Nothing can beat your favourite cafe, right? You know just what to order, what time to go in at and can identify the flavour of their coffee anywhere. We all have favourites – trustworthy and reliable. What happens though when you visit one of your top cafes, only to be left really disappointed.
Sadly, this is something that happened to me a couple of weeks ago and had me so mad and disappointed leading me to ask the question: what makes a good cafe a brilliant cafe and is my favourite just a one hit wonder in disguise?
My mum always says that the proof a cafe is brilliant is the ability to satisfy guests no matter what they order; so basically, it can’t be a one hit wonder. I don’t want to mention the cafe I went into as I never want Where Is My Teaspoon to be a negative place, but I tend to always order the same thing there. On the sad day in question, my head was turned by a breakfast special and as with all head turning scenarios, it left me really disappointed. This special was a disaster – sad to look at, bad to eat and poor value for money. The big 3.
I can understand that any cafe might have an off day but to be honest, even the hostess put me off with her very brisk approach. Could it be that one of my favourite cafes is actually a bit hit and miss and have crappy customer service when the customer isn’t happy?!
I suppose for me, cafes are my all time favourite destination and hobby. They give me so much inspiration and push me to think I could open my own someday. I work in Marketing at the minute and we are always, always talking about putting the customer to the centre of our thoughts and decision making process. While the sector I’m in is a far cry away from cafes and restaurants, it does make me wonder whether many food places – and dare I say, especially Independent spots – have forgotten this core principle: your customer is always right and most important.
When we lived in Cambridge UK, coffee and restaurant chains were everywhere and it’s beginning to get more and more like that over here in Ireland too. I mean, I lived in Cork in 2012-2013 and there was not one Starbucks. Last time I went I think I counted two or three. While I always try to choose an Independent Cafe or at least a small local chain when I eat out, even I have to admit that there is something the big chains are doing right: customer service. We can get consistent food nearly every time we go back, they reward us with loyalty programmes, free wifi and a boat load of space to enjoy and more and more I see chains re-branding for a more local feel/aesthetic. Plus, I have never been asked to pay before I was ready in a chain – this happens me all the time in Dublin’s Independent cafes.
So, how can a humble little cafe compete? Well for me, as a customer, Independent Cafes need to be almost perfect every single time. They need to be able to keep up with chains in terms of consistency and burst through with their own originality in menus, decor, loyalty programmes and staff. I know it is impossible to have a great day every day and cafe owners obviously try 100% every day to achieve this but if you don’t remember that customers are choosing your business over tens of others for breakfast, lunch or tea and that they could have easily gone somewhere else, then I think it shows in your customer service. Sometimes the hype can lead to bad customer service habits and a bad experience for someone who normally sings your praises.
Of course, I will still go back to this cafe and look forward to my favourite dish there again, but I have to say, I’m not sure I would go for anything else.
What do you guys think? Have you experienced the rise and fall of a favourite cafe? Do you think Independent cafes have a hard battle to live up to some of the better chains in terms of customer experience?