How can you simplify your drinks menu and keep customers happy?

Dr Eduarda Cristovam

Head of Coffee at Matthew Algie

Eduarda is our resident sensory expert, with 21 years of experience in Sensory Analysis; 9 of which are specific to the coffee industry. As a result, Eduarda has a unique and inspiring way of describing coffee attributes and her interactive tasting sessions come highly recommended.

In addition to holding a PhD (Quality drivers in Port Wine and Espresso Coffee), Eduarda has lectured in Sensory Studies at Adelaide University, Australia, and is an Honorary Guest Lecturer at Strathclyde University, Glasgow.

As Head of Coffee at Matthew Algie, Eduarda oversees the development and introduction of all our new coffee and non-coffee products.

The Goldilocks Coffee Menu

Life is different. An understatement really, but, like many people, I sit at home with a laptop, yearning for my favourite café to reopen and brighten my day. A friend of mine sent a photo to our group chat saying “Girls, I got a real coffee!” Thumbs up and emojis of surprise followed. But the reality is that in hard times people often obsess about the things they miss the most. And missing a good coffee is understandable.

The joy of purchasing a barista-made coffee is so very different from what we can have at home. For one you have choice. Even if you struggle with decision making, you will feel like a winner for having decided between the matcha latte with vanilla or the old faithful flat white. If you've ever watched You’ve Got Mail, you'll know what I’m talking about. Coffee away from home is filled with possibilities, ease, and a ritual which is comforting, even fun.

“A friend of mine sent a photo to our group chat saying “Girls, I got a real coffee!”

The modern coffee shop menu has always scared me a little. I have simple tastes and get a little thrill when batch brew and single origin are at the top. That is my perfect match, so no need to keep reading. Of course others may have found pleasure in more intricate menus, tempting them into something different, variety, seasonal drinks, choices, new flavours, new additions.

But nowadays we may all value safety above choice. So, as a consumer in this new world, what do I expect to find when I go out for coffee - and what do I expect coffee shops out there to do to make the experience worthwhile?

I am not a coffee shop owner, but I AM a customer, and those are valuable these days. To write about the simplification of the coffee menu I decided to call around my coffee drinking friends to find out what they want from this new world; and they want a lot of the same things.

They fully expect a queue and will endure it for 10-15 minutes. But, they want people to back the hell up. Social distancing is a must and clear notices and lines on the ground keep everyone in check. Some want the nice people making their wonderful coffee to wear gloves or masks or both. Most just want to know they are being served by people who have taken adequate measures to protect their customers.

Information is welcome; notices telling us what steps the store has taken to look after us all, and, what is expected from us in return. Yes, we will wait outside, patiently queue at a distance - and happily pay with a card. Hand sanitiser at the entrance is reassuring to us and will use it with fervour.

But what of the menu? What do coffee drinking customers expect now? Things are different and simpler menus are easier all round. If drinks are too convoluted to select or make, it gets complicated and takes too long. People are skittish and don’t want to hang around; simple is acceptable.

"Simple needn't mean boring. A stripped back, high quality menu will win the day!"

One cup size, maybe two, would not lead to a riot, especially in an independent café. Milk expectations are now more modest, with a single dairy milk type on offer unlikely to raise any eyebrows. Plant-based alternatives may still be a necessity to many, but perhaps a focus on the favourites is sufficient - soya and oat came up as the winners amongst my friends. And certainly, the long life and retailability of these milks is enticing in uncertain times.

One of my interviewees made a point of saying that she no longer expects milk to be available for self-serve. Another would no longer expect sites to accept her own travel cup and she thought that was ok. One was forthright in his expectations; no pi**ing around or pretentious single estate hand brewed underwater stuff that takes too long. My friends are varied and generous with their views.

A stripped back, high quality menu of simple drinks will win the day!

I salute all coffee owners and operators who are open - or preparing to do so. Yours is a tough road ahead. Like consumers, you will adapt, innovate, and adapt again, as we learn to navigate our new reality. A stripped-down menu option is acceptable - but simple does not have to mean boring or badly made. Perhaps in “The Before” we believed that making things more complicated meant an implicit improvement in quality. In “The After” however, less is coming to mean so much more. So, as a customer, whilst I expect a less complicated menu, deep down I hope that batch brew will sit at the top. And yes I want the single origin if it’s fresh, glorious and interesting; because I never needed interesting more so than right now.

“Ultimately, I hope my local café will offer simple but irresistible things that are worth queuing for.”

We all want our own Goldilocks coffee; operators will implement their ‘just right' coffee menus and customers will pursue their own perfect coffee worth queuing for. We need each other to make the new café landscape work. Ultimately, I hope my local café will offer simple but irresistible things that are worth queuing for. A fresh batch-brew filter coffee or a simple flat white; served quickly and safely, ideally with a smile; from a person I happen not to live with.

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