This Coffee Sucks
Posted by FredFredrickson on 01/27/08 11:03pm.

An interesting part of developing a scalable business model when franchising is ensuring consistency across all branches of a company. When it comes to retail and service, one of the biggest goals along-side quality and efficiency, is consistency.

Consistency is funny because companies and chains that have achieved consistency will not be noticed for such. It should be expected that two locations baring the same company name and logo would have consistent products, but this is not at the forefront of the consumer’s mind. In fact, consistency, or attention towards consistency, only becomes an issue when there is a discrepancy; when consistency is lost.

Although I do not work in the food industry, I can’t help but take note of different chains and franchises that I happen upon during my daily activities. I eat at chain restaurants. I shop at big-name stores with locations across the country. I get my car fixed at a well-known brand mechanic shop. All of these are examples of scaled business models that we experience on the small scale in our daily lives, but were challenging feats to get to the point they’re at now.

Take retail stores for instance. The big obstacles are present: scaling product, service, and appearance. Two of these are in the bag.

Product quality and consistency can be ensured by creating a distribution method that requires all retail locations to obtain goods from one distributer. Every Old Navy sells the same clothing from the same parent company. You will find consistent products across any location you come to thanks to this distribution model.

Appearance is also easily ensured by setting strict guidelines for locations. Mc Donald’s, Burger King, and other similar chains and franchises have streamlined the process by creating cookie-cutter buildings that can be plopped just about anywhere.

Now, customer service is always a challenge, but is not unique to any of the business types. Retail or service, both require customer service. Creating the perfect customer service model was certainly the goal during the 1990’s but has died down to the new and improved mantra that many companies have taken recently – “What else are you going to do? Now give us money. We don’t need you, you need us.”

Luckily, some companies still value customer service. Not every company is your local phone/cable/satellite company.

Consistency in product becomes more of an issue in the service business, but also in the food preparation business. Both will attempt to stream line a consistent product using strict rules and controlled distribution of supplies. But the weak link in both systems is simply their reliance on the same shoulders which bare the customer service burden. Is this something we can change? As robots become more commonplace, we may find the answer to be yes. But at the moment we have some major challenges that every chain and franchise face.

I will use two examples, one bad, and one good.

Dunkin Donuts. Amazing to still be breathing. The big beef with Dunkin’s is the complete lack of consistency and customer service wrapped up into one. They’ve managed to present themselves very similarly in all locations, but some major efficiency and consistency problems are very present.

Dunkin Donuts does not use a computer system for order queuing. The major problem with this is simple: It puts additional reliance on the employee. Any good scalable business model will minimize reliance on the individual employee, and entrust precious few tasks on the idiots who will eventually be running your business for $6/hour. The idea is to take the brains of the operation elsewhere. In Dunkin’s case, a quick and simple solution is obvious: computers to queue the orders. The problem becomes visible when more than one person attempts to make an order, or simply when one person has a large order. Try the drive through! Are there 3 people in front of you? What assurance do you have that they’ll remember your order? You’ve got very little assurance, and sadly- little faith.

This problem is shown time and time again. Did they get my order right? Did they remember my order? How many times have I pulled up to the window of the drive through for them to ask me what my entire order was again, because they don’t remember?

Their computers allow for simple price calculations and transaction recordings, but after that, it’s useless. Often times I’ll see the entire order in shorthand written in marker on the side of my coffee cup. These employees are dying for a way to record and queue orders. But none exist to speak of. And the quality goes down and it’s almost an expectation at Dunkin Donuts to have an order botched.

As if this wasn’t bad enough, the consistency of their product is highly variable. Making consistent coffee is not difficult. Starbucks has got it right. Heck, Mc Donald’s has it right, and that’s hardly one of their main products. But Dunkin Donuts, the place for coffee and donuts, just can’t figure it out.

One would consider, when making a food preparation franchise system, using exact measurements and recipes in order to ensure consistency. Ask any Dunkin Donuts employee if they abide by a measurement policy for their cream and sugar in coffee. Undoubtedly, they’ll recite a few measurements off hand, but proceed to make you a coffee that looks and tastes nothing like the coffee at other locations, or even the same location earlier that day.

Two problems come to mind: quality control is non-existent, and personal bias poisons the coffee. It’s possible that the employee who just gave me a cup of cream with 5 sugars and 1 tsp coffee really likes her coffee that way. It’s possible that the other employee really enjoys his coffee with very little cream and sugar. But I don’t care how they like their coffee. I want it the way I ordered it. With no quality control, there is no way to punish employees for providing coffee that is inconsistent with the company’s recipes. And to add to the problem, a matter of taste is subjective to the point where many employees will look at the white coffee and say “looks normal to me.” Absolute and objective measurements are put into place to ensure these issues will not arise, yet today- from where I live in central New Hampshire, all the way to Boston MA (the home of Dunkin Donuts), there is not a single location I’ve been to with consistent coffee.

Enter McDonald’s. Consistency at its finest. A few easily noticeable things come to mind with McDonald’s. First and foremost: the presence of computers to queue orders. Sure, they screw up your order now and again, but it simply is not a common enough occurrence that one might grow an expectation of regularly botched orders.

Consistency. McDonald’s puts forth in consistency what it lacks in quality. When you receive your McChicken sandwich, it’s probably the most disgusting thing you’ve shoved down your throat. But it’s consistent, and it’s the way you’ve grown to love it. No matter where you go in the country, McDonald’s will serve you the same burger.

What McDonald’s has that Dunkin’s does not? Well other than a vast number of years in experience, they have quality control. They’ve processed food preparation into a science. There is no subjective. Mayonnaise is rationed using a mayo dispenser. Every time is the same amount of mayo. Their cups have lines drawn on them to instruct the employees where to fill with ice, and where to fill with soda.

McDonald’s is a prime example of a system that takes the burden off brains off the employee and puts it into the system. And that works. Is McDonald’s quality food? Not really. But it’s consistent, and that works. Oh and the kicker? McDonald’s coffee is better and more consistent than Dunkin Donuts’. And that’s just an afterthought product on McDonald’s territory. They make burgers!

Next time you order an iced coffee at Dunkin Donuts, ask for an exact number of creams and sugars and watch them shovel the sugar in as quickly as they can with no regard for measurement. Watch the cream flow in an unmeasured manner. Then go to Starbucks… or better yet, go to McDonald’s.

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cherrybomb @ 01/28/08
"again this is why i dont go to these places. i make my own coffee when i want in and in the long run i save money and dont have to deal with idiots. i understand where you are coming from though... but im also so sick of you complaining about dunkin donuts all the time. go somewhere else if they piss you off so much."

the_legacy @ 01/28/08
"And where would you suggest going? Unfortunately if we want "fast" breakfast that is on the way, double d’s is the only option. I have resorted to purchasing coffee at my work place rather than Dunkins. Every one doesn’t have that option unfortunately."

cherrybomb @ 01/29/08
"well then get coffee at macdonalds. but seriously. im so sick of robbie complaining about dunkin donuts. if you dont like it then dont go there. its logic."

FredFredrickson @ 01/29/08
"oh my gawd, wah! wah! Robbie stop complaining about dunkin donuts this is only the like billionth time you've complained! Cherry- this is a post about franchising and making a scalable system. It just so happens that dunkins is my study case for what not to do. I thought it was a prime example. Apparently you missed the first half of the article, I suggest you reread."

SpIkE @ 01/29/08
"At a glance, I thought, oh no..not another dunkin donuts gripe. But then I actually READ THE ARTICLE cherry and I realized there was more to be said than "This coffee sucks." Way to not read the article!! You're the winner!"

cherrybomb @ 01/29/08
"i did read it and i understand what it is about. its about creating a franchise that actually works due to standardization. that i did get. what im saying is im sick of hearing about it in general since this is not the first time something like this has been written by robbie. he was standardization. i know that and i agree that out of all the franchises that dunkin donuts probably sucks the most. i will say ive gone to starbucks though since i got to boston and they have the same problem especially when they are crowded. i did read the article. dont make it seem like im a dumb ass who cant read okay? i read everything. im just saying im sick of hearing about dunkin donuts."

SpIkE @ 01/29/08
""well then get coffee at macdonalds" indicates to me you didn't read the whole thing."

FredFredrickson @ 01/29/08
"It sounds like your sickness over the name Dunkin Donuts may be a personal problem. Meanwhile, I will write what ever I damn please. Nobody makes you to read anything- and judging by your first two comments- it looks like you don't bother anyhow. The point is, I'm not complaining, I'm analyzing. If I were to complain, I always do so in a productive manner... I have mailed their manager on many occasions. Sometimes I alert the FV crowd on the gripe corner of my gripes with Dunkins, but it's always in conjunction with something productive. I think it bothers you that we can study people who don't get it right and learn from their mistakes..."

cherrybomb @ 01/29/08
"again, i did read it. and its not a personal issue with dunkin donuts. i dont like them but thats a different issue all together. "

mynameisjonas @ 01/29/08
"honestly you get what you pay for... simple as that, i know i paying a buck and a quarter for dried milk cheap chocolate and water... im okay with that"

FredFredrickson @ 01/29/08
"Ok, I compared two resturants in the same group - mcdonalds and dunkins- both can get a drink and a sandwich for around $5-$6. The question is certainly not quality. You, of course, get the quality you're paying for. The problem is the question of consistency across franchises."

mynameisjonas @ 01/30/08
"maybe your paying for consistency too lol"

FredFredrickson @ 01/30/08
"Jonos, the point was that they're the same price but one offers consistency."

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Who am I? That's a good question. I am the creator of, and the writer of the front page column. My actual name is Robbie, but for whatever reason I like Fred better. If you read my column, thanks. Feel free to leave a comment or two. Chances are, I've pissed you off anyway.

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