SEATTLE -- In this coffee-centric area, where barristas are as plentiful as umbrellas, an independent supermarket has doubled gourmet coffee sales by shifting espresso sales to a self-service machine.
g the self-service espresso/cappuccino machine, said Michael Larson, Art's deli manager.
Customers operate the machine by pushing a button indicating their beverage preference -- espresso, cappuccino or latte. The automatic machine grinds the beans per order, makes the espresso and foams or steams the milk. Customers can also make flavored coffees by adding dashes of Italian syrups stocked at the self-service beverage station, where sodas and brewed coffees are also merchandised.
As a result of the shift to self-service, Art's has been better equipped to compete on price and convenience with other booming Seattle-area coffee bars, Larson said.
"This works out really well for us," he said. "The price points are much lower than at a Starbuck's, and since we probably have espresso stands at just about every other street corner here, we have lots of competition."
Art's sells espresso for $1.25, and charges $1.50 for any flavored drink, prices as much as 50% lower than comparable drinks at Starbuck's. "We sell a ton of coffee," said Larson. "This way is quick and easy. People like the fact they can put as much flavoring in their coffees as they want."
A few customers probably take advantage of Art's honor system, making quadruple espressos or adding excess amounts of syrup, he said, "but most people are honest." Customers identify their beverages and are charged accordingly either at the deli register or at the store's regular checkout line.
While the machine manufacturer, Acorto Inc., maintains the equipment, Larson selects the whole-bean decaffeinated and regular coffees used from a variety that Art's already sells.
The major savings have come through reduced labor costs, said Larson, with staff now responsible primarily for restocking and cleaning the area about three times daily. There have been very few complaints about the effect of the change on beverage flavor or quality, he said. And problems with product consistency and training have been eliminated.
"It's not complicated: Just press some buttons, and you get your coffee. It's a time saver for the customer."