Worklife Reflects Design

A Starbuck’s in Arlington MA faces serious challenges in design. The challenge is that the café’s space is pie-shaped. Customers enter on the broad end of the pie. Entering customers proceed past the counter area where they order and pay to walk along the counter that runs towards the point of the pie, squeezing past those already in line. When they reach the end of the line, they turn around and shuffle towards the counter to give orders while newer arrivals squeeze by them. Along the way is a display case for coffee beans against the wall that squeezes everyone a bit tighter.

The design leads to a process kink in that the counter guy who is not on the cash register takes orders from people as they are in line along the pastry counter. He fetches the simple coffee orders and conveys the latte and beyond orders to the barista. When customers get to the cash, the guy at the register doesn’t have a complete list of that customer’s order, so straightening out what goes with whom takes a while, slowing down the process a bit more.

The result leaves a bit of tension. Customers do not want to squeeze by others. Starbucks customers do not appreciate queues taking even an instant longer than absolutely necessary. The poor workflow amongst the three staff creates an unnecessary tension that is not evident at other, more thoughtfully designed establishments.

Space matters. Design determines qualities of customer flow and work flow for the staff. It shapes everyone’s experience. Most customer service businesses give enough attention to design. It may not be exquisite but the space is not actively annoying. A few do have impressive design that actively enhances the experience. But a few fall obviously short.

Design makes a difference.

What makes a good café space for you?

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