On the eve of the easing of the pandemic lockdown, I have been inundated with emails and messages from excited revellers all preparing for the big lift in an attempt to recapture the pre-pandemic spirit, but one can’t help thinking the big lift may not match their expectations.
With the government looking to kick start the economy post-coronavirus, and pubs and restaurants frantically working towards resuming an element of business as usual. I have heard a lot of talk of pre-booked tables, drinks ordered by App and staff swathed in PPE.
I recall a recent visit to a well-known coffee house that set me thinking of the future. My wife and I ventured beyond the front gate and took a Sunday morning drive to Starbucks, which has previously been the epicentre of our weekend. After a short drive filled with anticipation, the green mermaid loomed over the parked cars and we saw the bobbing heads of the queue… a queue? A keen member of staff politely but efficiently directed me to my spot, ‘Follow the arrows sir and stay in your circle.” After 25 minutes of slowly inching forward, we finally reached the front. “Two large caramel macchiatos please.” After the briefest of transactions, our hastily scribbled cups were passed down the line and we moved along.
After a 30 minute ordeal, we finally receive our drinks. Then we realise… of course there’s nowhere to sit, or stand or even loiter. And there was no “Good morning, how are you today?”. No name scribbled on the side of the cups. No, “Two large macchiatos for Tony!”. And that is what was missing – the Starbucks experience. We strolled back to the car, balanced our coffee in the cup holder and headed home.
Some brands are built around the concept of minimal human experience. Yo Sushi for example has none of the chit chat. You grab what you want from a conveyer belt and the human interaction is kept to a minimum. But, it’s novel and is an experience in itself.
However, Starbucks have always made a concerted effort to humanise their experience. They ask your name – and often remember it! Create environments akin to a living rooms, which serve as a great pit stops to work or read when you’re at a loose end. And it comes as no surprise that their core purpose puts people, not coffee, at the heart of their brand – To inspire and nurture the human spirit.
But when all that is taken away, and you’re not agile enough to remodel, reinvent or replace that experience quickly, all you’re left with is a coffee, its great coffee – but it’s still just coffee.
Like many others during the lockdown, we have missed some things and re-evaluated others. But as time progresses, it’ll be interesting to consider how many of the things we really missed, move into the re-evaluation column.
I for one sincerely hope that experience is in re-evaluation at Starbucks’s. But for now at least and until they resolve it, I’ll return to being a home barista.