Small Coffee Shops Adopting The Fee-Based Business Model?

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Look around most coffee shops and you’ll see two types of customers. Let’s call them the Cuppa Coffees and the Cappuccinos.

The Cuppa Coffees are older and more likely to be male. They use terms like “tall” and “skinny” to describe their ideal secretary, not their coffee-based beverage. Even the term “coffee-based beverage” is alien to them. They drink coffee – and they’re lifers.

The Cappuccinos are younger and more likely to be female. Their favorite coffee-based beverages are more likely to be short stories with calories. They use terms like tall, grande, venti and skinny and are more likely to have an unhealthy relationship with caramel.

Lately I’ve noticed several small, individually-owned cafes try to increase their revenues by transforming the Cuppa Coffees into Cappuccinos. How are they going about this? By serving first-rate cappuccinos, world-class lattes and the kind of drip coffee one expects at a rural gas station. The message is loud and clear: if all you want to do is have a cup of filtered coffee you are not welcome here.

Starbucks – and larger coffee franchises generally – understand that most of the people who make the transition from filtered coffee to pumpkin spice latte have already done so. The small coffee shops I describe, on the other hand, seem to be adopting the fee-based business model of airlines: lowering the overall quality of their product in order to incentivize customers to pay fees (for carry-on bags, extra legroom, etc.)

Will it work? Leave your comments in the section below.

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The Bureaucratic Mindset

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It’s a long boring story but the upshot is my itinerary had me flying, in one day, from Bismarck, North Dakota to Denver to Phoenix to Los Angeles and back to Denver. That’s right: four flights between Bismarck and Denver with a layover in… Denver.

None of this was anybody’s fault but simply a result of separate reservations made to accommodate a changing schedule.

Checking-in at Bismarck Municipal airport, I explained to the United representative that since Denver was my “final destination” that I would only be taking the first flight, thank you very much, and that she should therefore only check my bag to Denver and not to LAX, which would have required me to collect my bag and re-check them to Denver (owing to separate reservations).

“You’ll lose your return flight” she explained. She said it in such a way that suggested less full-disclosure than “I’m not sure I can do that”.

My instinct was confirmed when, after gamely poking at a couple of computer keys for a couple seconds, she summarily informed me that it couldn’t be done. Before I could explain to her (in a way that would keep her dignity intact) that it could, in fact, be done, another United representative who overheard our exchange took up my cause. “Just go to bag management”, she said, pointing to a key on her computer.

Not surprisingly, the first representative’s can’t-do attitude remained unfazed. She implied that it could, in fact, be done, but that it would be “illegal” for her to do so. (For this I gave a small prayer of thanks that anything so hilarious could be uttered in Bismarck, North Dakota).

It become immediately clear that I was dealing with one of those bureaucratic souls whose can’t-do attitude blinded her to what should have been obvious.

Happily, uncharacteristically, competence reigned as the other representative took over while the Fearful One looked on with the resentment those who can’t have toward those who do. She was advertising her own refusal to learn anything from this experience – and the self-loathing that accompanies such refusal.

Within two minutes I was headed toward security with ticket in hand.

Whenever I encounter someone with the bureaucratic mindset I am reminded of a line – I think it’s Hannah Arendt’s description of Adolf Eichmann – that “He was less concerned with what pushing the button meant than with pushing it well”.

I arrived safely in Denver and my bag did the same only a few minutes later and the sun has since continued to set in the west and rise in the east.

Do you have experiences with the bureaucratic mindset and a can’t-do attitude? Share them in the comment section below.

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