Gourmet Coffee: What is the Cost?


Coffee, coffee everywhere and not a drop to drink. How often have you been in a rush to a meeting and plan to stop by the coffee shop in the lobby to get a coffee, and then as you approach the coffee shop, you see the line. This happens all too often now days. With specialty coffee consumption growing at 20 percent per year and the majority switching to latte, cappuccino, mocha, macchiato, or some other combination of espresso, milk, and sugar, the stop at the coffee shop is no longer a 30 seconds per customer visit.

Recently we tested a neat new equipment product here at our student run restaurant Vita Nova on the University of Delaware campus. This automated coffee making machine was easy for our students to use and make espresso and cappuccino’s all automated and of high quality and value. It hooks easily to a POS (Micros in our case here) and automatically sends a signal to grind the beans and brew and go. It can even be self-automated for lobby areas, where one can swipe a hotel room key card, or a credit card.

“What is the impact to your bottom line?” I asked Jerry Leeman, CEO, Perk Dynamics. “What is the impact to customer satisfaction?”

Many properties are in the throes of addressing this issue. With espresso based drinks offering 300 to 500 percent margin markup, it is very attractive to add espresso based drinks to a coffee shop menu offering. The issue becomes training and time to serve. Starbucks, the king of the gourmet coffee world, says the drink is all about the “experience.” If the wait for your gourmet coffee is too long, there is no chance of enjoying the “experience;” replaced by frustration. When that same coffee shop only served filter coffee, on average a customer could be served in 30 seconds—contrasted by the two minutes a cup of gourmet coffee takes to serve. With 10 people ahead of you in line the wait was five minutes and now becomes closer to a 20 minute wait. Do you really have that much time?

Hotels that were built before this latest gourmet coffee surge have coffee shops with limited space. Espresso machines take up valuable space, and adding additional machines in the coffee shop to speed up service may not be an option. Searching for solutions, some operators are turning to technology. McDonald’s, for instance, uses a super-automatic espresso machine to reduce training costs and speed up the process, reducing the time by up to half—but this still leaves bottlenecks as counter orders and drive thru orders are competing for the same machine(s).

“In the QSR (quick-serve restaurant) environment, queue management is the key to success. A hotel coffee shop is a QSR in a hotel,” Leeman said. “If gourmet coffee orders are causing delays, then customer will walk on by.”

Self fulfillment by the customer is helping to reduce queue length. When McDonald’s introduced customer self-fulfillment of sodas they estimated a labor reduction of 40 hours per week. Allowing customers to self-fulfill gourmet coffee will provide similar benefits. Super-automatic espresso machines can be integrated with POS transactions to control beverage dispensing. Controls can be provided to only dispense based upon the customer’s order transaction. Lobby coffee shops can improve throughput by allowing customers to self-serve or self-fulfill latte, cappuccino, mocha, or other gourmet coffee drinks. This same concept can be utilized to improve VIP floor beverage offerings. VIP floor offerings can be controlled by room key authorization and integration to the hotel loyalty system.

This same technology is allowing mid-tier hotels to replace airpot coffee service and offer guests improved quality filter coffee and sell gourmet coffee to improve guest revenue. This system minimizes front desk employee labor, provides 24/7 fresh coffee service and can be integrated to loyalty rewards program for improved customer satisfaction.

Technology is not always the answer to all issues but sometimes it can help you get your customers to where they want to be and to provide a nice quality coffee buzz to them en route.