Innovating Context: Ordering

(This post is a part of a series on innovating retail spaces for progressive coffee shops. The original post can be found HERE)

One of the most common features we find in coffee shops, from local meeting spots to high-end uber-progressive places, is the ordering style. One waits in line, one orders at the counter, pays, then waits for their beverage to be called out.

This feature is common in a much larger context than just coffee shops; this is how Chipotle works, this is how White Castle works, this is how virtually an entire segment of the food industry operates its ordering system – and for good reason! It’s efficient, it allows for a low labor cost, and it is so familiar to American consumers that they require no signage or instruction – we see the counter, we see the style of place, we know the drill. Let’s call this order style Counter Service.

I think that as progressive coffee people, we need to break this kind of context. If we keep presenting excellent coffee in the same style and context as folks serving less-stellar coffee, we can’t expect our customers to identify the difference between these places. Selling our coffee using the Counter Service model is perhaps not presenting ourselves as well as we could. This isn’t because we have poor customer service (though we sometimes do), but rather that humans identify patterns, and the Counter Service style is so familiar, and so associated with a certain kind of product, that it is a little crazy to do battle with those expectations.

What are the alternatives?

Well, what contexts do we associate with high quality food? To me, Table Service seems to be the highest broad ordering context that I associate with quality food – a party enters, is seated, and orders from someone who comes to them, and the food is then brought to them, and cleared, and so forth.

This kind of service could behoove what I think of as a classic continental cafe; ample food offerings, beer and wine, as well as an espresso menu. The more progressive American cafe seems less interested in food offerings – at least prepared foods, as we all know scones and muffins aren’t going anywhere. Without a broad food menu, I doubt the average ticket could support that kind of labor investment.

If we want to stick to high-end coffee, and avoid extensive prepared food menus (which may or may not be the best way to go – I think good food and good coffee can coexist), what is our best move? How can we combine the low-cost of Counter Service with the more desirable context of Table Service?

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2 thoughts on “Innovating Context: Ordering

  1. ERiC LEPiNE! says:

    A good hybrid would be having neither a counter nor tables but just a bar with bar seating. Probably only works well with a very small shop. But perhaps a latger shop could have a counter for the commuters and a bar for the people who would appreciate it?

  2. SAO says:

    I like the sound of that. Maybe have a whole separate system for to-go business? Alley-side service, maybe?

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