From Lattes to Websites: Space and Identity

Alright, let’s talk about space, baby. (Let’s talk about you and me.)

…Sorry, but I had to.

Anyway, in my previous blog, I mentioned that space was an important, if not the most important, identifying characteristic of a coffee shop. From the lighting to the parking lot, the unique space of a shop all contribute to a whole persona that either connects with the surrounding community or not, and if even one attribute is off, it can negatively affect all of the others and render them ineffective.

So what are these attributes of space that can so influence the success of a coffee shop?

Well, some of them include but are not limited to:

  • Lighting
  • Smell
  • Seating
  • Sound
  • Functionality
  • Accessibility

So keeping all of those in mind, a place can serve great coffee, have warm decor, and be easily accessible, but it may struggle to survive if it only has enough room to seat a few people. Those potential customers who want to linger over a cup of coffee will choose to frequent other places with guaranteed long-term seating, and those who want to have a conversation with a friend may appreciate a space with more, well, space to talk without fear of being overheard. Even those who want to make a quick stop may choose another location if the shop is unable to accommodate a line comfortably without customers feeling in the way or constantly having to move around. What may have been a small issue (Ha, get it? Small?) ends up being the major reason why the store cannot remain open.

There is another side to this though. As much as we can talk about a space’s functionality, ambience, shape, size, whatever, it is so much more than that. Space is a very personal thing. It can influence how one feels and thinks and acts, and it is a function of one’s identity and personality.

I’ve always hated the phrase, “I just need my space,” for this reason because it is too vague and doesn’t really state what the issue at hand actually is. When someone “needs space,” distance isn’t really the issue. What is actually taking place is a conflict with one’s identity, and the remedy for that is usually much more complex and difficult than just taking a step back.

This is incredibly important to keep in mind for a coffee shop, especially since the coffee shop trend was a result of the need for a “third place” outside of the home and work or school. Ultimately, for a person to really feel welcome into these spaces, he or she must feel as if they can come as they are, regardless of their backgrounds and beliefs.

Diversity is difficult to respect in this day and age of mass production and economies of scale. In order to make use of both, services and products have to be uniform, and customization is either sacrificed or up-charged in a manner that makes it unprofitable or inaccessible to the larger population. It’s easier to focus on banking on a particular trend or fad, forcing it onto the masses and milking it for all it’s worth, than to make a specific service or product available to a range of diversity groups, ensuring quality, usefulness, and value over a longer period of time.

And I think we’ve all seen over the past couple of years how damaging such a focus can be not just economically but also politically, socially, environmentally, and mentally. We’ve created an environment that’s about short-term gains and immediate rewards instead of long-term survival and sustainable health and wellness.

The space we create, that we live within, is a reflection of the kind of people we are, that we choose to be, so in discussing coffee shops and how space can influence its success, I unfortunately feel that many shops are successful, not because they manage their space well, but because they reflect the reality of our world, one that is more focused on profits than on people. Those few shops that eschew this environment usually struggle to survive, despite often having a loyal base of customers, because it’s so much easier for the population as a whole to support the stores, whether it be fiscally, emotionally, or politically, that follow the status quo.

When I first began my research on my thesis many years ago, this was not at all a concern of mine, but over the past year, I have definitely become more aware of it. For me, I love going to coffee shops to sit back with a cappuccino and danish and spend an hour or two reading or writing. It’s been my perfect escape from work, home, traffic, whatever, but sometimes, I walk into a store, and there is an edge to it, an unwelcomeness that I can’t explain at the time. The more I dig into it though, the more I understand.

The clearest example of this for me has been Cuvée Coffee. Cuvée is one of the more prominent roasters in the Central Texas area and has made many forays into uncharted territory, such as nitro cans and CBD-infused cold brew. They also have a coffee shop on the east side of Austin, which I have only been to once and will never go to again. Why? Well, from the beginning, Cuvée has been very adamant that the shop would be a meeting place only, so free Wi-Fi and electrical outlets for laptops are not offered at this location (Quick note: I understand why some places ban laptops, but regardless of why they do it, it still affects the ambience and vibe of the place. It’s a trade-off between seating and accessibility.). While this may not be the company’s intention, it is basically excluding a whole portion of the population because of its stance. Despite that, because of the publicity garnered from the Cowler War with the TABC, popularity of nitro cold brew, and this new venture with the controversial CBD-inflused products, the store will likely continue to be successful.

In other words, by tapping into fads, Cuvée has been able to overcome is shortcomings with space. It’s a trick that I am obviously not too fond of, and I don’t think it speaks well of the companies who exploit it.

The next time you are at a coffee shop, I encourage you all to sit back and ask what the shop is saying to you. Do you feel comfortable and welcome there? What does the place say about you, the employees, and the surrounding community? What is it really contributing and pushing out into the world? I think we might look at many stores a bit differently if we asked ourselves these questions regularly.

Space is a huge consideration when it comes to a coffee shop’s success, and I suspect I’ll be discussing it a lot more in the future, but for now, I shall turn my focus towards the next influencing category (and the one that is the most fun by far): Products.

So until next time,

The one and the only Pookachino

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