I approached the coffee bar, browsed the delectable baked goods in the case and stood in a short line. A barista took my order. She handed me a tray and a white ceramic saucer and asked me to go to the end of the bar to pick up my grande coffee. When I received my coffee in a tall white ceramic mug, it was topped with a rich crema. I took my tray and walked over to a coffee-toned leather easy chair, put down my coffee on a modern white cafe table and then took a sip. Delicious. No, I wasn't feeding my caffeine addiction in a European cafe or even a Starbucks; I was enjoying a delicious cuppa in my local Berlin Hauptbahnhof McCafe.
According to CNN, the coffee war between Starbucks and McDonald's is hitting the States, where McDonalds is saying things like, "Four bucks is dumb. Now serving espresso." That may well be the case and I am sure the espresso is fantastic (it is amazing that machines can do today what it took a maestro barista to do in the past) but this isn't really only about getting cheap espresso. It is about having a worthwhile, comforting experience. What I love about Starbucks is fully experiential and not solely based on the quality of coffee. In Berlin, fantastic coffee is everywhere, but rarely comfortably. Traditional European-style cafes are are just comfortable enough to drink and run. There is no incentive to stay for very long. This is what makes Starbucks different, and this is what European McCafes are doing right.
I would never have expected McDonald's to offer silverware and ceramic mugs, would you? This little elegance is the difference between McDonald's "now serving espresso," and stirring in some cream and sugar into a nice coffee drink with a metal spoon and sipping it from a ceramic mug. If I have any advice for McDonald's, it's this: Please try to extend these fineries into your US and North American McCafe brand. While most of the guests may well order their lattes and machiatos "to go," many more will take to the cafes if they're treated to something akin to a Starbucks experience.
McDonald's will be competitive in its war with Starbucks based not only on the price point of the espresso drinks but on the quality of the experience. If they buy that dishwasher, stock some nice flatware and ceramic mugs, offer free Wi-Fi, and make sure the cafe area is always clean and pleasant, then people will be willing to chose McCafe over Starbucks, especially when Starbucks is overflowing and cramped and McDonald's is a welcome breath of fresh air.
McDonald's just needs to be sure to honor their McCafe customers with a nice place to sit away from the fast-food clientele and give customers some space to enjoy their pastries and drinks. If you do this and make sure there are enough power plugs for hungry laptops, you will be well on your way to being competitive in the still-lucrative coffee cafe market. To be honest, the cost of a grande black coffee at my local Berlin McCafe isn't much cheaper than it is at Starbucks or the other local European-style cafes -- maybe 20 Euro cents. But I don't care because my experience is safe and comfortable and available until 2 a.m. every night, well after everything else closes.
Here's a video of my experience: