Coffee has found itself the unlikely lightning rod of the hospitality sector this week, with one café, Queens of Mayfair, introducing what it claims is the UK’s most expensive cup of coffee, and Pret a Manger launching what must be the cheapest.
Queens has put a price of £50 on their fairtrade Ethiopian “cup of excellence”. Meanwhile at Pret their £20 a month subscription for up to five coffees a day works out at less than 15p a cup if you really go for it.
Cue lots of discussion about the price of coffee. “Ridiculous, no coffee can be worth £50,” say some. “Of course it can, it’s about rarity and quality, same a fine wine,” say others. (I’m firmly with the former, by the way. The fine wine comparison is entirely specious.)
Similarly, the Pret offer “just shows how much coffee shops were ripping us off before”, say the critics.
All comments miss the point, though. None of this has anything to do with the price of coffee. It’s about publicity.
The Queens coffee is a stunt plain and simple, a neat way to draw attention to a newly opened café. If I were passing, I might pop in. Not for the £50er, mind, but well done them. When was the last time you saw an independent coffee shop make headlines?
Pret’s offer, on the other hand, is a classic loss-leader in an attempt to improve footfall. Personally I’m not sure it will work. The only people I know using it are students who have, predictably, worked out how to share the subscription amongst friends and are unlikely to upsold a salmon buddah bowl while they are there. The risk is that the scheme has cheapened the image of their coffee, which I’ve always thought to be pretty decent.
So the moral of the story is to be careful when you use price as a PR tool. It might seem best these days to go low, but sometimes it’s better to aim very, very high.