Recently, McDonald’s UK launched an ad that drew the ire of James Hoffman. The famous Jim Seven questioned whether McD’s was mocking the coffee industry, their customers, or both.
— James Hoffmann (@jimseven) February 22, 2017
It is no exaggeration to say James Hoffman is a legend in the Specialty Coffee world. He blogs at jimseven.com, and it’s one of my favorite blogs to read. He has done more for coffee than I ever will. But maybe it’s been too long since Jim Seven was a coffee noob. The experiences portrayed (rather well, in my opinion) is very real for many coffee goers. He wrote this post that seemed to advocate calling out coffee snobbery and writing reviews of cafes that make you feel like an outsider.
I’ve never been to a cafe in London or anywhere in England for that matter. I’ve only stopped over in the airport on my trips from Germany to the U.S. and back. But i’ve experienced the confusing menus, confusing ordering location and etiquette, and ignorance of the right ‘coffee words’ to use. To compound it, many baristas don’t want to take the time to educate coffee noobs like myself, and are content to leave us outside looking in.
So in that sense, the McDonald’s ad had more than a shred of truth to it. If it hurts to hear it, that’s okay- it’s a sign there’s a problem. Jennifer Ferreira, in her excellent cafespaces blog wrote: “In my experience baristas in specialty coffee shops are often only too happy to talk about the coffee options (and about the different beans and blends, brewing methods etc).” (2017) She confesses her learning curve took off only when she started asking questions. Many of us don’t like the uncomfortable feeling that we don’t know it all. I run right through that feeling to ask questions at cafes and suggest you do the same.
Jennifer also agrees with Luke Underdone from Garage Coffee, who responded to the ad in part by writing: “But importantly, this isn’t just about the end consumer. We (the speciality coffee industry) have a responsibility to make coffee as accessible, and be as approachable as possible.” (2017) It would seem safe to assume, from reading these blog posts, that many didn’t take as much offense to the ad as Jim Seven did. Instead, they acknowledged it for what it was: Great advertising with a little bit of truth in it.
The ad was executed flawlessly. I found myself relating to the clueless customers very easily. That was the point. I was supposed to put myself in their shoes, admit I’m overwhelmed by the coffee snobbery that exists in cafes, and go to McDonald’s- who will give me what I want without any fuss. As a specialty coffee customer, I didn’t feel mocked. As an industry n00b, I didn’t feel mocked. I was reminded that customers deserve and exceptional experience.
Because in spite of all the truth in the ad that improvements can be made around the world of specialty coffee, McCafe is not the answer for Specialty Coffee. You will get a cup of coffee, but you won’t get an experience. I’ve tried their coffee, their mochas, their lattes, their frappes. It’s nothing special. It rivals Starbucks and other big chain, high margin, coffee pimps whose final destination in specialty coffee is their bottom lines. There will always be a market for folks who are content with that kind of coffee and that kind of service.
Let’s do our best to show them the light- what great coffee can taste like, and that creating it can be an incredible experience that rivals the delight of consuming it. And let’s do it while letting the truth sting, and spur us on towards better service.