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Free Refills ....


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13 replies to this topic

#1 srhcb

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Posted 19 October 2006 - 11:53 AM

A topic on another thread branched off into This Discussion which I thought might be of interest here?

We're not talking about the "bottomless cup" at the Country Kitchen, or a Maple Macchiato at Starbucks, but good coffee as an after dinner beverage in a fine restaurant.

This question is, should a free refill be offered/expected?

I feel it's a nice and appreciated gesture, while another opinion is that it somehow cheapens the experience. (pardon me if I didn't state that position clearly)

While we're at it, what would you expect to pay for a cup of coffee in this circumstance?

Also, could you please identify whether you speak from the trade or a customer's perspective.

SB :hmmm:

#2 Hest88

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Posted 19 October 2006 - 12:21 PM

From a customer's perspective: I always appreciate it when a fine restaurant offers a refill of my after-dinner coffee. Plus, I know I'm being charged a massive amount for what is essentially similar stuff to what I get at mid-range restaurants so I find the refill a gracious touch-- while a single cup just looks...cheap.

#3 Luckylies

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Posted 19 October 2006 - 12:39 PM

From a customer's perspective: I always appreciate it when a fine restaurant offers a refill of my after-dinner coffee. Plus, I know I'm being charged a massive amount for what is essentially similar stuff to what I get at mid-range restaurants so I find the refill a gracious touch-- while a single cup just looks...cheap.

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agreed. industry opinion.
does this come in pork?

My name's Emma Feigenbaum.

#4 Sneakeater

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Posted 19 October 2006 - 12:45 PM

Absolutely expected. I'd be shocked if it were ever even an issue. But it isn't. I can't remember ever not being offered a refill at a "fine" restaurant.

#5 FistFullaRoux

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Posted 19 October 2006 - 01:06 PM

I'm guessing that it's not so much the "free" part as it is turnover. Another cup of coffee keeps you in the seat for another 10-15 minutes. They could have another paying customer there.

And I can't see paying more than $5 for a cup of coffee, no matter who made it. Most of the time it's decent drip coffee, wouldn't be surprised to see Maxwell House or similar.

But that's just me. i see the nefariousness in everything. I'm a glass half empty kind of guy when it comes to things like this.
Screw it. It's a Butterball.

#6 Sneakeater

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Posted 19 October 2006 - 01:11 PM

And I can't see paying more than $5 for a cup of coffee, no matter who made it. Most of the time it's decent drip coffee, wouldn't be surprised to see Maxwell House or similar.

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You all remember that famous Folger's commercial with Andre Soltner?

#7 Sneakeater

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Posted 19 October 2006 - 01:12 PM

I'm guessing that it's not so much the "free" part as it is turnover. Another cup of coffee keeps you in the seat for another 10-15 minutes. They could have another paying customer there.

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That's undoubtedly true. But I STILL can't remember ever not being offered a refill at a "fine dining" restaurant.

(Oh. Customer's perspective, obviously.)

#8 estufarian

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Posted 19 October 2006 - 01:13 PM

Although a customer 'through and through' I had an interesting discussion with a restaurant owner about coffee. His opinion was that it was WAY underpriced. Typically customers sit and drink coffee for a long time (let's say 20 mins - he estimated longer). And that's time he, as a businessman, is without his asset of a table - that he could potentially turn over to a new customer. He raised the price of coffee to $5 and claims that his profit margins improved. Some people now pay extra and some don't order and leave faster allowing him to turn the table!
I initiated a small test of myself - and indeed I do linger for longer when I have coffee, so maybe he has a point. [NOTE: Of course this assumes a continuing supply of customers].

#9 phaelon56

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Posted 19 October 2006 - 01:26 PM

I agree that this is at present an "industry standard". There is one legitimate exception but you'll find it in precious few restaurant venues (although this will change with time).

Here and there a few forward thinking restaurateurs have developed relationships with some of the more progressive independent roaster and begun offering a "coffee menu".

This will typically include some of this season or last season's best estate varietals - in some cases "CoE" Cup of Excellence winners. In most cases the brewing method offered will be individual press pots and the price per serving does not include "refills".

Restaurant Eve in Alexandria VA and Carriage House Cafe in Ithaca NY are among a handful of dining establishments offering such an option.

At the $2.50 to $4.00 price point that most fine dining establishments charge for coffee it's a reasonable expectation that there's no charge for refills. If they are paying $8.00 to $10.00 per pound for a high quality coffee at wholesale prices (not award winning - just high quality) the cost of goods is 12 to 15 cents for each 5 to 6 ounce cup.

Add in the capital expense and depreciation of a brewer, electricity, water etc. .... and there is still an extremely healthy markup - even if you provide multiple refills.

But the sad reality is that many "fine dining" restaurants aren't seeking out what many of us in the trade regards as exceptional coffee. I'll hazard a guess that they are also not paying attention to process control, freshness and stock rotation, brew temperatures etc.

I may be preaching to the choir here (in some cases) but some very good highly regarded restaurants still serve some very mediocre coffee. I find it truly bizarre that establishments sourcing the finest quality ingredients and ensuring that those food products stand out and display the best aspects of their inherent nature.... pay so little attention to a product that is often the final note of a diner's evening.

That's a shame.

#10 hosinmigs

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Posted 19 October 2006 - 01:49 PM

Although a customer 'through and through' I had an interesting discussion with a restaurant owner about coffee. His opinion was that it was WAY underpriced. Typically customers sit and drink coffee for a long time (let's say 20 mins - he estimated longer). And that's time he, as a businessman, is without his asset of a table - that he could potentially turn over to a new customer. He raised the price of coffee to $5 and claims that his profit margins improved. Some people now pay extra and some don't order and leave faster allowing him to turn the table!
I initiated a small test of myself - and indeed I do linger for longer when I have coffee, so maybe he has a point. [NOTE: Of course this assumes a continuing supply of customers].

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This is interesting because I believe this is how they do it in many parts of Europe, no? At least I think that's the case in France in some cafes. You sit inside, you pay more. You stand at the counter or take it to go, you pay less. In essence you are paying for the table.
“There is no sincerer love than the love of food.”

#11 phaelon56

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Posted 20 October 2006 - 10:51 AM

This is interesting because I believe this is how they do it in many parts of Europe, no? At least I think that's the case in France in some cafes. You sit inside, you pay more. You stand at the counter or take it to go, you pay less. In essence you are paying for the table.

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Yes. That's correct. And, so I'm told, in Italy the government regulates the price of espresso if it is served at a standup bar - just as the price of baguettes is regulated in France. But just as in France - the price is noticeably higher if seated at a table.

I'd still love to know where to get a really good cup of drip or press pot coffee in Paris. The coffee I found was not true espresso nor was it drip and it wasn't as good as either. But it was more expensive than I'm accustomed to paying for both.

#12 Pan

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Posted 20 October 2006 - 11:43 PM

I find this discussion interesting. One thing I love about California is that they always give free refills of tea, including more ice for your refill of ice tea. In New York, I never expect a refill to be free and I've found that free refills are very exceptional in New York. Perhaps that's because I seldom eat at very expensive restaurants.

#13 lancastermike

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Posted 22 October 2006 - 08:04 AM

But the sad reality is that many "fine dining" restaurants aren't seeking out what many of us in the trade regards as exceptional coffee. I'll hazard a guess that they are also not paying attention to process control, freshness and stock rotation, brew temperatures etc.


This is so true, Owen. I think at most restaurants coffee is an orphan. The kitchen does not make it or manage it, mostly it is a function of the service staff, and they are often too busy to give it the proper attention. I worked at a lot of places over the years and I can NEVER remember anyone checking a brew temperture on coffee.

Not to long ago we ate a lovely meal at a very nice place. Here comes individual press pots for the coffee. The plunger was up. I asked the server if it was ready to plunge and she gave me a blank stare. I than asked how long had the water been in. She sort of stumbled around that as well. I plunged and poured and it was way under a good brewing temp. This place was proud of their shiny little press pots, but had no idea how to use them to make a good cup of coffee.

I often despair at getting coffee after dinner out. It is often wretched stuff. And there is no reason it has to be.

Edited by lancastermike, 22 October 2006 - 08:05 AM.


#14 Jmahl

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Posted 22 October 2006 - 09:56 AM

Good question, yes it has been my experience that coffee is an orphan in the scheme of things. It is, as mentioned, often of poor quality – undistinguished beans, or too long in the brewer. At a high-end establishment I often finish a meal with an espresso. It would be nice if once I were offered a second espresso on the house. This has never happened to me even when the check reached $500 although if the coffee ordered is standard brew refills are the rule.

When I think back to restaurant experiences I most often remember what went wrong – not what was right. I am thinking about re-considering my approach. It’s about enjoyment, No?

So if it takes a refill to make a customer happy – why not? It is that last impression that often sticks in my mind.

And yes, I was a one time in the Biz and I am now a fan and observer of the food scene.

Jmahl
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