When I was younger, my family rarely went out to eat without reason; there always had to be a special occasion or a guest over. While I loved (and still love) my mother’s cooking, I remember always hoping we’d be traveling somewhere for dinner because I craved the experience. I craved having other people around, being comfortable, and feeling… “cool”, for lack of a better word.
Let me explain. Before Starbucks went McDonald’s on their concept a few years ago, people attributed a lot of their success to the experience of being inside a Starbucks. The stores had a distinct ambiance that made you feel like you were somewhere else for a little while. Even if it was just Yuppieville inside, the smell of coffee, dark color scheme, and smiley ‘bartenders’ wrapped in green aprons made me want to stay there for a while. The coffee usually tasted burnt (Pike’s Place, of course), but being there kind of made you feel as if drinking black caffeine was exactly what you needed. I figured I could have just as easily gotten my afternoon coffee for about $0.34 at home, but going to Starbucks made me feel good for just an additional $1.16! Not surprisingly, I paid that extra $1.16 all through my college years, and still pay it now — just for the ambiance.
But it’s not just green aprons and bartenders that do it, or I’d be at an Irish pub doing my homework. The yogurt place I frequented through my college years had great frozen yogurt, of course, but it was the consistent hustle and bustle that made me want to go there. There was a vibrant energy I took from the fro-yo place that didn’t come from the sugar fix, but from the mix of crowd and comfort. As humans, we inherently want to be where others are; a lively, friendly, and fun restaurant or QSR establishment energizes one nicely.
A final honorable mention goes out to couches. Starbucks had them, the frozen yogurt place had them, and my favorite places now have them. It’s just great to be comfortable, to really carve an experience sitting at a cafe on your laptop or reading the paper over a latte to relax. Not to cafe owners: never underestimate the value of having comfortable couches!