James Hoffmann has a post up about a recent experience at Blue Bottle in NYC, in which he talks a little about signifiers.
He’s right; it can really come down to little things when we’re trying to create things that will indicate to our customers that we are going to show them something unusual, something special and something nice. It’s worth noting, though, that there is still a much larger context at work, here. A linen napkin alone does not change expectations; it is simply the cherry on top of a beautiful buildout, a long-term local branding strategy, an online marketing program, a continued program of excellent coffee, etc etc.
We definitely need to be better about advancing this kind of thing; linen napkins count. A glass of water with espresso counts. But these are little things; they won’t outweigh a robotic staff in paper hats or a neglected training program. But if you have a well-trained, service oriented staff serving amazing coffee with passion and humility, a nice napkin or a glass of water might be the tipping point that makes your customers start to notice that you really are a little different.