Of all the popular restaurant concepts out there, the one that never ceases to amaze me is the coffee shop. Not since the dawn of the bookstore (with coffee stand) has there been a business model based on customers just hanging out, taking up space with little if any intention of significant purchase.
Think about it. You go in and pay upwards of $2 for a cup of drip coffee, or four to five bucks for some fancy iced coffee, latte or cappuccino. Then you doctor your java with all of these free condiments—Half & Half or soy milk, sweetener (artificial or “sugar in the raw”), and cinnamon or some other enhancement—before sitting down to enjoy it for an hour or three with all of your caffiends (friends who share the same penchant for coffee. And yes, I just now made up that term).
After about 100 tiny sips, the contents of your eight-ounce mug will eventually disappear and it will be time for more. But wait. Free refills for drip? Awesome!
I get it to some extent. The actual “cost” of a cup of coffee in a reusable mug is pennies on the dollar, making for one of the highest profit margins known to man. However, this profit diminishes exponentially with every half hour someone camps at a table where a fresh customer might sit. That’s why most traditional restaurants focus on how many times they can turn a table during the course of a day. Why do you think they keep the temperature near sub-zero and leave the check when you refuse leave?
You could argue that a bar is a business model where hanging out is not only tolerated, but also highly encouraged. That’s because bar patrons are likely to order another costly beverage about every 45 minutes—or leave. Alcohol does have a way of intoxicating customers towards a natural end to the bar visit. Coffee, on the other hand, has the opposite effect it seems.
Like alcohol, coffee has very social aspects to its consumption. “Having coffee” is the perfect excuse to meet up with friends, co-workers, clients and potential persons of interest prior to the decision of asking them out on a proper date. In fact, in this day and age of the “virtual office,” coffee shops offer an exceptional middle ground for pitching ideas and sealing business deals. That is, unless you abuse this “virtually free” meeting space.
I’m referring to those freelancers and other independent worker bees who use the coffee shop as their office. They come in, order a cup of coffee and milk the privilege of sitting at a table by spending their entire work day hunkered down over a laptop with earphones, tuning out the same ambiance intended for normal patrons. Personally, I blame WiFi. Free Internet has a way of creating freeloaders.
Then there are those artsy types who feel the coffee shop is the perfect venue for writing their screenplay, sketching people who aren’t even there, editing videos for YouTube and performing other activities they’d never be caught dead doing in another type of restaurant or bar. Coffee house campers are an interesting breed of intelligent but slightly pretentious folk who seem to feel like the world, or at least the coffee shop, owes them a lot more than $2 they paid in.
Lucky for us, the Noog offers a wealth of great coffee houses in which to kill a lot of time. Greyfriar’s, Stone Cup, Toast and Rembrandt’s offer award-winning java roasted and brewed by local, in-house coffee artisans. Even the shops that serve signature blends of our own local Velo brand—like my favorite coffee house, Mean Mug—offer pleasant alternatives to Starbuck’s. So please, visit all of these places, sit for a spell and enjoy a good cup of Joe. Just don’t let the door hit ya on the way out.
Chuck Crowder is a local writer and general man about town. His opinions are his own.