Rage Against the Vending Machine. 5 Reasons to Visit a Coffee Shop Instead.

The advance of technology is something we can’t prevent, and most of the time it’s a good thing, but there’s one thing that has been developing over the past few years that I don’t think is a good thing, and that is the increase of machines in retail which replace humans.

It started with the self serve tills. I remember seeing the first one of these, and thinking something along the lines of “great, they’re replacing people with robots, I can’t see that working…”, it seems I was wrong since they’ve rolled out to most UK supermarkets. I don’t like them though, and I’ll always look for a person at a till if there is one rather than the self serve tills. 

What I don’t like about them is that I miss having a chat with the member of staff who is serving me, and they don’t work properly a lot of the time too (the machines I mean, not the staff) which does then involve interaction with a human being but it means standing there scratching my backside while I wait for someone to notice that the light is flashing.

I also don’t like the fact that they can’t ask me for ID when I’m buying wine, so again I have to stand there waiting for someone to come and look at me to see if I’m old enough. I’m amazed they didn’t think of that and come up with a way that we can scan our photo driving licence or something – they can do that at nightclubs. I also don’t like how they bark at you “thank you for shopping at….” as if words from a machine mean anything. Some of them struggle with lighter items and repeatedly ask for the item to be put on the scale… I have put the sodding item on the scale!  

When it comes to coffee vending machines, obviously they’re not particularly new, but there seem to be a lot more of them appearing, since the success of Costa Express and other human free coffee shops in a box.

I’m not referring to the more traditional vending machines in places like hospital waiting rooms and so on. These are slightly different, they serve a very specific purpose, and they’re not intended to replace cafes. If I’m in a hospital waiting room or something and there happens to be a vending machine, I just expect a bland coffee flavoured water, and sometimes these days I’m pleasantly surprised by the taste of the coffee for the 50p or £1 cost, as I think the coffee served in some of these vending machines has improved. What I’m talking about here are the more premium coffee vending machines which charge cafe’ prices. 

I have used Costa express a handful of times, but only when there isn’t another option, I prefer Mcdonald’s coffee to using a Costa Express machine as I mentioned in my recent post Costa Express Vs McDonald’s – Which is the Best Fast Coffee?.  My first choice would be to go to an independent coffee shop and enjoy a coffee made by a skilled Barista, if there isn’t one nearby and I need coffee, or if I don’t have the time, then I’ll go the fast coffee route, but a vending machine wouldn’t be my first choice. 

I’ve used the machine in Waitrose too, but only once, when my local Waitrose cafe’ was closed for some reason. I do realise that the coffee in the Waitrose cafe’s are bean to cup, same with McDonald’s, so some may say there’s no difference, but I think there is.

So these are my top 5 reasons for seeking a person to serve your coffee, rather than going to a machine:

1: Hygiene

I’ve never seen one of these coffee vending machines being cleaned. I’m sure they are, and they probably even have auto clean functions, but how often, and how well? 

I’m a bit dubious about machines when it comes to stale milk in the pipes. I accidentally drank some off milk a few years ago, and I was ill for about a week after. It was a strange illness not quite like anything I’ve experienced before, I had some flu like symptoms, my throat was bad, I felt sick, there was something a bit odd about it. I wondered whether it might be linked to the off milk I’d drank, and found that actually drinking even just slightly off milk can actually cause a form of bacterial food poisoning.

I’m really sensitive to the smell of off milk now, and this is the main reason I avoid Starbucks, as I find they tend to have a slight smell of off milk which turns my stomach, and I assume the smell comes from stale spilled milk, as customers pour their own milk in Starbucks. 

I do realise that machines in cafe’s need cleaning too, but I trust people more than I trust machines – and a lot of these machines are installed in places like service stations where I would assume that there is one person responsible for doing lots of different things including ensuring that machines are cleaned, so I’m just not overly confident about how well cleaned these machines are, personally.

2: Taste

I don’t tend to hugely enjoy the taste of Costa Express and similar vending machines. I also find some to be a bit on the cold side, I don’t know if this is an issue with an individual machine. I have rarely used a machine and thought “wow this is great coffee”, in fact I don’t ever recall doing that. I think Costa Express is usually OK, although I’m not all that keen on the costa blend personally, I prefer the easier drinking 100% arabica that Mcdonald’s serve, to the bolder Italian Robusta & Arabica blend that Costa produce.  

There are lots of great independent coffee shops in most towns and cities, so if you’re a speciality coffee lover and taste is of prime importance, why not just type “coffee shop” into Google Maps and see where your nearest proper coffee shop is? Personally my first choice is always an indi speciality coffee shop, my second choice is Costa, or another chain coffee shop such as Nero. If I really need coffee and there isn’t a coffee shop, my third choice is usually Mcdonald’s. If I really really need coffee and can’t find a coffee shop or a McDonald’s, then I’ll begrudgingly visit a Costa Express in a petrol station for example. 

3: Less cafe’ jobs = increased unemployment.

Employees are just numbers to big industry, if a national or international company can reduce staffing costs in order to increase profits, they will. While traditional vending machines in waiting rooms etc., are a way to bring hot drinks to an area where there isn’t another option, and probably don’t replace a staff member, these more premium coffee machines are marketed with the same products and same or similar pricing to cafe’s.

Take Costa Express for example, some service stations have a Costa Express and a Costa Coffee Cafe’, and they compete against eachother. Every coffee someone buys from the machine is one that isn’t bought from the cafe, so it is reducing the need for staff. Some may say that the express machines produce additional revenue rather than competing against the cafe business, but I don’t see it like that,I may be wrong.

I think Costa Coffee and other chain second wave coffee shops are great in terms of employment opportunities. Costa for example seem to have a good Barista training program, and quite a few Baristas working in or running independent coffee shops, started out working in Costa. With the increase of these coffee shops in a box, surely this will result in less cafe’ jobs?

4: The Wall-E world doesn’t look appealing.

Wall-E coffeeIf this trend towards replacing people with robots continues, we could be moving towards a world akin to the fictional reality in the move Wall-E, where humans are podgy blobs who only interact with technology, as physical activity has all been replaced by robots.

OK maybe this is a slight exaggeration, but I like walking into a shop and been greeted by a person.

I like walking into a cafe and chatting to a Barista, and as this trend continues, there are going to be less people working in all areas of retail, and more machines. 


5: The Environment

Around 2.5 billion disposable coffee cups hit landfill every year, which is bad for the environment. They usually can’t be recycled because of the water proof polyethylene coating. While most coffee shops have the option of ceramic cups for drinking in, or disposable cups for drinking out, the machines are 100% disposable cups, except for the people who take their own travel cups. I realise that McDonald’s only serve in disposable cups too whether drinking in or taking away, but the cups that are put in the bins inside McDonald’s after drinking inside, are now being recycled due to a partnership with a specialist recycling company who can separate the polyethylene from the paper, see this article on edie.net for more info. 

Life is like a box of chocolates, so follow me on Twitter, and that’s all I have to say about that.



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