This is where most of the challenges start. If you open a shop that fits into a defined existing genre/type then you and the customer are on a level playing field. They have an expectation of what you will offer and you should have a clear idea of what to provide them with and how to do so.
But what happens when you present people with a shop that can be seen as familiar but in reality is completely different?
I think that as a business you are responsible for communicating and explaining the differences. You have to manage expectation. In every case a customer’s satisfaction with a service is directly reliant on their expectation of said service.
Huge changes have happened at the high end of the coffee industry in recent times. There are a lot of variables that affect the taste of a cup of coffee, right through from farmer to barista and even the customer. Every step is being examined and we are now beginning to make the most of the incredible complexity that this beverage is capable of. This results in the possibility of a rich, varied and evolving experience for the drinker and a focus on provenance and quality that rewards the farmer directly.
For many people though this is not why they drink coffee. It has played a role for a very long time as a homogenous product that is used as a convenience/stimulant. People might discuss what makes a bad cup and a good cup but none of these drinkers have signed up for a naturally processed single estate that tastes of strawberries when they order a “cup of coffee”. They may well enjoy it, but it’s not what they were expecting.
The two products need to be separated; ideally you wouldn’t even use the same name. This brings us back to the original question. I am uncomfortable with being labelled as a coffee house, a café and even speciality coffee shop doesn’t seem to quite convey what we do properly. The term speciality has been over used in much advertising and leads to its own confusion.
It’s the Shop itself where Communication is the most effective. I have had many discussions with other shop owners and industry professionals whom argue that we should create an environment that people are familiar with but offer a speciality coffee product within this. In essence their idea is to ease people in and therefore they will be more likely to embrace it and find speciality coffee more accessible.
Through experience I have found the opposite to be true, you are just promising the customer one thing and delivering another. Sure there are successes, customers with knowledge of this approach to coffee are pleasantly surprised and you will have your converts. On mass though people are just generally annoyed. A good example of this is a friend of mine who bought his own machine and as a little experiment with some people who ran a pub. He set up in one part of the pub and run it as a café in the day. For him it provided the opportunity to serve great coffee to the people gaining valuable experience on the road to getting his own place. Ultimately, he experienced what I have just described (Also what we experienced in our first little café-esque shop). The defining experience was a very angry customer that accused him of experimenting on her with weird whacky coffees. “When I go to a pub and order a coffee I want a coffee that tastes like coffee”.
I think she has a fair point. Everything we do from shop design through to the advice given at the till has been developed from this singular point.
We are not a pub. We are not even a café. We are a quality driven specialist coffee shop. Our aim is to offer the best possible coffee experience.