There is a bar serving coffee for every 400 people in Italy. The caffe pausa is an Italian institution but pause is a good word for break as it implies in English a short time. Certainly here in Puglia coffee even the capucio in the morning is drunk as if the world is about to come to an end. Turnover is fast and furious but steady through the day. Italians spend less than 5 minutes on each visit to a bar during the day is the official figure Most customers are male as at least 65% of the workforce is male.
The evenings are more relaxed as the coffee gives way to drinks and snacks. People sit and talk , crowds of youth hang around outside and families share ice-cream and cakes.
Sitting in a bar in Martina Franca at 10 a.m. watching the rapid ebb and flow of customers it is difficult to relate that experience to reading about Starbucks whose founder Howard Schultz based his company he said on a morning visit to a local bar he saw on a trip to Milan. He says he wanted to create a similar feel of community and what he calls the third place not work and not home which sounds a little Tony Blairish to me . Caffe Nero the huge UK chain waxes on also about their Italian heritage and calls itself the best coffee this side of Milan. Having met several of the Caffe Nero founders I think it is nearer the mark to say both companies were more amazed at the gullibility of the various general publics to pay an astronomical price for a cup of coffee that cost so little to make than any warm fuzzy feel for Italy.
Neither company actually has a single branch in Italy though both are in plenty of other countries.
The romantic would say that it is because Italian bars cannot be competed with. They are the real thing and nothing could match them but I suspect there is a market certainly here in Puglia for a warm place with comfortable armchairs and sofas , with free internet access, good panini, good music and no TV or fruit machines.
The realist would say that vested interests in each city, union power, non flexible work practices all compete to make it impractical for any stores to open and be commercially viable.
I would add a lack of retail management capability as well. Large Italian stores seem blighted with poor management who do nothing to improve the lot of the customer.
Last week I went to IKEA in Bari. Now normally shopping in IKEA Bari is an experience that makes root canal work without anesthetic seem child’s play. So I was amazed to be greeted at the store entrance by two staff members offering help and they were in uniform and wearing name badges. I didn’t even know there was an IKEA uniform. Upstairs the normally empty information points all had two staff in attendance. There were staff everywhere on the floor. In fact they were in danger of outnumbering the customers. All were in uniform all with badges and all smiling. In bedding the reason became clear. An entourage was moving through. A tall English woman and a couple of Scandinavians were followed by some eight Italian managers. Have you ever asked to see a manager at IKEA Bari. It is the stuff of dreams normally. Boy were they getting it too. Move this, this isn’t IKEA policy, why is this here, change that , where is the price, what is that doing here. On it went.
Downstairs at check out every, yes every check out desk, was manned and both self service areas were open and manned by 6 staff each. We were through and out in 5 minutes.
It shows what they can do but I’m sure it’s back to jeans and all the managers and most of the staff across in the bar opposite having their coffee now which I guess is where we came in.
Ikea have some strange ads too.