June 2008

Written by Lori Thiessen

The latest commercial for McDonald’s hawks McCafes or McDonald’s style lattes. Two women sitting in a trendy coffee shop sipping their specialty bevies start talking and the one says, “Did you know that McDonald’s makes lattes?” The conversation spins on and the two women extol the virtues of drinking McCafes: no need to wear nice clothes any more, or to try to look or sound intelligent and the price is much lower than at the ‘other’ coffee places.

McDonald’s is trying to cash in on the Starbucks buck. It wants to offer the specialty coffees that are so popular with people right now. Mickey D’s commercial makes it clear that women (30+) are the target audience. But what about the java commuters?

Now personally, I’ve never thought of McDonald’s as a place to hang out even when I was a wee slip of a girl. If I’m looking around for a place to hang my working shingle for a moment, I’m not thinking of the Golden Arches.

Most McDonald’s stores that I’ve been to are slightly to appallingly grubby. There’s that greasy odor in the air that is hard to get out of your clothes. The place is usually noisy and the seats are uncomfortable. And to my mind, McDonald’s food is landfill. Cheap, yes, but landfill nonetheless.

If McDonald’s is looking to up-market its image, it should include trying to attract the java commuter in its bit to attract more customers. If it wants to really cash in, offer free Wi-Fi which Starbucks in Canada isn’t currently doing.

But even if the decor was changed to comfortable seating, more outlets, and the food was upgraded to real food, I don’t know if I’d go there.

Q: Have you worked out of a McDonald’s restaurant? Would you consider working out of a McDonald’s restaurant if it was more java commuter friendly?

Thanks for stopping by and I’ll save your seat until next time!


Written by Lori Thiessen

“Coffee is the fuel of the 24/7 workforce” – Gregg Taylor, BBA, CHRP

How often have you stumbled out of bed after only a few hours sleep, mumbling, “Coffee. I need coffee.”? We’ve all been there. Whether we do it during university or do it for work, we drink coffee to keep up with our demanding schedules. StatsCan reported in 2003 that Canadians on average drink about 90 litres of coffee per year. If that’s hard to imagine, think of 22.5, 4 litre milk cartons filled to the brim with caffeine goodness.

There are plenty of reasons to keep reaching for the coffee pot to help you get over the hurdles: deadlines, competing for dollars or your job, learning new technology, late meetings, early morning meetings, conferences, . . . well, you get the picture.

Some days the idea of an IV drip of coffee makes sense. My sister who is a busy at-home mom suggested that the traditional beer hat should be converted into a coffee cap – two steaming hot mugs of coffee with feeding tubes extending from the mugs to the mouth mounted on either side of a sturdy piece of headgear. It’s hands-free coffee drinking, and it keeps your head warm during the frostier seasons.

Filling that cup and raising it to your lips wastes time that could be spent on the presentation that’s due, oh, in 20 minutes. Plus that fitness boot camp you signed up for will happen after work and that friend’s birthday party later on. Oh yeah, and that yick in the back of the fridge that’s starting to take on a life of its own needs to be cleaned out. It’s a lot to pack into a measly 24 hours.

That’s why the coffee shop is the perfect place for an office. It’s like hanging out at the gas bar in your car. A cup of coffee is never far away and if you are nice to the baristas, they may even run a coffee over to you when you raise your hand. I wonder if coffee shops could be persuaded to sell coffee in carafes for individuals instead of just groups of people. Hmmmm.

Q: Has your coffee intake has increased over the last few years? Why do you think that is? How do you feel about drinking more coffee?

Thanks for stopping by and I’ll save your seat until next time!

Written By Lori Thiessen

Who are you, really? Some sociologists would have us believe that we are nothing more than a collection of brand names masquerading as real, live human beings. To some extent, I agree. Every choice we make these days, whether we do it unconsciously or consciously, is calculated to bolster your image of yourself and groom the image you want to present to the world.

Even the kind of coffee shop you go to regularly plays a part in your identity construction. For the folks who love to hate Starbucks, boycotting the company becomes a statement calculated to say something more about their own identity than really taking down the evil corporate empire bent on world domination.

Aiden Enns wrote about his conscious choice to avoid Starbucks so that his choice would reinforce the public image he has cultivated for himself as a “justice-seeking, generous, community-minded citizen” (Canadian Mennonite.  Waterloo:Mar 19, 2007.  Vol. 11,  Iss. 6,  p. 12 (1 pp.)). And that’s great.

Personally, I too prefer to give my few meager pennies to a mom’n pop shop than a large corporation, but I’m not going to kick up a fuss if a friend or friends of mine and I decide to get together at the local Starbucks. I want to hang with my peeps, and the coffee ain’t so bad at Starbucks.

In fact, until recently coffee shops weren’t on my list of hang out joints for anything, work or play. It was only last month that I bought a laptop. Shocking, I know. The only time I would get out would be to do reading or pen-paper stuff and then I’d drive somewhere to spend some time working in my car. For years, my budget just didn’t extend to paying for coffee and treats out on a regular basis. Home was the cheapest place for me to work, if the loneliest place at times. So what does this say about my identity? Do I even have one? I know I do, it’s just I’m too tired with doing other stuff in my day to work at ensuring my carefully crafted identity is in good working order.

Thankfully, my financial circumstances have improved and I am able to enjoy the odd cup of coffee out , even to work at a coffee shop, thanks to laptops and free WiFi. But I don’t really care where I’m ‘seen’ drinking my coffee and doing my work . When I look in the mirror I know who I am.

Q: Do you make your choice of coffee shop based on how you want to be perceived by others? If so, please explain.

Thanks for dropping by and I’ll save your seat until next time!

Written by Lori Thiessen

How much should you spend in a coffee shop if you are camping out for several hours, working away on your laptop? This is one of the questions that a sensitive java commuter thinks about.

However, I came across this article by Julia McKinnell (“A latte people stick it to Starbucks”  Maclean’s.  Toronto:Oct 30, 2006.  Vol. 119,  Iss. 43, p. 82 (1 pp.)) in which she described people ordering a double espresso in a large cup then walked over to the condiments table. Into the half-full cup, these cheapskates poured a load of milk, then microwaved it for an el-cheapo latte!

Now I know that Starbucks is currently at the top of a lot of people’s ‘love to hate’ list, but jeez louise, show some class. Some may rationalize this behavior by saying that Starbucks is a big-ass corporation that won’t be any worse off for a little milk and I, as a hard-working, one-man-band, java commuter don’t have much money to throw around.

I think this latte fraud stuff is 1) utterly pathetic, and 2) Starbucks will likely just raise or has already increased, the cost of your double espresso by a couple of cents (and the lattes the rest of us buy on the up-and-up, thank you oh so much!) to compensate for the increased consumption of milk used as a condiment.

I don’t know if this behavior is prevalent here in Vancouver and the article chronicling this behavior is almost 2 years old so I hope that people have stopped doing it in Toronto by now.

All the self-help pundits and gurus claim that you can’t control anybody else’s behavior, but if you see someone pulling a stunt like this in your local coffee shop (whether it’s Starbucks or a little mom and pop joint), bash ‘em with your laptop and I’ll look the other way.

Q: Do you agree or disagree with this kind of thing (e.g. making a fraud latte, or smuggling in your own coffee and eats into a coffee shop to save money while you camp out)? If yes, please explain why.

Thanks for dropping by and I’ll save your seat until next time!

Written by Lori Thiessen

Are you feeling the urge to be part of the tribe but there are too many electronic fences (e.g. Blackberrys, laptops, Blue-tooths, etc.) keeping you out?

Part of the reason why people want to work out of their local coffee shop rather than in their home office is because they get lonely. We are social animals after all and we want to be part of a pack. We may feel that we are on some level connecting with others when we work out of our local coffee shop, but really we’re just sitting beside each other texting someone in another city, state or country.

The Economist ‘s April 12 edition, an article entitled “The New Oases”, touches on this issue:

James Katz at Rutgers fears that cyber-nomads are “hollowing them out”. …These places are “physically inhabited but psychologically evacuated”, says Mr Katz, which leaves people feeling “more isolated than they would be if the cafe were merely empty”. That is because the “physical presence of other human beings is psychologically and neurologically arousing” but now produces no reward. Quite simply, he says, we have not evolved biologically to be happy in these situations.

Simply going to the coffee shop to sit with others, physically and psychically isolated by technology only intensifies our longing for positive social connection. It’s like standing outside a house party and enjoying the happy party sounds going on but feeling like Charlie Brown – always left out. Good Grief!

I was having coffee with a friend at the Waves Coffee Shop on Commercial Drive. We noticed that it was as quiet as a library. The place was nearly packed but you could have heard a pin drop. Everybody was working away on their laptops and white earphone wires trickled down almost every cheek. It made my friend and I feel very uncomfortable and before long we left. Monasteries were rowdier than this joint. There was no possibility of momentary socializing here, even between two people who were already good friends.

Sometimes it is great to just “be” around people, to feel a part of something even if you’re not. But eventually we all want to be with people, to share ideas, stories, and information. Friendships can develop between java commuters, but it takes time. A friend of mine had the following sign up on her desk, ‘There are no short cuts to long term relationships’. So stick to maybe one or two coffee shops as your regular hang out and who knows in a few months time you may have a new pal or two.

Q: What are some strategies you would suggest for developing coffee shop co-working friends?

Thanks for dropping by and I’ll save your seat until next time!