You can’t take it away from me

January 14th, 2013

One of the biggest challenges we have is that as we progress in coffee we learn. Hopefully this means we change out minds, change our opinion of what we think is good, and what we wish to present to customers.

The reason this gets tricky is the menu. Many businesses reach a point where they want to take something off the menu. It might be a particular drink, or maybe soy milk or perhaps a certain size – 20oz for example.

Taking something away is something customers are resistant to. It isn’t that they don’t like change; they don’t like being called stupid or wrong.

This is one of the most common breakdowns in customer relations that I see in coffee, and it is usually done with the best intentions. We only see our justifications for the decision without really considering the subtext behind it.

“We don’t do 20oz lattes any more because….”

There’s almost nothing you can say here (apart from claiming that 20oz cups no longer exist) that doesn’t imply that the customer’s preference for that drink is wrong in your eyes. No one likes to go somewhere to spend money to find out that the business has decided overnight that what was yesterday ok to make and sell is now substandard.

“… we don’t feel the quality was good enough” translation:  you have no taste, and like low quality things. You pleb.

“… It wasn’t something we were proud to serve” translation:  we were ashamed of it. You should be ashamed for wanting this. Have you no decency?!

“… we only want to offer smaller sizes, because coffee shouldn’t be consumed in 20oz portions.” translation:  we are appalled by your gluttony, and frankly find your desire for huge portions of coffee disgusting.

Of course, this isn’t what we’re actually saying – but this is often what is heard by customers.  Pretty much the only way to eliminate large sizes is to simply not have the cups, and have a good reason why not.  So – what are the solutions to this:

The obvious thing to do is to go positive, rather than focus on the negative.  Focus on what you can offer, what you think they’ll like, and just the good stuff.  Try to avoid saying “No, you can’t have that.”  This is difficult, but frankly there is no easy way to take something away.

This is very important for those writings menus, for those starting businesses.  Starting with an extremely limited menu is fine, and you can always add something later if there is a demand and you believe you can meet that demand with a great product.

If you start off with a clear policy and philosophy about what you offer or don’t then things get much easier.  Offering 8oz drinks in a 20oz market is fine, if you’re clear from the outset why you want to do this.  Once you start offering the 20oz it is there to stay unless you’re willing to endure some pain and potentially lose a few regular customers.  These same customers may have been fine drinking 8oz drinks, from the start and onwards, but taking it away from them once you’ve set a precedent is going to be very tough.

People don’t like change. Don’t mistake this for people not liking variation, which would be a mistake.  Consistency of ideas behind a menu is more important than consistency of a menu itself.

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