What do modern-day consumers expect from coffee shops?
Intelligentsia’s director of innovation, Bailey Manson, speaks to Jenna Gottlieb about what coffee shops can do to increase footfall in a post-pandemic era.
Although the past few years may one day be looked back on as a blip in the hospitality industry, many in the coffee sector have found silver linings in all the chaos.
For one, there has been greater focus than ever on home coffee brewing. Prosumers have more options than ever when it comes to home espresso machines. However, this also means that modern-day consumers are changing their expectations when they visit coffee shops.
Specifically, some coffee consumers now expect more from cafés, especially if they’re confident they can brew excellent coffee at home. Many professionals now believe that coffee consumer standards are higher than ever.
Cafés are responding in a variety of ways: some are expanding their menu options to appeal to new markets, while others are focusing on creating experiential environments that facilitate a more holistic coffee experience.
For many businesses, a focus on quality is a good place to start. A recent World Coffee Portal survey found that 96% of UK consumers believe coffee quality is important when making a coffee shop purchase.
Furthermore, the modern idea of coffee quality goes hand-in-hand with consumers’ increasing concerns around sustainability. To that end, Bailey Manson, Director of Innovation at Intelligentsia, explains that coffee shops need to do more than simply buy Fairtrade coffee.
“I am not all that impressed by Fairtrade coffees and don’t see them as all that important for the long-term sustainability of producing high-quality coffee,” he explains. “Organic coffees have been important for a long time. They are not the be all and end all, but they are important and valuable.”
In addition to organic coffee, he believes that businesses should focus on including plant-based milk on their menus, as this has become a common customer expectation. According to a recent survey, nearly three-quarters of consumers indicated they had tried plant-based milk, with 60% reporting they had consumed these products in a café.
“(Plant-based milks) have been important for a long time, and they’ve been growing for a long time,” Bailey adds.
How have service expectations changed?
In addition to changing their offerings to align with consumer expectations, coffee shops have also adopted new approaches to customer service and the growing demand for convenience.
In fact, many coffee shops have found a way to strike a balance between hospitality and convenience that – to a certain extent – maintains the status quo: superautomatic espresso machines. Equipment like the Carimali SilverAce can brew espresso as well as a variety of powder-based drinks, making it ideal for scenarios where the barista has a range of orders to fulfil.
Not only do these machines help baristas serve customers faster, but this freed-up time can then be used to engage with customers about the coffees the café serves, the brewing process, and whatever else the customer may be interested in.
“You can just click a button,” Bailey adds. “What else are you going to do besides engaging with people and being helpful?”
Ultimately, however, despite changes in approach to quality and convenience, Bailey thinks that the answer to what customers want is unclearer than ever.
“I see three main options that different types of consumers clearly want, and we’re all trying to determine what’s next,” he elaborates. “Which model is most desired and will win out?”
The first option, he says, is something akin to the Starbucks model, where the coffee shop is all about scale.
“In this case, hospitality is sufficiently accommodating, but it’s really about throughput and getting a baseline of quality across the counter, focused on milk and sugar,” he explains.
On the other hand, he says, some specialty coffee shops are less concerned with size and numbers and more focused on elaborate design and high-quality coffee. Finally, there’s a newly-emerging balance between the two.
“Blank Street Coffee is kind of throwing a wrench into everything,” Bailey notes, pointing to the company’s ability to sell lots of coffee from multiple small-footprint locations.
“It’s somewhere in-between when it comes to quality – certainly far closer to us than Starbucks – and they do it in a very small footprint focused on throughput. There’s nothing new here, but it’s a new arrangement of various options, and it appears to be rapidly succeeding.”
The importance of the experience & the appeal of convenience
Despite the growth of app-based delivery options and the focus on self-service commerce during the pandemic, the long-held values of polite and kind hospitality have emerged relatively unscathed. Bailey believes that these values will never go away, but that quick service is especially important these days.
“Lately, there is an increasing desire for speed of service and convenience,” he explains. “More than ever, people are interested in skipping the entire hospitable interaction so they can just walk in and pick up their latte at the mobile order counter.”
However, while the experience of being in a coffee shop is still absolutely important, it’s not essential to everyone.
“Plenty of people just want to come in, move through the transaction and leave with their coffee,”Bailey explains. “I’m not sure how important the experience is in that scenario.”
Furthermore, digital transactions in coffee shops, including app-based deliveries, are continuing to grow. In fact, data from Project Café UK 2022 found that 61% of 50,000 UK consumers downloaded a coffee shop app, and 36% had purchased a beverage to pick up from a coffee shop over the past year.
However, coffee shops remain “third places” for many consumers, doubling as spaces where people can linger, work, and socialise.
“Coffee shops have been a sanctuary for the intelligentsia from the beginning,” Bailey adds. “It’s a place for you to work through your ideas and build them up. It’s a place for collaboration and the sharing of ideas.”
As such, the role of lighting and music sets the ambience for each café, and consumers spend time where they’re most comfortable based on their tastes. With this in mind, the coffee sector is witnessing a rise in experiential coffee shops that offer more than just a simple brew.
“What is important about the experience in a coffee shop going forward is that it’s not just a sanctuary for the intelligentsia, but that all different kinds of people should feel welcome,” Bailey concludes.
“It’s a place to come and enjoy a pleasant coffee and be stimulated by the coffee, the ambience, the music, and the people around them.”