service as part of a package. The world of coffee is about to get a whole lot more interesting, against its own will. Operators that are best at offering accessible experiences will be the winners of this new phase.

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"Operators that are best at offering accessible experiences will be the winners of this new phase"