It sounds like a bad thing, on its face: Odeko data from Q3 of 2020 says there’s been a big increase in the time in between in-store transactions in coffee shops. Whereas this time between was usually 30-90 seconds in the Before Times (aka pre-COVID), we’re now seeing 90-180 seconds. Even at non-peak hours, shops can see lines, and it’s taking longer to process each customer.
But is this actually a bad thing? We asked some of our coffee shop partners, and they had a surprising answer: No, it isn’t. It usually means they’re talking more to their customers. Here’s more of what they had to say:
Zoë Kaplan-Lewis, 48 Treehouse Cafe: “Prior to the stay-at-home order, a lot of our business came from customers staying for a while—we’re a small, cozy cafe with indoor seating and free wifi. Our business had consistent busy and slow times. Overall, we are less busy now. When we’re busy varies from day to day, probably because society does not have the generally set schedule that revolves around commuting to and from work. On average, interactions with any given customer take longer now. I think many people rely on the human interaction from workers at shops to compensate for the lower frequency of human interaction we are all experiencing.”
Ron Shuler, Joe Coffee: “A couple of factors may be causing this increase: A new customer unfamiliar with menu, PPE obstructing clear understanding of order, diminished ability to make the personal connection which everyone is seeking while wearing masks. Our busiest times have remained the same, although the ramp up and peak are less demonstrable. One other observation is seeing evening hours in neighborhood stores increase, which is not surprising given the current environment.”
Jeremy Lyman, Birch Coffee: “Transaction times are absolutely going up, but I believe customers' patience level and degree of understanding are as well. We've all been experiencing something we never have before. Customers have all had different stories throughout the pandemic and often, we are people's only interaction during the day. Now that people are working from home, they're craving a connection even more. I believe between this and many of our regulars wanting to catch up with their favorite barista, we're seeing an increased transaction time. Additionally, we used to be able to have two or three registers going at a time which sped things up. Now, due to social distancing, we only use one. Pastries aren't displayed, so that will often take an extra couple of seconds.”
Connection with customers is clearly on everyone’s minds. What our shop managers have expressed to us is a desire to cut back on the time spent transacting with customers so that time can instead be used connecting with them—asking about their day, their lives, instead of whether they’re using cash or card.
One way to do this is by offering the ability to order ahead. Customers can order at their convenience, baristas can concentrate on crafting those incredible beverages, and, best of all, when the customer comes in to get their drink, the two can converse rather than transact.
While the phenomenon of people craving more conversation, more interaction with those outside their household has its roots in the COVID-19 crisis, building these relationships with your customers may very well continue beyond the pandemic.
Life is returning to New York City as we enter Phase 4. Businesses are opening back up; restaurants are making street dining work; and certain companies are even having employees return to the office.