I started working in coffee shops when I was 19. Within my first few months in the industry a question arose: How do these people do it? I couldn’t understand the appeal of customers showing up at the same coffee shop each morning, ordering the same drink, and heading off to the same day job every-single-day. It seemed expensive and, to be honest, routinely boring. Yet, there were so many people that held strong to this pattern.
During my time at the Lucky Llama in Carpinteria I got to know many of these individuals really well, awesome people with a “terrible habit” (in my opinion). They were punctual beings, coming in at the same time every day, down to the minute! And worse than their punctuality was their traditional system of ordering the same exact drink and never, I repeat NEVER, switching it up. Our extensive menu with all its wonderful options didn’t appeal to them, they wanted that medium soy latte, EVERY day. Some of them even came multiple times in the day with a specific pattern of drink orders – 7 am cappuccino, 12 pm iced latte, 5 pm black coffee. It baffled me.
What I wanted to know was: What was it about this routine that was so dang desirable…
Here are a few things I came to understand about regulars in my 19 months at the Llama.
A coffee shop (if its’s good one) can give a feel of “coming home”. The group of guys and gals serving these regulars become like family, actually more like awkward distant cousins, but all the same, some of the best people you’ll ever meet. Not only is it the employees that they get to know and love but also one another. A community forms amongst regular customers. They sit and chat, update each other on life, share newspaper pages, and debate over the latest controversies in the government.
Okay, so they like the community aspect, but how do they afford it?
Simple, they don’t (for the majority of them). They make a decision to spend a ridiculous amount of money each month for the sake of caffeine and community. I think of it as a personal petty cash system. They can’t make any truly reasonable excuse for their expenditures, so rather than taking the time to find a category to write into their budget, they just spend the extra cash floating around in their pockets. (Side Note: Most true regulars pay with cash, as they have their total memorized and find it much quicker and more convenient to hand a five dollar bill to the cashier. The lengthier alternative being to hand over a card, wait for it to be swiped and processed (with the risk of the transaction system crashing), getting the card returned, and putting it in back in the wallet. Wowza, it even takes a long time to type out! I get it now.)
Alright, so why the same drink?
Another easy answer lies in this question – they know what they like and they don’t care to change it. Some of us would challenge them to change it up and order something new. Most of the time this resulted in their dissatisfaction and sometimes a second order of their regular drink. Repetition might be terribly boring, but as in most circumstances, it usually works the best.
As the months went on I found myself wishing I didn’t work at the Llama so I could join them in the routine. I wanted to wake up, take a shower, get ready, hit the Llama for my daily Hammerhead (also known as a “Red Eye”), and be on my happy way to work. Even still, as an employee, I found myself spending my days off there, buying coffees and communing with the regulars – not just because I had a discount or because they had the best coffee in town (even though those were definite draws), but primarily because, at the Llama, one could always find a sense of celebration.
What do I mean by “sense of celebration”? Think about birthdays, Christmas, the birth of a child. Now think about the feelings that encompass a celebration – excitement, laughter, conversation, warmth. Imagine experiencing that every-single-day, for a small price of a $3 coffee. There! We’ve found the most important answer to the question. What is it about this routine that is so desirable? The celebration!
At the Llama the celebration is found in the people that gather, the music that’s played, the wonderful smells of coffee grounds and cinnamon rolls. Even the surroundings play a role in this. I mean, what’s a celebration without the decoration! The great Torrey Pine that shadows the patio, the morning light that shines in through the window doors, the large blue herrings that fly above head (occasionally dropping a surprise – party favor?) all bring to vision this celebration.
All of its unique qualities make for another great reason to keep coming back. Some people prefer to come in the early hours when it’s quiet and the sun hasn’t yet found its peak. Others wait till late in the day when the sky changes colors and the air is still warm enough to relax without the company of a sweater. Each person finds their own sense of celebration.
In the end, the money spent is just a great investment. As I am now one of those routined regulars, I had to learn this by experience. Scout has become my place of residence in the coffee world of San Luis Obispo. Since I’m not an employee there I can’t use the excuse of having a great discount to settle the pains of regular spendings. I’ve slowly found that my money not only goes towards investing in new relationships with the employees and locals, but also into a great local business. It’s nice to invest in and help flourish the dreams of a local business owner.
My husband and I don’t eat out much so coffee expenditures are our big splurge for the most part. If you can “afford” it, I encourage you to find a shop of your own and discover the celebration for yourself.
[The above pictures show off the Lucky Llama, taken by the manager herself; one showing the owners and their girls (they just had a baby boy too).]