The Regettable Rise and Rise of Franchise Coffee Shops

Submitted by nigel on Wednesday 25th November 2009

The phenomenon of the coffee franchise didn't really hit me at first. Living in London there always has been a selection of traditional Italian coffee houses dotted all over the West End. Most of these coffee shops, and note how I avoid using the dreadful 90s phrase coffee boutiques, served the most delicious cappuccino and espresso, and there were always a myriad of temptations behind the glass counters should the diet be starting the following day.

The young pretenders, with their brash Johnny-Come-Lately logos and slick painted-on-casual-staff smiles, had lost sight of the one commodity they were there to sell. The coffee was, and still is to this day, goddamn awful. Here's the crux of the problem - if you are selling a colour supplement 'lifestyle statement' then the customer is going to have to pay for all those marketeers you have employed, all those fat-cat advertising executives and their expense accounts, all those ideas-men who talk 'concepts' and 'customer experiences'.

So you end up with a cup of coffee that, with a small margin, cannot be sold for less than £2.75. Now if a customer is going to spend £2.75 on a coffee, that coffee had better kick some ass because no matter how soft the furnishings are, the coffee is the shop's raisin-d'etre.

So what do you do if your name is Mr Starbucks, or Mr Costa, or Mr Nero? You inflate the taste of the drink to justify the price. Sounds reasonable until you sip the concoction - the result is coffee so bitter it curls your toes. To combat this the shops now offer a 1-shot-less option - they are catching on. But hold on, to dilute the product without diluting the price means those advertising executives are getting their free lunch.

There's only one solution - veto the franchises and frequent those third generation Italian coffee houses with their sublime blends of subtlety and flavour. I would love to say I am on a crusade and personally swerving the franchises. Sadly I can't say that is true. The convenience, the uniform nature of the product, the regularly checked toilets, the occasionally discarded newspaper all conspire against my better nature and mock my weak will.

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