Matthew Bell: The Emperor's New Clothes (13/05/12)

Ever since 'Friends', coffee shops have ruled the high street. Our writer debunks the myth that they are still cool

Share
Related Topics

Remember the late Nineties, when we all watched Friends and spoke with rising inflections? Overnight, we stopped being a nation of tea-drinkers. We wanted to be like Ross and Phoebe and hang out at the Central Perk drinking coffee! Yay! Suddenly, there was a coffee shop on every corner. Private Eye ran a cartoon in which a man was giving directions: "Turn left at Starbucks, then carry on til you get to Starbucks; go right at the Starbucks..."

Then came the internet. Websites! Emails! Exciting! And then Wi-Fi. Websites! Emails! The chance to work anywhere! I remember one advert for a laptop that boasted you could "Send emails from the beach!" That's a bit daft, I thought: one is a workplace activity, the other a place for building sand-castles.

And it was about then that the coffee shop went into decline. No sooner had we learned to model our lives on Friends, slouching on couches and slurping venti moccaccinos, then along came the laptop army. With their go-anywhere dongles, they moved into Starbucks and started working.

Now, researchers from the University of North Carolina have identified this group as the coffee shop conquerors. They're the ones sitting alone, smugly letting us know they're freelance poets or flexi-workers, holding Skype meetings and writing novels. According to the report, Dibs! Customer Territorial Behaviours, the regular clientele find them an off-putting presence and coffee shops are losing money. Chains such as Starbucks, which provide free Wi-Fi, are effectively providing office space gratis, as these latte labourers view the price of their drink as "rent".

I once tried to write in a coffee shop, and I can confirm it's a dreadful experience: noisy, tables too small. Just as you've settled down to work, someone thrusts a buttock in your face as they squeeze past – "Whoops! Sorr-ee!" – spilling froth onto your laptop.

So the American dream has failed. A coffee shop is no longer a fun place to hang out with your ditsy guitar-strumming friends. You go, buy your coffee, and get the hell out. Like the Italians, who don't even bother to sit down. Or we could go back to drinking tea. After all, the coffee at Starbucks is rubbish.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

The Green Recruitment Company: Operations Manager - Anaerobic Digestion / Biogas

£40000 - £45000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Operation...

Recruitment Genius: Account Director - OTE £60,000

£40000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Inbound Sales Executive

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Inbound Sales Executive is required t...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE 40/45k + INCENTIVES + BENEFITS: SThree: The su...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: How much difference does the wording of a referendum question make?

John Rentoul
 

An unelectable extremist who hijacked their party has already served as prime minister – her name was Margaret Thatcher

Jacques Peretti
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent