I recently read a very thought-provoking article on NPR’s The Salt about an upcoming trend in baristas (aka. coffee craftsman, or those kind folks who make our “fancy” coffees at Starbucks etc) that are actually robots. Being the technophile that I am I was fascinated by Briggo’s Coffee Haus, a roughly 50 sq. foot cafe that is completely unmanned. All of the foamy traditional espresso and coffee drinks are made to order by a robot.
It seems Briggo looks to solve the problem of inconvenience in coffee houses caused by long lines and barista’s in training by offering up a high-tech cup of joe. Orders can be placed via internet/or the kiosk itself and provide the drinker with the option of how much of any ingredient goes into their drink and will get a consistent result every time. It is incredibly convenient, especially for those on the go, but it lacks ambience.
To be fair, Briggo does not seem to expect their customers to loiter and lounge as people do in their local cafe. But it does lead me to wonder, what is the future of the café? Of the coffee house? Perhaps in the future it will only be those who wish to linger that enter a traditional café. The people who find luxury in asking for a ceramic mug when they order their cappuccino and sit, sipping from it while they tap away at their keyboard or chat with a friend. Diverting those in a rush to a coffee machine would significantly free up space in coffee shops and provide a slightly quieter, calmer atmosphere. It may actually make both types of coffee drinkers happier with their experience.
Then there are the possibilities in bookstores. As many book folk know, bookstores have seen more success when they sell a variety of items. This is why you’ll find gift items, accessories and of course a café in many successful book stores. The little guys don’t necessarily have the space or the experience to house or run a coffee kiosk or café. If they rent space to a kiosk then, well, they have to have the space to begin with. Alternatively, if a bookseller wanted to open their own little café they’re faced with health regulations, staffing considerations and permit issues that they may not be familiar with. Here’s where Briggo and other high-quality kiosks come in. With it’s relatively compact size and low-maintenance approach to selling coffee, it opens up a world of possibilities.
Indie bookstores have the option of drawing in a new crowd and providing a new service with a significantly smaller headache attached to it. I’m excited by the possibilities it provides, though it is dependent on the success of Briggo and Manufacturer’s like them. I chose to see not as a threat to the coffee shop around the corner, but as a doorway to new options. What do you think?