A linen napkin

In my recent jaunt across the US – New York, Washington DC, Chicago (with Nuova Simonelli) to Portland and then LA – people have asked a lot about what I saw, tasted, experienced that was interesting.  I thought I’d share this one because it was on the first day of the trip and I thought it was extremely interesting.

I went to visit Blue Bottle’s store that opened a few months ago by Chelsea Market in NYC.  To the right hand side of the bar there is a staircase that takes you up to a little bar up at the back of the shop.  There are six seats at the bar.  There are various coffees available on the syphon bar, as well as cloth filtered pourover (nel) coffee.

I’ve talked in the past about how important and how useful certain signifiers can be for helping a customer get their expectations in line with yours.  As I sat down I noticed that at each place setting was a linen napkin.  This one tiny thing turned out to be an interesting and powerful gesture.  It indicated that you were going to be well looked after.  It indicated that this was going to be an experience that you had at the bar – rather than one you take away with you.  It indicated that things weren’t going to be super cheap.

These expectations were all fulfilled.  I was well looked after, I spent 40 minutes there, and I had fun.  The bill (had I been able to pay!) would have been $13.50 before tip, for a coffee and some (very tasty) brioche toast.  I felt this was absolutely appropriate when I considered the rent, the service and the cost of laundering lots of linen napkins…