Specialty coffee can be for everybody!

Nov 28, 2018

One of the main problems facing the specialty coffee industry is the lack of communication between coffee experts and daily consumers. This is at the base of many misunderstandings that lead them to escape as soon as possible from your coffee shop when they just see an espresso for twice the regular coffee price. So, what is the best way to treat clients? What are the main reasons for customers to come back?

One of them is YOU:

Know very well your products: who produced the coffee, where, how, who roasted it and so on. You gain credibility from customers and, at the same time, you will be paying respect to all the persons involved in the production chain. You could be surprised about how many people want to listen to what you want to share with them. Nowadays, with the growing number of individuals concerned about where the products they consume come from and who made them, it`s the perfect scenario to reply to the fatidic question: why the price of the coffee at your store is more expensive than the café next door?

Being honest and transparent, especially with prices, will relief you from more than a headache and it will work as a filter for customers who are not interested in quality

Be sensible and see how open they are to receive and process information. Many people only want their morning caffeine shot and leave the place as soon as possible, don´t make them “waste time”. If coffee and service were good, probably they’ll be back also in their free time. Perhaps they’ll ask you some questions about coffee then, there is when you can start talking about fragrances, flavours, producers and the true meaning of coffee.

Being clear, straightforward and short explanations could make a bigger difference than talking about deeper or technical stuff. For beginners, technical information in big doses is not required, unless they ask you specific questions.

Try to be open-minded, there is not a rule for everything and everything is in continuous evolution in the coffee industry, we are trying to make people aware about the wide spectrum of flavour they could sense. If you receive strange orders try to prepare them the best you can. Break the ice for the next time, they will be ready to try something new!

How to approach shy / reserved customers? Try to remember what they drink or make them feel noticed, just mentioning some change in them like a haircut or a new jacket could pull out a smile, if they keep coming there is a reason for it. Talking to customers in your free time is really important!Be patient and respectful. Never make people feel dumb or treat them as ignorants. Remember your inception, probably you thought the best coffee was farmed in Italy. How would you have felt if the first time you went to a coffee shop the barista had made you feel ashamed for asking for sugar? It is important to let them feel comfortable enough to communicate their tastes without judgements.

Listen to what they are looking for, “read between the lines” and translate. In Spain, when people ask for “café con leche” they usually mean “flat White”, don´t try to make them say “flat White” for the first time, they do not know what it is even though they have been drinking it all their lives, for them it is café con leche.

You can´t make everybody happy but paying attention to details will surely help

People keep going back to the places where they feel good, you need to be mindful about secondary / ambient factors:

1. Decoration: furnish your space with your personality but remember that a too comfortable sofa could be counter-productive for your business. Customers don’t want to feel like Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day” every time they go inside a specialty coffee shop. The “Minimal/Nordic” blueprint worked but it does not mean you have to be an exact copy to be cool. This could be a good filter to define your public.

2. Don´t be afraid of changes. I´ve seen coffee shops going out of business or struggling to shine. Promote a sustainable coffee culture, reinventing yourself could be the solution. The industry is so relatively young that huge changes are still to come. Be ready for them!

3. Collaboration or partnerships instead of mindless competition could make a huge difference, combining skills and focusing on doing well something. Adding some food to the menu or other concepts would increase your appeal. Developing healthy relationships with other people in the industry could aid to improve your working space. We are all working together to promote specialty coffee!

4. Look after your colleagues or employees and they will look after the coffee and customers too. We all sense the vibes when we enter someone’s house, if workers are not happy it can induce mistakes and it can affect the whole environment too.

Now let´s focus on people who go to a specialty coffee shop for the first time and want to taste coffee for real (Mantra: what is tasty for me could be disgusting for you):Start with “easy” coffees, and by “easy” I mean chocolate (dark chocolate is an easy example to introduce them to one kind of acidity), nuts, and other flavours that are very easy to recognize and to associate to what they would expect in a coffee, and no, lemon it´s not among them.Play cautiously: Ask them how they usually drink coffee. If it´s espresso, prepare the best and easiest (regarding flavours) you have at your store, explosions of Tutti Frutti in their tongues will come around but don´t rush or you may lose a potential specialty coffee lover. If they are used to preparing coffee in a French press like Melita or Moka, try to find some similar methods. Ask your customers what they are looking for, which flavours they want to find in their cups or tell them about the coffee you have in the coffee shop and challenge them to choose. Travel back in time when you did not know how to describe the flavours you could find on your cup. Only the sound: “mmm” was coming out of your mouth, instead of: passion fruit and grapefruit. Ok, so it is your responsibility to help them find those words.Teach the paradigms and exceptions with pairings to help them understand and associate flavours. Try to potentiate the flavours inside their coffee adding a slice or a small piece of the real ingredients. At the beginning, the most difficult part is trying to recognize what is inside your beverage that does not taste like what you usually drink. Be more like master Yoda and instil the essence of coffee: guide, help clients to choose and suggest keeping them away of the dark side.

Raise curiosity, and make it fun, for them and for yourself, it is the perfect excuse for you to study and learn with first-hand information. If you are a bit curious, having always the same coffee will kill you: having drinks of the week/month, guest coffees from different origins or roasteries aside to your regular house coffee. It could help you pick up what your average customers like, which flavours they prefer, you can keep them coming for more and develop a bond with them.

The future of the specialty coffee relies on the way we handle the current situation. It´s very simple: if we get more customers to demand quality, more people will be motivated to create and innovate. This will lead to positive externalities on both sides. So, everybody happy! And if customers run away from your coffee shop for the high prices remember what Margaret Mitchell wrote in Gone with the Wind: ”Tomorrow, I’ll think of some way to get him back. After all, tomorrow is another day”.

Marina Campos García

Dalla Corte Iberica’s Coffee Ambassador

Specialty coffee can be for everybody!