No longer are players in the coffee space all striving to be that “third place” like Starbucks once was. McDonald’s recently revamped its McCafe lineup to offer more intricate beverages for less, and even Starbucks has shifted, rolling out more of its roastery locations. So what does the coffee culture look like today? We checked in with operators to take the pulse behind their counters.
Faster drip pickup
Over the last three years, Pret A Manger has focused on expanding breakfast sales and emphasizing its organic coffee, says Olly Smith, head of brand development. Now, it’s working on speeding service for drip coffee orders. Zia Ahmed, senior director of dining services for The Ohio State University, faced a similar conundrum with soft drinks, so he pursued a frictionless transaction solution. OSU embedded a chip into reusable cold-beverage cups, allowing students to go to the dispenser without waiting on a cashier. While Smith says Pret is still in the exploratory phase, “the filter coffee station is an area we are actively investigating integrating tap-and-go tech to reduce friction.”
Cold brew on tap
Iced coffee sales hit $5.1 billion in 2016 and are expected to reach $10.2 billion by 2021, according to Technomic’s 2017 Beverage Marketplace Report. For operators, draft systems for trending cold-brew coffee are gaining popularity,and they’re finding tap systems are easy to use and maintain quality. Chicago wine bar and restaurant The Lunatic, The Lover & The Poet offers cold brew on tap, says Managing Partner Tom Powers. “From a true business standpoint, it’s 100% yield. I have no variation [in quality]; I don’t have to worry about how long ago it’s been made … I get a perfect delivery every time,” he says. “There’s zero waste.”
Coffee drinkers continue to demand alternatives to dairy such as almond or soy milk, Smith says. Pret A Manger recently stopped charging 30 to 50 cents extra for them. Smith declined to give specific costs, but says, “The investment felt like a viable and appealing one, so we made it happen.” The move has been received positively. “Our customers love it,” he says.
Despite the grab-and-go trend, some consumers still stay put, and operators are catering to their needs through design. “The biggest thing a coffee customer is looking for is an outlet,” says Richard Labriola, chief doughboy of Chicago-based Stan’s Donuts and sister concept Labriola Bakery & Cafe. “There are never enough. You need to have a lot of perimeter tables.” Smith says Pret a Manger has seen an uptick in stay-and-work customers in recent years. Because of this, the chain is improving in-store connectivity, comfort of seating and access to electrical outlets. “Refining the experience of people who want to sit and work ... is something we are doing every time we do a new shop,” Smith says.