[Day 165] Why American cafes have to-go as default

Today, I had a great chat over a cup of coffee with Jon Gauthier, who is, by the way, a delightful human being. When our coffee arrived, Jon remarked:

“It’s a shame that here, in California in general, you have to tell the barista that you want it here, else they’ll default that you want it to go. In Europe, if you don’t tell them anything, they’ll default that you want your coffee in a nice cup.”

My cup vs Jon’s cup

I was surprised. I didn’t even know that Coupa had those nice little cups. I had always assumed that American cafes had been serving coffee this way since forever, forgetting that modern paper cups were only invented in the early 20th century while coffee shops appeared in the US as early as the 17th century. The history of both the paper cups and coffeehouses is fascinating, but I won’t go into details in this post.

“Why do you think it is so?” I asked Jon.

“I think it has to do with the way people consume coffee. Here, everyone either grabs a coffee on their way to work or go sit somewhere with their laptops to do work. In Europe, people actually have conversations over cups of coffee.”

“I wonder if which way is better for cafes from a financial point of view.”

Jon, having never worked in a coffee shop before, didn’t know that. So I looked up how much it would cost a cafe to serve coffee in paper cups. The cost for paper cups would be, well, buying the paper cups. Cafes on many American campuses (such as the University of Washington, Seattle University) offer discounts up to 25 cents to customers who bring their own mugs so I guess it costs them at least that much money for a paper cup. And that’s still without the environmental cost. It’s estimated that 58 billion paper cups tossed in the United States each year.

I tried to look up how much it would for a cafe to serve coffee in a proper mug, but I couldn’t find any number and I’m kinda sleepy now, so I’ll leave it here and come back to it when I have more data. I assume the biggest cost with using glassware would be the breakage of cups and labor to wash them. One random fact I saw when searching was that cafes used to be able to charge staff members for breakage, but today it’s illegal to do so.

[Day 165] Why American cafes have to-go as default

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