Coffee Shops Have Always Supplied More Than Just a Drink

Wednesday December 4, 2013 // By Matthew Moseley

Since the origin of coffee houses, shops, and cafes; they have been supplying more than just coffee.  “A Penny for your thoughts”  a common phrase that most of us are familiar with actually spawned from the original culture of coffee shops.  Many of these shops charged merely a penny for an unlimited coffee supply.  Why would they do that?  These establishments allowed for a common meeting place that incited discussion of society, politics, and economics.  A patron of one of these shops returned time after time not for the drinks themselves, but for the social discourse about current affairs and news as well as academic debate on political and economic policies.   This was also the reason early coffee shops began to be dubbed as “Penny Universities.”  They served as a public, non-segregatory location for citizens of every walk of life to engage and contribute in discussion and dispersion of ideas, or learning.  Admittance into this conversation was the real value offered by these early coffee houses. They were selling an experience and information, which was merely supplemented by the coffee helping to fuel the debating.

You might be saying that’s well and fine, but what does it mean to me? In much the same manner, coffee shops and cafes today rely heavily on supplementing the staple product, coffee.  This could take the form of a comfortable atmosphere, unique decor, access to internet, serving food items, maintaining a loyalty program or live entertainment.  In today’s world, we refer to this as differentiation, but it’s similar to the historical roots of coffee shops.  Each location offered a unique crowd, insight on a topic, or sentiment on an issue.  So what’s the conversation in your coffee shop or cafe?

It’s vital to discover what it is about your shop that has drawn in and kept your customers interested.  Delineating what aspect of your business is most valuable or easiest to leverage can be difficult.  So take some time to understand your customer base, try to engage in conversations with them, and deliver a unique experience they will want to share with friends and colleagues.  Many aspects affect your customers’ interests; anything from geographic location, surrounding establishments, consumer demographics and more may influence consumer wants and needs.  For example,  coffee shops located very near universities and large schools would most likely benefit from friendly, welcoming staff and a quiet, laid back atmosphere, one that’s conducive to studying; whereas, a coffee shop in the heart of a business district may find the most value in an efficient, skilled staff that completes orders rapidly, in order to meet their customers’ strict time constraints.

Here, I will leave you with one closing thought; understand exactly what it is that customers are using your shop or cafe for it may be social reasons, increased productivity, or simply a place of leisure.  Whatever it is though be sure to know why they value that aspect so that it can be leveraged.

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