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Posts Tagged ‘Weston-super-Mare’

Someone mentioned just recently that I hadn’t posted on my blog for sometime. The truth is I must have a reason to write, something to write about. Sometimes its about something that has laboured long on my heart, other times it’s sharing some good times and other times it’s a rant.

Well this is most definately a rant. It’s a rant about coffee!

My tipple is a medium latte, extra shot, extra hot wet, which is the same as a medium no foam extra shot extra hot latte. In fact it can be any derivative you fancy, but, it needs to end up in the cup pretty much the same, with an extra shot and extra hot and no foam…..simple! Isn’t it?

Starbucks understands, Cafe Nero understands, Costa? no!….well yes they do….sometimes.

You see the problem is that Costa has decided to franchise. The frustrating thing with the mighty Whitbread (who owns the Costa brand) is that they seem more concerned with expansion than they do with quality. They have no problem with opening sites, they are expanding at such a rate of knots that soon they will have more sites than anyone else, but whats the point when they can’t police the ones they have. How many of their managers, area managers, regional managers are seasoned baristas? Not many I should wager.

The strap line they have chosen for the brand is;

Costa – We make it better

Um….sorry Mr Whitbread….no you don’t!

The main issue that Costa has to contend with is that it is ensconced in the dreaded F word…..FRANCHISE.

Now franchising I have no issue with, I have worked for a company in the past and looked after the franchise side for a while. Franchising is good. If you have a strong brand with great support, arduous training, regular reviewing it can work.

Sadly I fear that Costa has spent more time on opening doors than opening training manuals. Yes believe me there are good Costa’s as much as there are poor ones. The part of coffee retailing I feel strongly that they have lost sight of is CONSISTENCY.

My extra shot, extra hot, wet latte can vary so much between shop to shop its incredible. My local shop I popped into this morning had no idea what I was asking for. Three weeks ago at Clacket Lane Services on the M25 I ended up making it myself.

Sadly for the inhabitants of Weston-super-Mare, we have now 2 Costa’s and a few independants. Not a Starbucks or Cafe Nero or even a Coffee Republic in sight.

Love Starbucks or loathe them (I quite like them personally) the one thing you can pin your hat on is the fact that their teams have a rigorous training regime. Baristas are trained to a high level, which has the effect of ensuring that we the consumers have exactly what we want whatever shop we go into. Yes you will get the odd naff cup, but its very rare. If a trainee doesn’t understand your requirement they will ask for clarification, no arguments. Not only have they been trained in coffee making, they have been trained exstensively in the dieing art of customer service. The same has to be said for Cafe Nero. Great coffee, almost every time.

Unfortunately I don’t think that Costa has grasped the concept of quality. Yes, they have grabbed with both hands the price. Like an acrobat on the parallel bars they have a vice like grip on the price, but if I’m paying £2:50ish for a coffee I expect it to be right.

So Whitbreads take a long hard look at what you’re doing. You have a strong brand, but if you don’t protect it, it can so easily and quickly be damaged.

Right im off to Starbucks to console my taste buds

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It’s incredible to think that it was 5 years ago that such terror and horror arrived in the heart of London. Had it been a year earlier, it wouldn’t have affected me so much.

 London was a city that didn’t really hold much for me, i’d visited a few times, worked there for 9 months and detested it with a passion. Having grown up on the coast, this was way way out of my comfort zone and I remember feeling at the time of working and living there so alone, and longing for the weekends when I would come back to windswept beaches and quiet! That’s what it was that hit me the most, how noiseless Weston was compared to the bustling streets and the emergency service sirens that would scream ‘GET OUT OF THE WAY’ as they negotiated their way down busy roads; although to me initially they would not be telling me to stay clear, more of a ‘bad people up to bad things’ kind of warning. They filled me with fear for a while, like anything with a bit of familiarity you tended not to notice them after a while. Van Morrison wrote ‘Can you feel the silence…’ and yes you can! Of course being a carrot cruncher from the West and staying in the Capital, you can most definitely feel the silence and the extremes of these two so different of places.

The year of 2005 was so much different. I had a fabulous job, I couldn’t wait to get back to London if I came home for the weekend. I used to drive past the Houses of Parliament on my way to the office and every single time I would have a broad grin on my face. It was another world, I was older so appreciated it more. I was paid well so could ensconce myself in the culture. I had a better understanding of art, so the Tate Modern, National Gallery and the Portrait Gallery were new and exciting places to lose myself in. The Photographers Gallery just outside Covent Garden was a place I would visit and revisit every time the exhibition changed. These places were not just to view but they had become thought-provoking, they were now ‘wow’ moments. I remember having conversations with my good friend Ian and looking at him incredulously as he would extol the virtues of Tracey Emin and Banksy, he would laugh at my glazed blank expression and my constant utterings of ‘WHATEVER!’, but this was different, I kind of got it now.

The architecture around the Royal Exchange I would be bowled over by, the old bank buildings, Leadenhall Market, the Gherkin, the new Lloyds building, the Pru building in Holborn with its red brick turrets, absolutely breathtaking.

Dinner in Spittafields market, Wong Keis in China Town, Giraffe on the Embankment, Cafe Nero outside Liverpool St station, these were all synonymous with my busy but wonderful time of three years working and living in London.

You see the picture im trying to portray is that I had come to love the City, we had become good friends, I missed it when I was away, I had started to have memories of great times. There were places that had become more than a coffee shop or a good eatery, but that’s where I had had a conversation with a particular person, who more often than not, I didn’t know when I went in through the doors to order my extra shot extra hot latte, but due to my ‘i’ll talk to anyone’ policy, had left thinking I’d made a new friend.

That is partly why, it was so sad when 07/07 happened, it was now my London, it was a massive part of me, I felt protective towards it, I took it personally. The people who suffered such horrible injuries, the people who so sadly lost their lives the families that everyday from this day onwards would mourn, I felt so close to, they were part of my extended family. I think you have to have spent some time there to really feel it.

On the 06/07 I was driving back from a meeting in Birmingham and as I trundled along in the middle lane of the M25 late in the afternoon , a lorry pulled out and literally took the side off my car. The garage we leased our cars from was in Tunbridge Wells and for some unearthly reason they were insistent that I should go and pick a new car up from their garage. On reflection, what an appalling, ridiculous customer care policy. Here was our company leasing a dozen or so cars from them, and I had to go to them? When should I pick it up? How about the next day, yes that suited me fine, I would go to Tunbridge Wells, I guess about 40 miles outside London ready to get the new car first thing on Thursday the 7th of the 7th 2005.

Would I have been on the underground at the time? I don’t know. My work pattern was that I would get to my office for 6-6:30 work for a few hours and about 8:30 when the office started to get busy, would go and do store visits for a few hours. Sometimes I took the Tube other times I would walk.

I doubt I would have been on any of the Tube lines the bombs went off, but I would have been caught up in the fear of it all.

 I remember listening to BBC 5Live  and hearing a trickle of phone calls going live on air about bangs being heard in the heart of the City. I remember the dread of having report upon report being quantified, verified, confirmed by listener after listener.

It was horrendous. I couldn’t ring into the office, mobile phones didn’t work, you couldn’t get a signal. I couldn’t find out if my colleagues were safe or to let anyone know that I was safe. All I could do was sit in the resulting traffic jam for what seemed like hours and listen to the radio, and get sadder and sadder as the reports grew more vivid of the carnage affecting so many and created by a few.

Today 5 years on, there will be individuals, companies, families, complete strangers who will be remembering and mourning the death of someone they knew, someone they happened to come across, someone they worked with, someone they married, someone they gave birth too, someone they loved a little, someone they loved a lot…..

….and we would do well to remember them also.

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