Throughout Asia, and particularly in countries like Vietnam, people regularly meet in coffee shops. We do so for business, for pleasure, to people watch, play video games, watch YouTube, or socialize. With small overcrowded homes, and sometimes even smaller offices, we are always seeking out alternative locations to meet with friends, co-workers, schoolmates, or business partners.
What makes people pick one café over another though? Does it really matter? They all sell a lot of the same drinks – lattes, cappuccinos, Americanos, plus some form of cold beverages. Yet, it seems like everyone I know has a favorite hangout that remains consistently the same. If I am meeting colleague X, it is usually at café Y, while friend A always wants to go to café B. Often, at first glance it doesn’t make sense to me, as it might not be the closest, the cheapest, or have anything else apparently special about it.
We are influenced by some obvious factors like location. Most people will not drive across the entire city for their favorite drink. This is why brands like Starbucks, Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, or Wayne’s Coffee will not open just a single café in a city, but rather expand throughout a specific area and until as many as possible customers have easy access to their brand.
Also, parking convenience and access are also important. International brands and franchises are other reasons we make a choice. Knowing exactly what to expect, in terms of drink menu, food offerings, service style, and quality level, is attractive to consumers and often directs us to these well-known brand names instead of some local coffee outlet.
But many other factors can come into play. For example, the seating arrangement is often important. For business meetings, you would likely prefer a reasonable sized table to open multiple laptops and notebooks. You wouldn’t want those comfy love seats that are perfect for a young couple or that nice recliner perfect for a good book read. A café with large windows with great views or locations that allow for people watching can also be attractive.
Not everyone choses their café based on the quality of the coffee, but for many, myself included, quality influences our choices. Some like a specific coffee origin, flavor profile, or whether it is organic or not. The availability of a certain unique drink will attract others, like a Starbucks’ caramel macchiato, or a Wayne’s Coffee’s cold-pressed juice or supercino.
Let’s look at it from a brand perspective for a moment. Recently, I had a chance to speak with Mr. Pelle Persson, the Head of Expansion of Wayne’s Coffee, a Swedish based café chain popular throughout Europe and now expanding in several Asian countries (Vietnam, China). As they seek qualified partners around the rest of Asia to continue their expansion, they focus on keeping their brand unique very seriously.
Pelle: “It is of course important for us to be different to our competitors. We are aiming to be a brand that is fair in every part of our business. To our guests, to our employees, our suppliers etc. We are very proud of our products, and we are Scandinavian, so we try to incorporate both in our design and product assortment.”
Pelle: “Our Scandinavian design, high quality products, accessibility and our brand. We have a strong commitment to sustainability and ecological products. We also have a digital loyalty program that are getting more and more important to our guests. We reward our loyal guests when they visit us more frequently.”
Pelle: “We are working hard to improve all parts of our offering, from our digital platform, unique products, and our sustainability. Our Scandinavian store design has been awarded and acknowledged already. We are striving to become the friendliest coffee chain in the world!”
Regardless of the reason you choose your favorite café, sometimes it is good to try something new. Franchise brands continue to enter Asia and bring interesting menu choices, international designs, and unique variety. Give them a try.
As I head out for an organic hot cappuccino, I will appreciate the variety I get because my friends and colleagues all have different tastes.
Robert has over 25 year of F&B, including director level position in several well-known coffee franchises, and has lived in ASEAN for more than 13 years. He is currently the Director of Franchise Development & Operations at VF Franchise Consulting.