Update 30 July 2008: in an amusing ironic twist to my original post, Starbucks is shutting down many premises in Australia, apparently including the usually empty one on Lygon St Carlton. They did not understand the local coffee market or the needs and wants of local consumers. There are too many smart people in Melbourne to be fooled by the faux Starbucks cool. The Financial Times says quite deadpan that:
This academic research on the demographics of cafe customers is engaging and banal. Apparently “coffee-drinkers who flock to chain cafes are craving brand recognition”. So that explains why they put up with horrible coffee. But wait, there’s more…
The research examines the “demographic divide between chain and independent cafe customers” in terms of age and gender but the article about the research does not mention other factors, such as location and education. We can read betwen the lines for our own amusement.
“Company directors and senior managers… prefer an independently made coffee”. Interpretation: more highly paid, more highly educated, and consequently more intelligent people prefer coffee based on the quality of the coffee and the skill of its maker.
In contrast, “clerical and administrative workers plump for chain cafes”. Interpretation: lower skilled, less educated and consequently less intelligent people prefer coffee based on stupid trends with false flavours and ridiculous names marketed by corporate brands that make the coffee equivalent of junk food. Starbucks and Gloria Jeans are the McDonald’s and Hungry Jack’s of coffee. Lowest common denominator, quantity not quality.
Location is also significant. For residents of inner suburbs with a strong cafe culture and few (if any) chains, independent cafes are an essential part of the community. The “symbolic want” – if it exists – is for originality and integrity. Where there is no local cafe culture, chains serve takeaway for the masses.
I was prepared to accept that this research may have some validity until I read that “Fans of chains are more interested in a cafe’s atmosphere and decor”. What, people like the bland ugly beige corporate look? They prefer that to the art filled walls, minimalist style and delicious coffee of somewhere like Mario’s, or the very differernt opp-shop beauty and equally fantastic coffee from Newtown SC, both on Brunswick St?
People choose independent cafes based on their style as well as for their coffee. The difference between chain and independent customers is in their differing aesthetic preferences, not the possession or not of an aesthetic sense. Well, I could argue that chain customers have no aesthetic sense, but I won’t waste my time on it…
Who are these researchers making these pathetic claims? Oh, I forgot. They identify themselves as chain customers, in other words as suburban clones who buy everything from chains. They buy their crap clothes, junk food and mediocre thoughts from chains. Uniqueness and diversity scare them.
An independent cafe owner quoted in the article says chains are for “those who would have otherwise settled for a Nescafe” (instant coffee). It probably goes nicely with their McSpam sandwich. I am sure I speak for many Fitzroyalty when I say that a good coffee is one that has no brand name on the side of the cup.