On my recent trip to the US I had the occasional argument when it was time to pay for the coffee I was going to drink. They were friendly arguments, I suppose more like short debates. I generally did a very bad job of getting my point across, and still struggle to do so. (This is at least the third draft of this post.) I’ve been meaning to post for a while about why I am even worse than usual at accepting people’s kind hospitality.
It has become, over the last few months, increasingly important to me that I pay for the coffee I drink in people’s cafes.1 This might seem like a staggeringly obvious thing to say, but free coffee is unsurprisingly shared between those inside the industry – a sort of alternate currency. In the past I have gratefully accepted, genuinely thankful for the gift and, while happy to pay, it would have felt rude to argue.
What has changed? In truth not being able to pay has begun to inhibit my enjoyment of coffee. Accepting a free drink means, to me, the following:
- You give up the right to take up a seat unless the place is extremely quiet.
- You give up the right to take up any space at all if the place is busy.
- You give up the right to take up the barista’s time if they are busy.
- You give up the right to ask for a second drink.
I don’t know what has crystalised my change of mind on the matter, perhaps I am simply more aware of the exact cost of a cup of coffee to a business. Not just the raw materials, but the cost of the barista, the equipment, the rent, the utilities and everything else that goes into the costs of a great cafe.
Perhaps it is because I worry that if, as someone passionate about coffee and retailing it well, I don’t think a cup of coffee is worth my hard earned cash – then why should anyone else think that way? Is it hypocritical to talk about wanting to raise the price of a cup of coffee so we can spend more further down the chain, but at the same time accepting or even expecting something for nothing.
There are a few caveats to this (of course). As a coffee supplier coming round to check how things are tasting then I will accept an offered espresso (though I would be happy to pay if you asked me to). I am also aware that a cup of coffee can be used as an excellent bartering tool in the real world, and can be carefully traded with great returns. I am not against this at all! I should also add that this is a very personal post, and in no way am I prescribing how I think things should be done or not done.
I (embarrassingly) can’t remember who put the phrase “Friends Pay Retail” in my head, but it certainly makes sense to me. If I am a fan of what you are doing, and enjoy what you sell then surely the worst thing I can ask you to do (as a friend) is to take up your product, resources and time and expect you to give it away for nothing.
Contrary to what you might believe, this isn’t a shock-jock post or anything like that, and I worry that in trying to get my point across I’ll seem like an ungrateful, arrogant so and so. It is something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently and I’d love to hear people’s thoughts.
- I am aware that I failed to pay in a couple of places in the US, for which I apologise and am a bit embarrassed [↩]