here's our setup: we keep an airpot filled with one type of coffee in the morning (from a fetco 2031e) until 11am for folks who bring in mugs or just want a caffeine fix. after 11am we only do pourovers on our hario v60 brew bar.

we usually have 4-5 regular coffees plus a decaf available on the pourover bar. all are light to medium roast. currently we have an ethiopia sidama guji gr. 4, a sumatra permata gayo, an el salvador santa rita SHG, a decaf brazil serra negra, a kenya gaturine estate, and a rwanda rushashi duhingekawa from coffeeshrub.

point being, it's a good variety of coffees to suit different tastes. they're all accompanied by three tasting notes in a succinct format - the kenya, for instance, reads "winey, clean, citrus." all the coffees take roughly four minutes to brew and are $2.00 for a twelve ounce. i like the layout and it's pretty simple to see what the options are and choose one.

 

here's my dilemma - lately we've had an increasing number of people walk into the shop in the afternoon and say "can i just get a regular coffee?" when i explain to them our method of brewing coffee and show them the coffee menu, i often get a look of exasperation - like they don't have the time or inclination to pick one of the coffees. i can understand how they arrived at this mindset, considering how most places brew coffee. i understand it even though it's ludicrous in any other context - you'd have to be an idiot to walk into, say, the crappiest of bars and refuse to pick between bud light and miller lite.

one of my employees has recently started to give people an americano, no questions asked, when this situation occurs. an americano is probably closest to what they want anyways - it tastes like coffee and most of the notes in our coffees will be lost by the time people dump cream and sugar into them anyways. it's simply a waste of our time and coffee to make exasperated people choose a varietal and spend four minutes brewing it when they just want something vaguely coffee flavored into which they can dump additives.

 

so my question is twofold, i suppose: 1) how do other shops deal with this quandary? 2) should i just start giving them americanos, no questions asked - or should i try to educate them?

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Andy,

 

It depends on how you approach it. 

 

Considering we've always done Americano instead of "regular" (drip) coffee. I would disagree. If you tailor your approach correctly, you will get the majority of customers to taste first.  A great Americano is a gateway for the average customer to take another step towards excellence -- whether it be straight espresso or a cup of pourover or siphon. [considering we only serve our siphon to stay and black only... that's an entirely different animal]

 

Why? You may ask.  Most people still grew up with, and are currently consuming Bulk brewed auto drip coffee. Most Americanos being served are horrid. Deliver an Americano that is better than all the coffee they've had before... explain what it is, how you do it. The cup should speak for itself. It's quick, it's by the cup fresh, and this plants the seed of "these guys know what they are talking about". From there it's just time, continuous education, and continued learning and growing in your craft.

 

1. Choose your customers - Your offerings will dictate your customers. Don't let customers dictate your offerings. 

 

2. Be proud of what YOU serve - Whether Americano, siphon, or pourover, be excited about what you do... and it shouldn't be lip service. Be real.

 

3. Tell the customer about the espresso -Give quick tasting notes when you brew or when you give it to the customer. The more receptive, the more you can say. But always saying something lets the customer know that YOU are doing something special. For us, this week it's been, "Today's espresso is Sweet Surrender, we roast everything on site in small batches so we rotate frequently. This is a two bean blend from Brazil and a small farm in Boquete, Panama - it has caramel and maple notes up front with a sweet apple butter and berry finish.  Enjoy!"  We roast a new espresso about every seven to ten days. This brings new tasting notes, an awareness that coffees are vastly different, and a continuous opportunity to educate the customer. 

 

4. Do away with the condiment bar or make it an afterthought. If the customer's attention is on what you tell them about the espresso, many will think before adding anything.... and if YOU add for them, or provide cream only when requested, it significantly changes how the customer approaches/thinks about the beverage.

 

It's all about having a core philosophy that speaks about who you are and what you do. It doesn't happen overnight, but if you approach each Americano, espresso, or hand-brewed offering as an opportunity for you to share something special with the person in front of you. And if you're worried about people being impatient, deliver in the cup... they will suddenly have a few extra minutes every day.

 

 

 

Andy Atkinson said:

...

 

The problem with just making an americano is that you suddenly have done absolutely nothing special to brew your coffee in the eyes of your customer, so of course they're just gonna load it with whatever crap they usually add.  But, if you stick to your guns and they see you doing something special (pour-over, FP, siphon, whatever), you have put in thier mind (subtly) that "hey, this is different" without making it difficult, and 7 times outa 10 these people will sip the coffee first before adding anything.  Now, they may still add stuff after, but, if you honestly have kick-ass coffee you have just made them rethink some shit.  And all you did was ask one, easy to answer question.  Do the thinking for them, but make sure they know you are doing something different and usefull.

 

I would argue the point that you will have a far less conversion rate (from "just coffee" to coffee person) with the americano approach.  

The question that I long windedly was posing was, if you have a brew-bar program why not use it?  The point of having a brew-bar is to brew coffee, and, if I'm not mistaken this is what the "just a coffee" people want, a cup of coffee.  So why jump to an americano if you have a stellar pour-over/FP/siphon program?  At that point you might as well just drop your brew bar and brew all americanos.  Which, if thats what you want to do, more power to you.

 

My point was, that americanos are pretty much a standard thing at even the least progressive shops.  You plant the seed of the specialness at your shop, and therefore your coffee, by doing something different.  Hence sticking to your guns and actually using your brew bar for what it was intended.  My post was an answer to the posed question, which was regarding Jared's brew-bar and using an americano as a supplement to the brew-bar.

Andy,

 

I see... I agree, but I would say that for those that are more hurried, a great Americano is far superior to a batch brewed pot of coffee. The brew bar should be at the forefront and welcome to everyone, although everyone won't always be able to take advantage of it.

 

Making every drink by the cup for each customer is (in my opinion) the ideal goal. If you can do ONLY brew bar (no espresso drinks) that would rock.  But you usually have to start with that as your business model.

 

Whatever the decision, Jared should have excitement brewing in his head.

Andy Atkinson said:

The question that I long windedly was posing was, if you have a brew-bar program why not use it?  The point of having a brew-bar is to brew coffee, and, if I'm not mistaken this is what the "just a coffee" people want, a cup of coffee.  So why jump to an americano if you have a stellar pour-over/FP/siphon program?  At that point you might as well just drop your brew bar and brew all americanos.  Which, if thats what you want to do, more power to you.

 

My point was, that americanos are pretty much a standard thing at even the least progressive shops.  You plant the seed of the specialness at your shop, and therefore your coffee, by doing something different.  Hence sticking to your guns and actually using your brew bar for what it was intended.  My post was an answer to the posed question, which was regarding Jared's brew-bar and using an americano as a supplement to the brew-bar.

"but I would say that for those that are more hurried, a great Americano is far superior to a batch brewed pot of coffee."  Word, totally agree.

John P said:

Andy,

 

I see... I agree, but I would say that for those that are more hurried, a great Americano is far superior to a batch brewed pot of coffee. The brew bar should be at the forefront and welcome to everyone, although everyone won't always be able to take advantage of it.

 

Making every drink by the cup for each customer is (in my opinion) the ideal goal. If you can do ONLY brew bar (no espresso drinks) that would rock.  But you usually have to start with that as your business model.

 

Whatever the decision, Jared should have excitement brewing in his head.

Andy Atkinson said:

The question that I long windedly was posing was, if you have a brew-bar program why not use it?  The point of having a brew-bar is to brew coffee, and, if I'm not mistaken this is what the "just a coffee" people want, a cup of coffee.  So why jump to an americano if you have a stellar pour-over/FP/siphon program?  At that point you might as well just drop your brew bar and brew all americanos.  Which, if thats what you want to do, more power to you.

 

My point was, that americanos are pretty much a standard thing at even the least progressive shops.  You plant the seed of the specialness at your shop, and therefore your coffee, by doing something different.  Hence sticking to your guns and actually using your brew bar for what it was intended.  My post was an answer to the posed question, which was regarding Jared's brew-bar and using an americano as a supplement to the brew-bar.

Due to being a retail bakery, our coffee program is wholly Fetco drip in Luxus dispensers. I source my coffee beans from a fellow bXer, James Spano of Cup to Cup Coffee Roasters in Savannah, GA. I have a different approach than many of his other wholesale accounts, as I offer as many as 4 or 5 different coffees, brewing 2 different coffees each day. This gives my customers a choice. I have designed labels for the LUXUS dispensers that have a map superimposed over a picture of coffee cherries, with a description of the coffee under the image.

This is a typical response: Customer comes in, walks to the coffee counter, grabs a cup. Stops and stares at the dispensers. After a moment, customer turns around and asks me, "Got any regular coffee?" My answer is determined by how well I know the customer, and their demeanor. It'll be either: "We don't have regular coffees, only exceptional ones." or (if they don't seem receptive to my smartassery) "They're both regular, just from different countries. Both are really good."

The customer that doesn't seem satisfied with either response generally doesn't want to think. At least that's my impression. They want everything given to them, and they'd just as soon not think about it. Sorry, gotta think a little if you want coffee here. I may not be able to educate you on the complexity of coffee, but you'll at least leave knowing that coffee comes from different countries.

If they seem skeptical, I've even told them to try both, and get the one they like. Never had them turn that down.
those are some great comments, paul! seems we are all trying to introduce some education one way or another. you know, for decades customers in this country could & would only order the generic cup of coffee...either because that's all that was offered or available, or that was all we knew what to order. now we are trying to educate or re-train...its almost like going back to square one with some customers, you know? the curious thing to me is i know my customers are professionals, or skilled craftsman, etc. does a realtor ever have a customer walk in their office and say, "i just want to buy a regular house." do car customers step into a showroom and state they just want to buy a regular car? grocery stores: do they offer just regular groceries?! we even have choices/decisions to make when at the pump! why is it so extreme for some to accept great choices in regards to coffee?! i thought variety made the world go 'round!

sage
the coffee hound
we never have done or are ever likely to do drip or filter coffee as espresso is a standard that should be adhered to. If i am asked for a coffee i try to educate people as best as i can by going through some of the menu explaining latte cappuccino etc. and they will either say just a cappuccino (still not understanding what it is, thinking it is the norm) or rudely reply just a normal coffee. So i reluctantly serve an americano knowing they will not appreciate the flavours nor the passion that went their cup. http://www.baristaexchange.com/forum/topics/how-can-we-educate-the
Give 'em what they want! Keep a good quality dark roast in a fetco until 6pm and always offer a pourover that they might like. A lot of people see asking for quality coffee as an affectation--you won't undo that kind of thinking overnight but you can prevail. I see it happen every day. You just have to meet those guests where they are.

I just spent a good deal of time reading through every bit of this thread, and I'm of two minds: First off, hats off to you guys for your commitment to your craft. But secondly, a whole lot of this just reinforces the stereotype of the uptight foodie. Or coffee-ie. Whatever.

 

To a person, you should all be able to remember the very first time you tasted coffee. You probably didn't like it, and you certainly didn't "appreciate" it or "understand" it. And for the majority of Americans, coffee isn't seen as an art or a craft or whatever... it's a beverage, or a drug, or some combination of the two. 

 

Don't get me wrong. I love brewing coffee manually, and I do it most everyday with any number of methods — vacpot, press pot, AeroPress, pourover... you name it, I've got it, and my wife hates it. But to bitch about those pesky customers who just don't get what I'm doin', man... well, it's pretentious and self-defeating. People like coffee, and people are getting better cups than they have in decades, thanks to the thriving indie coffee scene. Anyway, it depends on your market and who you're serving... and I totally agree with the poster who said "decide who you want to be." Make your entire operation sing it... you won't find many confused rednecks walking into fancy French restaurants, because they can see from the outset that it's not their cup of tea. If you want a high-class coffee boutique, then build it and they will come (or not come, depending on the customer). 

 

Meanwhile, those of us who love coffee in little towns that don't, we walk the tightrope daily. In six years' time I have converted many a Starbucks addict to lighter East Coast roasts, sold hundreds of French presses to people who never would have considered them before, and poured the only latte art that most people within a 30-mile radius have ever seen. But I still brew Fetco while offering press and pourover and espresso, and I refuse to start "educating" a customer who doesn't invite himself into class and take a seat. In the coffee industry, we may be at a "third wave," but the average Joe is still in the prehistoric era, and he's going to have to be led gently and intentionally — and quite possibly without knowing it — along the road we so long ago tread. 

 

So yeah. Tell them you don't serve "regular" coffee, only great coffee. And that it's going to take a minute or four, and that they're gonna love it. And you might even just wait until after they get their first cup to ring them up, just to prove to them that they won't regret their purchase. Give the customer what you want, but make them at least think it's what they want, too. Like Schomer says, the customer is always right... except when they're wrong. But you shouldn't assume they're wrong — they just haven't figured out the answer yet.

Probably the most thoughtful response I've seen on the BX.  Bravo Justin!

R. Justin Shepherd said:

I just spent a good deal of time reading through every bit of this thread, and I'm of two minds: First off, hats off to you guys for your commitment to your craft. But secondly, a whole lot of this just reinforces the stereotype of the uptight foodie. Or coffee-ie. Whatever.

 

To a person, you should all be able to remember the very first time you tasted coffee. You probably didn't like it, and you certainly didn't "appreciate" it or "understand" it. And for the majority of Americans, coffee isn't seen as an art or a craft or whatever... it's a beverage, or a drug, or some combination of the two. 

 

Don't get me wrong. I love brewing coffee manually, and I do it most everyday with any number of methods — vacpot, press pot, AeroPress, pourover... you name it, I've got it, and my wife hates it. But to bitch about those pesky customers who just don't get what I'm doin', man... well, it's pretentious and self-defeating. People like coffee, and people are getting better cups than they have in decades, thanks to the thriving indie coffee scene. Anyway, it depends on your market and who you're serving... and I totally agree with the poster who said "decide who you want to be." Make your entire operation sing it... you won't find many confused rednecks walking into fancy French restaurants, because they can see from the outset that it's not their cup of tea. If you want a high-class coffee boutique, then build it and they will come (or not come, depending on the customer). 

 

Meanwhile, those of us who love coffee in little towns that don't, we walk the tightrope daily. In six years' time I have converted many a Starbucks addict to lighter East Coast roasts, sold hundreds of French presses to people who never would have considered them before, and poured the only latte art that most people within a 30-mile radius have ever seen. But I still brew Fetco while offering press and pourover and espresso, and I refuse to start "educating" a customer who doesn't invite himself into class and take a seat. In the coffee industry, we may be at a "third wave," but the average Joe is still in the prehistoric era, and he's going to have to be led gently and intentionally — and quite possibly without knowing it — along the road we so long ago tread. 

 

So yeah. Tell them you don't serve "regular" coffee, only great coffee. And that it's going to take a minute or four, and that they're gonna love it. And you might even just wait until after they get their first cup to ring them up, just to prove to them that they won't regret their purchase. Give the customer what you want, but make them at least think it's what they want, too. Like Schomer says, the customer is always right... except when they're wrong. But you shouldn't assume they're wrong — they just haven't figured out the answer yet.

Thank you Justin. I can't tell you how often a customer comes in, is overwhelmed by the menu, and just wants to get out. That feeling comes out as,"Jus gimme a regular coffee tuh go." I have maybe 15 seconds to put them at ease and I always try make the most of those moments. What I serve this customer is secondary to convincing this customer that they should return. I work in Rhode Island. We love coffee but there are 175 Dunkin' Donuts in the country's smallest state. If you REALLY love coffee your work is cut out for you.

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