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Coffee is an inherent necessity.

The muddy brew is sought out every morning by the droves. Its need is embedded with morning routine therefore masking any connection to ‘addiction’. The morning beverage was featured on war posters during WWII selling war bonds, showcasing a smiling soldier gripping his steaming tin mug. The iconic Folger’s Coffee was established in 1855 in San Francisco, selling their product in slender aluminum cans that are now collector’s items. Then there was the instant coffee craze for folks seeking strange conveniences followed by the Starbucks frenzy that nearly dominated the entire coffee scene in the early 2000’s. Whichever way you put it, coffee is both work and leisure. Its said coffee’s best friends are donuts and cigarettes. And let’s face it; coffee in its many forms is absolutely delicious.

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And what of cafes? They’re the meeting place, the hub of social interaction. In most cases, cafes are the epitome of cool and they don’t even try—with their fashionably worn-out furniture, eclectic wall décor and music, and wide range of discussions taking place between tables. In the 60’s coffee shops were filled with artists, poets, and musicians; an undisputed breeding ground for a culture that was constantly reshaping and reinventing itself around various social movements.

But time has changed and so has coffee. A simple cup of joe or coffee black doesn’t exist in this day and age. People make requests for ‘skinny’, half caff, quad shot, and all sorts of crazy concoctions that make baristas roll their eyes.

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And after all that crazy nonsense, customers still expect a certain amount of amenities, e.g. free and unlimited: wifi, refills, bathroom use, water, etc. included with their cup of coffee.  The atmosphere is changing as well. Cafes are no longer a place to meet and greet with old friends, ponder the day’s musings, or read the paper.  Rather young techs and corporate folk consume the line with phones, tablets, and earpieces chatting and texting away; forever distracted and removed from the customer service experience.

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Cafes appear to be the official hosts for casual business. Strategic planning, budgeting, project reviews, interviews, and conference calls all take place amongst everyday strangers—all this activity for a relatively low price of $1.50 (prices vary). How do small cafes manage to stay in business? This conundrum is a bit of a catch 22. Though these new customers bring in money, their budget is limited to obvious intentions—strictly business (with a receipt to furnish as proof for later reimbursement). Unfortunately, this hustle and bustle detracts from the gracious host—the café.

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“What’s the password to your wifi?” How many times have you heard or said those same words? Did your transaction pend on the answer given? No need to feel bad, I’m not here to judge and point fingers because I’m guilty of it as well…

Larger establishments like Starbucks, Pete’s, and most recently Philz have had time to acclimate to these changes and honestly, they can afford it. When it comes to freebies/amenities, they have a bit more flexibility to splurge here and there because of their loyal customer base, associated merchandise (e.g.: coffee beans, music, apparel, gift cards), and media presence. Online shopping and corporate accounts never hurt either. As for smaller family-owned cafes, the budget is tighter and business fluctuates depending on many variables that pit them against the big leaguers. Providing artisan coffee and art deco design is simply not enough, unless of course, that customer is a caffeine/art history aficionado…

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So the question remains, as much as any business enjoys and reaps the fruit of their labor/customers, do these smaller cafes like these particular penny-pinching-table-hogging customers with their jumbled clumps of cables and adapters stretching across the floor acting as trip wire for fellow patrons? Strangely, the answer is yes. Any money is some money.

How can smaller businesses outshine larger competitors when expectations are set exceedingly high? By employing and adapting to technology—like what you ask?

Plenty of help is available that aims at fostering customer loyalty. Some cafes have even ventured into third party loyalty reward programs like FiveStars, a customizable service that can track and tally purchased items, in this case beverages. When a set limit is reached, customers are rewarded with a free coffee. FiveStars is easy to navigate and can be integrated with a business’s POS for a steadfast experience. All in all, returning customers will receive some added perk when they’re reached their free coffee and cafes can rest assure that newcomers and regulars alike will remain happy and devoted to their establishment. FiveStars is a great tool that brings small businesses and communities together.

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While reward programs help to establish a dependable customer base, sometimes an effort to show support for techs is needed as well. After all, it’s never a bad idea to support those who’ve supported you and this can usually be done with clandestine elegance. Let us examine San Francisco’s Revel Systems POS, which runs on an Apple iPad and integrates QuickBooks for streamlined bookkeeping. This setup exhibits two things: Revel and Apple. Now try to think of the bigger picture, both are local companies who have employees living all along the Bay Area, right? Of course and observant techies coming in as caffeine-deprived customers will see these displays as a token of recognition for this booming industry niche. For even smaller businesses that can’t afford a robust POS, Square is here to save the day with its affordable and portable mobile card reader. Essentially, technology is available for businesses of various sizes… proprietors just have to find the right fit for their company.

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And don’t underestimate the rise of mobile payment, where paying is as easy as the flick of a wrist. With Apple Pay conjuring a considerable following within the last year, money can be scrounged from the screens of smartphones hassle free. No more digging in pockets for loose change. Small cafes are really making an effort to catch onto these new conveniences and innovations as a means of luring new customers and catering to the growing tech demographic settled within the Silicon Valley. Let’s just hope these new customers are a bit more conscientious next time they stand in line.

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