Your place is not Starbucks. Your product and service is far better and you'd like to pull some regulars from the coffee corporation. It's overwhelming to contemplate competing with the coffee company that has international brand recognition. However, you shouldn't imitate Starbucks (or parody Starbucks) in order to compete.
So, here are 8 ways you can serve your customers excellently, retain your ethos and still compete with the coffee giant:
Make your goods with high quality ingredients and be transparent about it.
Starbucks has been reamed lately on this front. Serving high quality drinks and being transparent about it will greatly differentiate you from the corporation. Don't mug-sling on Starbucks in the process, simply be clear about what you offer.
Be literally transparent - let customers see baristas crafting their drink.
Maybe it’s just because I’m short - but it always bothers me that I can’t see if someone is making my drink or what they’re putting into it at Starbucks. I order and the cashier writes some code on a cup, passes it down the line and it pops up filled at the end of the counter with a shout of my name, like a factory. Let people see that their drinks are being crafted, not mass produced. Make sure your baristas feel comfortable asking the customers questions if there is anything they are unsure about. You don’t want a barista feeling rushed or creating a less-than-stellar customized drink because of being watched by a customer. If you’re using high quality ingredients and have excellent baristas, there should be no worries about being transparent.
Serve niche, exotic baked goods that the average person wouldn’t make at home.
I love Starbucks' lemon pound cake as much as the next customer, but I would be more likely to remember and rave to others about the vegan/GF coconut cookie at The Morning Times (and I’m not strictly vegan/GF). Serve a unique creation that your customers would want and that they can't make from a mix at home. They'll be more likely to remember it, crave it and rave about it.
Don’t be too cool for Starbucks customers.
If you want to pull in and keep Starbucks customers, you need to be at least somewhat friendly to them. A friend of mine was in Nashville frequenting local coffee shops and I asked how it was going. She said when she was visiting them that there were “hipsters everywhere haha, like hardcore ones that seem opposed to everything I am”. She added “We all just walked into one and people just stared...” If your main customers are hipsters - great. But if you want to pull customers from Starbucks and keep them, simply make sure the environment doesn’t seem hostile toward preppy white girls (after all, they’re people too).
This should be a given, but I’ve been in places that it’s not and I’ve heard it said that you shouldn’t have it because you want to move people through as fast as possible. I say nay to that because Starbucks kills at moving people through fast and being transactional with them. You’re different, right? If you have any place to sit and hang out, free WiFi is a necessity. Plus, it is an inherent expectation of a coffee shop. Also, make your WiFi as easy and obvious to get on as possible and without timed limits. Free, convenient WiFi is the coffee shop standard, not a bonus.
Parking, parking, parking.
If you can’t provide a parking lot, think about comping parking fare upon request or making a deal with a local parking garage. This may sound crazy, but I had to decide what coffee shop to go to a few weeks ago and it actually came down to parking. In my area I have the choice to drive 2 miles away from town to go to a Starbucks that has free, unlimited parking or 2 miles downtown to go to a local coffee shop that has only street-metered parking. I needed a place to work and didn't want to worry about a meter or time limit, so unfortunately the cheaper, less-hassle option won. Had parking not been an issue, the local shop would have sold at least one more drink that day.
When contemplating an investment in parking, as with any investment, it's best to complete some sort of cost-benefit analysis before deciding. You already knew that though.
Be relational with customers.
Remember Judy? People came because they had a relationship with her. Encourage your employees to be themselves, have fun and get to know customers well. Don’t rush customers, talk with them. Like I noted earlier, Starbucks is incredibly good at moving people through quickly. That’s not you - you wait on customers promptly but you also craft a drink for them and people are more likely to wait for quality. Starbucks is mass-produced. You are not and you don’t need to rush to seem like you are. Give people plenty of time to order and they will be more likely to give you plenty of time to complete their order. Talk to them in relational, non-transactional ways and they will likely reciprocate.
Get out there and make friends.
Starbucks is a well-known trusted brand. You have a great coffee place that’s unfortunately not as well-known. Go do what you do and make friends too. Get to know other coffee places that are like yours - committed to a quality product, crafted and local. Support each other. Share and encourage one another. Get to know your employees and your customers. Figure out how to best serve them and just keep on at it.
All your work to improve and compete matters. If you truly want to compete though, you need to work at it. Not just read, talk or worry about it. You've got a quality coffee shop and people value quality - keep working to find the best.
More resources on how to compete with Starbucks:
How Regional Coffee Chains are Competing with National Heavy Hitters Like Starbucks by Adriana Lopez (Forbes)
How Do You Compete with Starbucks in the Coffee Industry by Peter Baskerville (Slate)