Coffee consumers appear to be willing to put up with certain inconveniences to get their favorite brew, and many view the process as simply a part of the experience.
Perhaps that's why very few consumers at Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, Starbucks, Peet's Coffee and Tea and Black Dog Coffee, an independent shop, let long lines deter them from getting their morning cup of java, even on days when they're running late to work.
During a random survey last week, the waits for a mocha latte ranged from two minutes at Black Dog to 10 minutes at Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf.
Peter Mehrberg, vice president of business development for Peet's, said that for the last six years it has been installing electronic order displays in its stores as a means of easing communication between cashiers and baristas.
"Our whole focus is delivering a superior-quality beverage, and everything is handmade," said Mehrberg. "There's a balance between the delivery of a superior-quality beverage and giving it as quickly as customers expect."
Though intended for the staff, the screen was easily visible to customers waiting at the Peet's on Montana Avenue in Santa Monica, giving them a way to measure the experience.
The Starbucks at Wilshire Boulevard and Highland Avenue, like many others around town, sought to speed the process by having the cashier take orders while another employee quickly scrawls a customer's name on the cup to keep things moving.
Although they're in a hurry and badly in need of caffeine, it was the rare customer who had a complaint about the service they received.
"They know what I want," said Janet Moser, an attorney with the Securities and Exchange Commission who goes to Black Dog four days a week for her double latte. "Sometimes they have it ready while I'm waiting in line."
At Peet's, where a cashier politely asked if she could help someone who was hanging back and examining the menu, customer Ken Neeley said, "They always have plenty of helpers."
And there's not a lot of turnover, said Alex Kaminskas, another Peet's customer. "The people inside are really nice and they don't shuffle too much," he said. "When I go to the counter, I'm very happy to see them."
But Starbucks drinker J. Kim said he dreads the new employee who can gum up the works. As for how he's treated, he said, "They're always too busy. There's nothing on a personal level. They're more business-oriented."
The speed with which stores deliver their coffee is one of many factors people use to determine which store they will visit. Flavor, proximity to home or work, the attitude of the staff, even being on the "right" side of the street all play a role.
No matter how arbitrary the reason, most consumers found a coffee shop and stuck with it.
"I could run to 7-Eleven and get a cup of hot coffee, but I kind of like the ritual," said Doug Aarniokoski, a writer and producer who visits the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf at Wilshire Boulevard and Ninth Street in Santa Monica each day after dropping his kids off at school.
He also likes the small-town feel. "It's nice to go to a place where someone knows your
name," said Aarniokoski. "It's a lost art."
This sense of community is especially important for Zander Lichstein, a software engineer for Ask Jeeves who works from home. Sitting on the patio and reading a paper at Coffee Bean with his mixed-breed Chihuahua, Lucky, on his lap, Lichstein said, "I work from home and I don't get to interact with people at all unless I leave."
And while he likes the coffee there, he added, "I don't think I would like the coffee any more or less at Peet's or Starbucks or Seattle's Best or Diedrich."
Even within chains, service can vary from store to store.
Real estate agent Francine Fitzgerald prefers Starbucks, and is even willing to bypass a store closer to her home in favor of one slightly out of her way. "This one is better," said Fitzgerald. "Even when it's busy like this, they get you in and out."
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