There’s a lot to be said for enjoying a cup of coffee while doing your shopping at Waitrose, but are standalone cafés a good move?
So Waitrose might set up standalone cafés on the high street? Nothing wrong with this. The last time I look looked (which was yesterday) they had a winsome offer of cakes and buns and you have to suppose that their cappuccinos, lattes and hot chocs would be up to scratch in a café.
There is however a mild quibble about this and it takes the form of Costa, Eat, CafféNero and, of course Starbucks, not to mention all of the local cafes to be found up and down our high streets. There is almost a sense that cafés are taking over the job that used to be done by mobile phone shops a few years back – filling small, empty spaces and keeping up brimful appearances at our retail destinations. Again, nothing particularly wrong with this either, but the danger is that things will go the way of the mobile phone shop.
Time was when you’d find a row of phone shops lined up one after the other along a street and you could take your pick from a range of shop-fits about which you’d frequent as they all seemed to sell more or less the same thing (although the rates and tariffs on offer were and still are baffling). Fortunately there are fewer options when it comes to making a cup of coffee than there are mobile handsets.
But this editing of choice means that every new player that arrives on the high street is a me-too brand and unless something pretty extraordinary happens the outcome is a smaller cake (almond croissant, double-choc muffin or lemon drizzle slice) for all.
The Waitrose café that appeared in a store in Leeds last year was very good indeed and enjoying a light snack while eating from upmarket crockery was a pleasure. The point perhaps was that it was in an area where there were actually relatively few competitors. But given that many Waitrose stores are on major high, streets you can’t help but wonder how many coffee shops a location can support. As part of an in-store offering, a caféis a value-add for Waitrose shoppers. As a standalone concept there would seem to be rather more room for doubt.
Everyone is aware that margins in a café are massively higher than those achieved by selling supermarket products and Mark Price has always had an eye to the prize. That said, standalone Waitrose cafés might just be a bridge too far.