Monday, September 19, 2011

About Drive-Thru Coffee Culture

A commenter, katCL, posed a very interesting question in the comments to my last post, and I thought I'd put up both the question, and my response to it here.

katCL said...

I don't quite understand the "no drive-through coffee culture here yet" though. When some drivers stop in front of the neighbourhood grocers and blare their horns for assistance, is that not vey similar to the drive-thru concept? Not done in Dubai? It's very common in Abudhabi.
My response...
You are right that there is a sort of drive-in/thru culture in the UAE. But it's of a different sort. There's drive-thru when it comes to a McDonalds or Hardees or Burger King, or drive-in (and Honk! Honk! Honk!) when it comes to a road-side cafeteria. But those are places where you're grabbing a bite to eat. 
For fast food, drive thru works here. But when it comes to coffee, the situation is different.

Up until now, coffee in the UAE has been of a very European / Upper-crust American experience. People here are used to sitting down with a latte, or tall and expensive dessert type coffee drink, and spending time with friends. They chat, sip some very sweet caffeine, and while away an hour or two. It's a very social paradigm.

Drive-thru coffee, on the other hand, is a very utilitarian sort of experience. In Canada I would grab a cup on the way to work to help me get ready for the day. Or I'd make a run to Timmies for co-workers who were looking for their morning coffee fix. Generally speaking, however, Timmies was never a place to go to, it was a place to go by, on the way to somewhere else - a hockey game, work, etc. What makes it work in Canada is that we don't use coffee as the setting for socializing, but for the set-up to socializing. (There are some people you just do not talk to before their first cup in the morning.)

I do feel that the UAE is primed for the sort of drive-thru experience that Canadians know so well. And with Tim Hortons, there would be a viable alternative to the inescapable ubiquity of burgers and fries here. I think residents of the UAE would like to roll up in the morning on the way to work, and grab a bagel and cream cheese, or pass by at lunch for a freshly made sandwich. Unfortunately the Tim Hortons corporate people don't have that sense, and are setting up walk in locations only. I think the caution is understandable, from their perspective, after their experience in Ireland. But still, I do hold out hope.

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