Cup and away: How to choose the right coffee machine for your pub

By Georgina Townshend

- Last updated on GMT

Full of beans: Why a great cup of coffee will keep customers happy
Full of beans: Why a great cup of coffee will keep customers happy

Related tags Coffee Ucc coffee uk

As the popularity of coffee shows no signs of abating, customers expect to get a high-quality beverage wherever they go – including pubs. The Morning Advertiser (MA) looks at the machines that can help you deliver what your customers want.

When it comes to choosing a commercial coffee machine, publicans have a much harder choice than their customers – who just pick between a cappuccino, latte or mocha.

Licensees will have to find the right balance between quality, expense, service time, style, staff and position.

Not only that, the choices and ranges of machine can seem endless, from options including filter machines, bean-to-cup machines and traditional barista-style service, to vending and
pod machines.

Each have pros and cons, and as technology continues to evolve and consumer expectations soar, MA​ takes a look at what is on offer for pubs – and how modern coffee machines can be a great tool in adding extra profit.

According to research by UCC Coffee UK & Ireland there is a significant opportunity for pubs to increase trade through better coffee, with consumers rating the quality on offer as merely average – with a rating of just three out of five.

UCC Coffee head of category & insight Phil Smith says that as the coffee market has “segmented brilliantly” in the past five years, customers expect to get a
high-street-style coffee wherever they go – including pubs.

“Consumers want a good-quality
coffee,” says Smith. “And, by good quality I don’t necessarily mean having the best, most expensive bean in the world, or the biggest, fanciest machine – it just has to be consistent.

“And it has to be what consumers expect – a cappuccino, a latte, whatever it may be. So, the basic trend over the past few years and going forward is that consumers not only go to your high street chains now, they will go anywhere that they feel is going to have a good cup of coffee.”

For pubs to meet these high demands, Smith says it can be as easy as the touch of a button.

“Technology is getting better,” he explains. “There’s much more acceptance now in fully automatic coffee machines. And, by that, we mean a machine that does everything for you.

“All you need to do is fill it full of beans and milk, and you will get a very high-quality, consistent, coffee come out the end of it.

“One place where people go wrong, and especially in a premises where coffee is not your most popular item, is trying to get the theatre of big traditional machine – the Italian way of making
coffee – which tends to be quite a skilled operation.

“People feel they have to have one of these machines on the back bar. But really, for a place where coffee is going to be a bit down the list in popularity, compared to beer or food, you want something that has a small footprint, makes an excellent cup of coffee and will continue to work and work, and drive revenue for you.”

Smith says that UCC’s Black&White4c model, which is targeted at pubs, is an example of this.

“It’s a hard-working machine, it will produce all the different styles of coffee a publican could ever want, it has a small footprint and it can make up to 130 cups a day.”

Allied Drinks Systems sales manager Steve Causton agrees, and says that while the machines on the market have not changed “a great deal” since they were brought into the pub industry, the latest innovation is touch screen – which could mean a lot less hassle for publicans.

And while this could add a few digits to the price tag, an automatic touchscreen coffee machine would be a lot easier for staff members to use, maintain and clean, he says.

“Nowadays pubs have to be a coffee shop, a restaurant, a wet pub, you have to have children’s areas – so you don’t want to be tied to a coffee machine 24/7.

“If you can afford to have someone making coffee for you all the time on a barista machine then that will be the best one for you.

“But if you haven’t, a bean to cup is probably the way to go. With new touch-screen technology, they really do come alive.”

Pros and cons

One of the joys of the touch screen is that staff can press on a picture of the drink ordered, and it will be made.

However, Honest Coffees marketing manager Tim Morris says there are benefits to having the larger, traditional coffee machines, such as Honest’s La Spaziale S5.

“These barista-style machines capture all the theatre and authenticity of a brilliant coffee-making experience. All our traditional espresso machines come with optional on-site barista training, so you can’t go wrong.

“They are perfect for delivering the best-tasting coffee you can get, made to your personal taste, and giving the most options possible from a machine. It also makes a conversation piece, everyone will love hearing how you use finer grind for espressos and thicker for lattes.”

However, he warns that delivering the ‘perfect coffee’ takes time, and sites that have high staff turnover can sometimes see inconsistent drink-making.

“Not everyone is a professional barista,” he explains.


While Allied Drinks’ Causton says pubs could find it easier to use (and clean) a bean-to-cup machine with a powdered milk facility, Beanmachines director Matthew Deasy says licensees are moving away from this technology.

“With the growing popularity of coffee machines that have new milk whipping systems, pubs are moving away from non-milk-based systems,” he explains.

“A lot of pubs had the old vending machines in them. Now with your home user getting a real cup of coffee, and buying real coffee machines, it’s more or less impossible to offer a freeze-dried coffee solution, and it’s the same with powdered milk.

“We drink so much cappuccino and latte, especially compared to the EU, we are very dependent on the milk side of things. You will find that a lot of pub owners have got an old vending machines, or powdered milk machines, and were finding that locals would drink it once, and think ‘I’m not buying this again’.”

However, Causton warns that fresh milk machines – especially ones with steaming wands to froth milk – need a lot of attention.

Honest Coffees’ Morris says that manufacturer WMF is coming out with a powdered milk version of their new 1100s range this spring, which he says will be “both fantastic value for money and a breeze to maintain”.

But, if it is fresh milk that publicans are after, UCC’s Smith says that, to get around messy pipes, there are machines on the market that are essentially self-cleaning, such as the Black&White3 CTM.

“Another new innovation is the cleaning systems in automatic coffee machines. With any coffee machine that has milk going through it, the build-up of milk is not a nice thing if it’s left to go stale and heats up. Nowadays the machines are so simple and will clean everything for you, which means very little onus on the publican to make sure that all the milk is cleaned out of the machine at night. It can just be a case of pushing a couple of buttons and putting a few tablets in and giving it a couple of minutes to do its thing, then you are off and ready again.”

Quality on smaller footprint

Of course, not every publican will have the space for a barista-style coffee machine on the back bar, but that doesn’t have to be a problem.

Mike Hardman, from Alliance Online, says that if pubs are limited on space, but still want a traditional coffee machine, look for models that have all the accessories – like the bean grinder, steaming wand and hot water dispenser – built in. Think about how many drinks you’ll be serving, and how quickly you want to serve them, to determine what size you need.

“If space is at a premium in your pub but you want to offer top-quality hot drinks, one thing to look out for is an all-in-one machine like the Expobar Zircon,” he says.

“This keeps your coffee grinder, steam tap, water tap, group heads, cups and even a waste drawer within a small footprint.”

Causton says that “big flashy machines” can sometimes sit on a bar and not be used because of a lack of time and understanding.

“I have seen £3,000 to £6,000 machines sitting on the back of the bar and, when you ask for a coffee, staff can’t be bothered, or don’t know how, to use that machine – which is a huge waste of money.

“Think about the position of the machine, what you want to portray, because that’s really important,” he explains.

“If you are going to put the machine in the kitchen, something that is going to be good quality bean to cup, it doesn’t have to look fantastic, doesn’t have to be front of shop, then you can probably get away with a machine that is going to be basic that does the job and gives the taste.

“This way you’re not skimping on taste, but skimping on the way it looks.

“If it is front of shop, you may want to get something that is going to be a little bit showier.

“You are trying to hit all three senses. Something that looks nice, smells good, and tastes fantastic. If you can hit all three, you’re on to a winner.”

Star Pubs & Bars says finding machines that would deliver consistent quality coffee to its licensees was vital, and it has recently negotiated new coffee supplier deals for its licensees because of it.

It is partnering with UCC, suppliers to Waitrose, McDonald’s and Greggs, for bean-to-cup and traditional coffee, and with hospitality specialist K-Fee for capsule coffee to ensure all pubs have a solution suitable for their business.

As well as coffee, the deals include sales building advice and a three-year fixed-price agreement covering machines, installation, training, servicing and repairs.

“If a pub sells 30 cups of coffee a day, it’ll make nearly £20,000 profit a year, so it’s worth taking your coffee offer seriously,” says Star Pubs & Bars buying director Steve Dancer.

“Research shows that 44% of customers won’t return to a pub where they’re served bad coffee so it’s got to be good or it will impact on the sale of food and other drinks.

“While the quality has to be great, feedback from our licensees also shows that easy delivery is a priority for many.

“Bean-to-cup machines are the solution here; advances in technology mean quality isn’t compromised and all staff have to do is push a button. There’s minimal staff training – ideal for pubs with a high number of part-time bar staff and in an industry with relatively high staff turnover – and preparation is quick, which keeps staffing levels down.

“If there’s only one or two staff covering the bar, service will be affected if making a coffee takes too long,” says Dancer.

For community pubs and those dipping their toes into the coffee market for the first time, Star found that capsule coffee often works best.

“It’s a safe option – the machines are low skill, but the coffee quality is good and there’s no wastage and very little maintenance and cleaning,” adds Dancer.

However, Morris warned that while pod, or capsule, machines are a convenient time-saver, the pods are poor value for money and are relatively expensive compared to instant, ground, and whole bean coffee, and there are very limited options for recycling the plastic they are made from.

Coffee is a fantastic way to draw customers in the typically quieter hours for pubs and can be a great upsell at the end of a meal.

Although there is an upfront investment in the equipment, high-profit margins mean a machine should pay off in the long-run.

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