More Than a Cup of Joe: Coffee on Campus

September 20, 2013


For an unassuming beverage, coffee has a lot to answer for: In 17th century England, it was coffee houses that spawned a variety of commercial institutions from the Stock Exchange to Sotheby’s. In America, coffee has been responsible for producing no less than Bob Dylan and the setting for numerous television sitcoms (remember Friends?), while the genesis of the American Revolution was much more about coffee meetings in Philadelphia, than tea in Boston Harbor. With such a tradition of culture, it’s not surprising that coffee found its way to the college campus where it has become the focal product of many Barnes & Noble College cafés.

A Versatile and Varied Experience

“It makes us a destination,” explains Lisa Shapiro, Director of Café & Convenience for Barnes & Noble College. “It’s a place where I can meet my friends, a place where I can have a departmental or faculty meeting, or have my lunch; it becomes my everyday breakfast option.” Shapiro admits that ‘going for coffee’ has itself become a ritual in our society, but with over 70 café locations, coffee at the campus bookstore can be a versatile and varied experience. “Our store locations run the gamut from malls to community colleges, to hospitals and medical universities, and the role of coffee in the retail mix can vary greatly from store to store,” she says.

Students enjoying coffee beverages in the Furman University Bookstore cafe.
Students enjoying coffee beverages in the Furman University Bookstore cafe.

Although nationally most coffee is consumed in the morning, Shapiro maintains that her customers have a particular relationship with the beverage. “Our students tend to think of coffee as an indulgence, they’ll come in mid-morning or mid-afternoon and treat it as an extravagance,” she explains.

Exactly what they drink might also be specific to a younger population, and by its perennial nature, coffee isn’t impervious to trends. “For our student demographic, sweeter is better – which is why items like iced coffee and Frappuccino’s are big sellers,” Shapiro says. That sweet, indulgent impulse is also, incidentally, reflected in student tea choices, and the recently introduced Chocolate Chai Tea has become a popular addition to the menu.

Aaron Torio agrees. The manager of the California State University – LA Starbucks Cafe finds his customers’ drink of choice runs as long and varied as the menu in his cafe, but sugary is always best. “In our store, we serve students, faculty and administration, so the preferences differ tremendously,” he says, “but students definitely gravitate towards the sweeter drinks.”

Torio’s customers also get a little something extra with their cup of Joe when they visit his café. “Most of the employees here are students on this campus, so they can connect with our customers in a much more personal way,” he explains. “They can say, ‘Hey, how are your finals going?’ or ‘Hey, good to see you again, how was your spring break?’ which forms a great connection with our customers. I tell my staff that we’re not just serving coffee, we’re selling great customer service with a side of coffee.”

A Coffee to Stay

Despite competition from sodas and teas, coffee consumption has jumped in the last year by 5% according to research by the National Coffee Association, with 83% of Americans identifying themselves as coffee drinkers.

Barnes & Noble College has itself enjoyed a relationship with Starbucks coffee since 1993 and coffee has held a distinct and important role in the campus bookstore. “We’re absolutely about driving traffic,” Shapiro says, acknowledging that coffee helps create loyalty to the college brand with a craving that also leads to frequent visits to the bookstore. “Coffee enables us to become the hub of the campus,” she says. “It helps us create the perfect place for our customers to browse or study, or read.” As it turns out, it’s also the perfect place to enjoy a great cup of coffee.