Back in the day, buying coffee at a convenience store in Japan meant either getting it in a can, or if you were feeling extra fancy, a prepackaged plastic cup.
However in recent years, the major convenience store chains in Japan have introduced relatively fresh coffee alternatives mostly by using an automatic dispenser which grinds and brews the beans on the spot. Among these chains, Lawson is unique in that you’ll even find a little chalkboard sign and clerk wearing an apron to really drive home that fresh coffee atmosphere.
What’s more, rather than being handed an empty cup and sent to the self-serve machine, Lawson’s pseudo-baristas will do it for you and hand you the brewed goodness themselves while asking if you’d like milk, sugar, or that weird syrup stuff people like to use around here.
This service, called the Machi Cafe, was developed by Hideomi Yamada back in 2011. Then it was the first fresh coffee service of its kind in a major convenience store and launched the trend that we know today.
▼ Coffee in most stores come from sleek machines like this.
Yamada’s original vision was that by creating a cafe atmosphere in a convenience store a stronger bond between customer and staff could be achieved, thus ensuring repeat business.
The only problem is, a lot of people don’t really want a deeper relationship with their convenience store clerks.
According to the owner of a Lawson franchise on Tokyo: “Customers don’t want to relax and chat at convenience stores.” Comments online largely concur.
“A convenience store is supposed to be convenient, and this doesn’t really seem convenient.”
“I really don’t want people chatting and holding up the line.”
“It’s just increasing my chance of catching an infectious disease.”
“I just want to get in and out as quickly as possible.”
“I kind of feel bad for the part-time staff who have to do double duty as a barista too.”
In response to the last concern, Lawson has tried to reduce the burden on staff by adding more automated registers and tablet computers to help with other tasks so they can focus on the coffee service.
There’s also an inventive program wherein clerks who go the extra mile at learning about coffee and customer service will become coffee “Fantasistas.” To date about 13,000 of Lawson’s clerks have achieved this rank, and 300 of them have gone on to become Grand Fantasistas… a word which I’m not sure even exists in the soccer world.
However, Lawson’s own representative director Sadanobu Takemasu was the one who famously declared that there simply wasn’t enough human resources to keep up with the vast number of convenience stores in Japan anymore. Being hard enough to find good help these days, you can just imagine trying to get your hands on a Fantasista.
Nevertheless, while most people don’t seem to want this service and it’s getting harder and harder to sustain, Lawson is sticking with it.
In the end they may have the last laugh too. Because unheard among all the bellyaching online, there is the powerful silent majority of seniors that ought to be considered.
This ever growing segment of Japan’s population have already expressed their dissatisfaction with the increasing automation of convenience stores. If it ever does get to the point of removing clerks altogether, you can expect to see elderly patrons flock to Lawson in large numbers looking for that familiar touch of humanity. For that reason alone, you’ll probably continue to get your coffee handed to you by a Lawson Fantasista whether you like it or not.
Source: Toyo Keizai Online, My Game News Flash
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