No such thing as a free coffee?

March 17, 2012

 Now I like coffee. To be honest I am much more of a coffee person than I am a tea person, so when I heard about the free latte offer in Starbucks I was certainly going to make my way to the local branch.

I was somewhat fearful of a queue stretching half way down to the Steine, or perhaps the memo from head office has not actually reached/been sent toBrighton. But my fears were unfounded, the experience was better than expected. I was met by smiling staff who knew exactly what was going on. There was no embarrassment on my part asking for a FREE coffee, and I announced my name clearly – it’s not difficult to say, it’s Paul. I shuffled along the counter and when it appeared to be my turn the young lady serving called out for ‘Latte for Rail’.  Now that was me, I boldly announced it was my free coffee, despite feeling a bit foolish somehow and also slightly sorry for the assistant who could not get my name right.  But, what the hell it’s a free coffee.

The thing is it got me thinking about coffee. Yes really. To be honest I rarely find myself in any of the branded shop nowadays unless I am out of the office and in need of a coffee fix. In Brighton making a coffee in the office seems to be the obvious thing to do!

Firstly the cost. For the price of a take away I can buy a jar that does numerous cups – OK, so I also have to buy the milk too.

Secondly the quality. Naming names, Starbucks in Victoria station has to be the worst. If it isn’t cold, it’s all frothy and half full, so passing by always reminds me why I try to avoid them, Starbucks in particular.

Third the wait.  It’s only a coffee, OK it’s a cappuccino, or it’s a latte or a flat white (who named it that?) or some other poncy name, but it’s really a white coffee.  It seems to take forever to a) get served and then b) actually to get your drink, unless I’ve got a good half hour to spare I usually walk away.

So where does that take us?  Well it seems that the Starbucks offer generated simply huge numbers of twitter page impressions so I suppose the PR team are happy – even if like me quite a few noted the inability for those serving to get customers’ names right.  I’m slightly more positive towards Starbuck now after all they did give me some 50% off vouchers too.  But is this the start of the UK coffee wars?

I suddenly realised how many branded coffee shops there were in Brighton!  Costa alone has so many that it actually double-counts them on its own website!  It looks like there are five or six in Brighton, not including another in Hove. 

So how many more can they all build?  They all seem to stock the same range of drinks, I think they all have flat whites these days too.  Maybe growth now is going to come from stealing share.  Which may mean more loyalty cards, more price cuts and maybe with any luck more freebies. 

If you are asking, the name is now Rail, and anything with a silly name as long as it is full, and tastes of coffee will be just fine by me.