Read The Tea Leaves

I’m not sure what your personal experience is like where you live on this small planet, but here in America, when you buy tea in a restaurant or café, the most incredibly (bad) customer service occurs.

When you order tea, you typically receive a cup (and saucer) of boiling water and (separately) a standard tea bag from a popular commercial brand such as Lipton. Your mission (should you choose to accept it) is to open the tea bag packaging and proceed to dip your teabag to your heart’s content.  For this manual labor, you are charged some kind of ridiculous premium: typically $2.75 or more.

Even Homer J. Simpson himself would be able to do the math to calculate cost of good sold (COGS) of a cup of boiling water (it’s pretty much zero) and a teabag (again, pretty much zero).

Contrast this with a similar scenario at your local Starbucks, where an Americano (boiling water and a few shots of espresso) sells to willing buyers at around $4 +.



In the former example, I would contend that restaurants should give away generic tea for free. Or if not, you should get as many teabags (and hot water) as you like. Yes, I get the fact some people like strong tea versus weak tea, but by the same token, restaurants don’t slap a raw piece of meat on your plate and say, “grill it yourself, ” do they? Perhaps I’m a romantic, but I hold hope that my waiter or restaurant barista is trained in the dark arts of “weak” or “strong” tea brewing.

Or of course, a restaurant can get fancy and create a tea library that rivals its single-malt scotch collection. Green, peppermint, Rooibos,  lemon -- and the flavors continue. They could even invest in real tea leaves, strainers and exotic flavors such as Mango Diablo (I recently purchased these from a new specialty tea store in Westport called Davids Tea).

In this day and age of transparency, there’s such a thing as too much transparence. In a time when customer experience is the new marketing, everything that touches a customer -- from website design and UI to preparation of tea -- is part of customer service.  When done right, our customers will pay a premium for great service, storytelling, subject matter expertise and concierge solutions. When done wrong, Twitter is just 140 characters away.

If it’s true that necessity is the mother of invention, I would contend that survival is the father of innovation. There’s absolutely nothing stopping a restaurant from turning the uninspiring delivery of a commodity into a unique, memorable and sharable experience.

And in doing so, what a unique opportunity to turn the last underwhelming contact with a customer into a lasting impression that surprises, delights and delivers the triple threat of repeat business, referrals and “earned media.”

Innovation these days is largely associated with technology, but sometimes it is worth getting back to basics, with a common sense, “analog” approach to better business.

Tea, anyone?

3 comments about "Read The Tea Leaves".
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  1. Nick D from ___, December 13, 2012 at 4:51 p.m.

    I almost don't want this to relate to marketing... I'm a tea drinker, and frankly, North America is not a good place to be a tea drinker, for the reasons you point out so well above. It's a shame that in the current day and age, when coffee has been elevated to an art form, that tea languishes, uncared-for, as the unexciting cousin. But when you do find a place that knows how to make a perfect cup of tea (very hot, very strong, very sweet), you'll remember it a long, long time...

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, December 14, 2012 at 12:13 a.m.

    Ireland, baby, Ireland. Great pots of tea and fresh food. US scraps wallets.

  3. Jacob S. from GSD&M, December 14, 2012 at 1:03 a.m.

    This is a good article (cliches and truisms notwithstanding). If you order tea in China it is poured in a special ritual which in of itself leaves you feeling refreshed. Storytelling and experience justifying the 98% profit the teahouse makes on tea. No dunking required! One point though - Starbucks tea is actually OK. Also, many places bring that wooden box of tea over for you to pick your own Mango, Peppermint, Camomile etc. They all taste like crap though.

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