I can imagine a coffee shop that works better. I want to cross a Ford factory with a sushi train and a horde of lemmings…
I buy a cup of coffee in two situations. One is where I am ‘having coffee’ and I want to linger. In this case, the 3 dollars is a low low price to pay to rent a chair in a nice public space and shoot the breeze with somebody.
The other situation is take-away, when I’m on my way to work, or somewhere, and I need to wake up.
In the second case, the 3 dollars is an negligible cost for getting my day going.
In the second case, the coffee shop tends to be busy. There might be another 8 people in line for a long macchiato or skinny latte. If the barista is not careful, the wait time can approach ten minutes. On the way to work, ten minutes is worth a lot more than the price of the actual coffee. In fact, I’d pay more for faster service…
So. Imagine a take-away coffee shop where the barista doesn’t take orders. They just man the machine and make coffees. Following Henry Ford, we tell customers they can have whatever kind of coffee they want, so long as it’s a long black.
The barista churns out beautifully crafted long blacks, and puts them on a conveyor belt. The price starts at 3 dollars. The conveyor belt moves through four zones so that each coffee is in each zone for 2 minutes. The price you pay depends on what zone it’s in.
So when the coffee is put on the line, it costs 3 bucks. After 2 minutes its in zone 2, and costs 2.50. Two minutes later, it’s cooling a bit, and is in zone 3. It costs $2.25. After six minutes, it is in zone 4, and costs $2.
Then, unlike a sushi train, the coffee does a lemming. It plunges off the end of the conveyor belt. This guarantees the longest time a coffee will sit for is 8 minutes, and that the lowest price a coffee will sell for is 2 bucks.
The problem with pre-producing coffee is that most people want a fresh cup. My imaginary coffee shop applies price discrimination so that those who value freshness can pay for it. If you’re in a rush and there’s no fresh coffee, there might be a slightly older one trundling through zone 2 or 3 that you can get at a discount. It’s a win-win.
This coffee shop delivers value to customers, by not wasting their time. By having fewer staff taking orders, it should have lower staff costs. It won’t have the throng of people hovering and waiting, so it should have higher customer throughput. It should be able to make more coffees per minute, because the baristas don’t have to look up, communicate, or worry about anything other than making perfect cup after perfect cup.
It might even be able to offer lower prices than a normal coffee shop, although it would need to be in a very high passerby location to work.
It’s a winning idea. Anyone want to lend me the start-up capital?