The Regulars Will Be Back
by Rob Robinson, co-founder of Notes Coffee
Coffee shops, restaurants, bars – oh how I miss you. Let me count the ways:
I miss my flat white. Sure, I can grab and go during lockdown. But…
I miss my Thai green curry. The delivery just isn’t the same.
I miss my pint of pale ale – I’ve joined a beer delivery service, but something is missing.
And that something is more important than the product – it is the service, the smile, the buzz of a room humming with life.
I miss those things for the same reason we are all missing our regular daily routines of meeting friends, colleagues and even strangers – we are social animals. There is a background feeling when we walk into a crowded room that anything could happen – we might bump into an old friend, make a new one, or feed off the collective energy to create something magical.
This above all is the reason I am optimistic that the hospitality industry will bounce back – for what is the lockdown for, if not to make it safe to get back out and enjoy these irreplaceable pleasures.
I often say that for many of our guests coming for a morning coffee, the barista who looks after them may be the first person they speak to that day. So that interaction is hugely important – it can set them up for a great day, or leave them feeling a bit meh. If hairdressers are part time therapists, baristas are the nation’s good mood motivators.
As we begin to reopen and customers start trickling back, there will be joyous reunions everywhere, as regulars look forward to their return to their favourite coffee routine as a vital way-marker in the journey back to normalcy. And it won’t be the delicious espresso, the beautiful latte art, or the perfectly poached egg which they are envisaging right now – in their mind’s eye they picture the welcome they will receive on their first day back.
The sense of community a coffee shop generates is powerful: a sense that I am part of a tribe of fellow coffee lovers with a shared love of the establishment, the brand, but most of all the people behind the bar.
To have your barista know your order before you place it, perhaps even to know your name: this is to be recognised in the world beyond the private spheres of home and work. That matters because our public selves form a key part of our identity – hence the pride we all feel when greeted as a regular.
Over recent decades coffee shops have increasingly stepped in to provide this public space as more traditional institutions – clubs, libraries, religious groups – have retreated. The coffee matters, but the community and the conviviality matter more.
No physical ailment – viral or otherwise – can eliminate that need for recognition, or diminish the value of true hospitality. And no internet or delivery service can come close to the human connection of being warmly welcomed by a genuine smile.
So we baristas will be on the frontline of renewal when the lockdown ends – building back our communities smile-by-welcoming-smile, flat-white-by-delicious-flat-white.
For those of us currently on furlough, let’s use this time to recharge our batteries, to replenish our wells of positivity. And for those Well Grounded graduates just starting out, fear not – this industry, just like our regulars, will be back in no time.
This blog is the first in a series of pieces titled #MoreThanThe234. As part of our #SupportThe234 Crowdfunder Campaign, we have asked several of our partners to write blogs focusing on themes within speciality coffee, the hospitality industry, and the third sector to bring attention to issues of social change. If you’d like to learn more about our Crowdfunder campaign click here.
Stay tuned for our next blog, a piece on green coffee written by green coffee buyer and specialty coffee consultant Stuart Ritson.