Make It A Triple

10 Sep

These days, ordering a coffee can be a lot like reciting a speech. Tall this, skinny that, add milk here, non-fat there. And top it off with whipped cream while you’re at it, ok?

Custom orders and fancy vocab have helped coffee shops become rather trendy. However, the lingo can be a bit intimidating for the uninitiated, and the rapid-fire approach to ordering makes it hard to ask detailed questions. Baristas don’t always want to answer your questions about what’s what and how much you get for your money. Plus there’s that constant fear of holding up the line behind you- and no one wants that.

a sample menu at the Debenhams‘ trial location (photo from

Enter Debenhams’ revised coffee menu, written in what the store calls “Plain English.”  Debenhams is a department store in the UK that has several coffee shops, restaurants, etc. within its walls.  In late 2012, Debenhams decided to scrap the complicated-sounding coffee menu at its Oxford Street location in favor of a more straightforward edition. On the “Plain English” menu, a cappucino is called “frothy coffee.” “Black coffee” is “simple coffee.” And there aren’t any confusing sizes to reckon with (really, I’ve never understood why you’d call a small size a “tall,” anyway). Instead, the store simply offers drinks in cups or mugs. Debenhams’ press release  claims that they were inspired by a stat that 70% of coffee drinkers experience “coffee confusion” and that a simpler menu will help them better enjoy their drinks. Coffee confusion seems to refer to the state in which one doesn’t know how or what to order- a conundrum indeed.

Clearly the complicated lingo isn’t keeping people from buying at Starbucks- and I’d argue that the lingo actually makes Starbucks more appealing for many, since it makes them feel like they’re in on something cool. But let’s remember: Debenhams isn’t Starbucks. It’s a department store, and its coffee shop is likely visited due to convenience” rather than preference. Perhaps a few employees come by everyday, but the majority of the coffee shop’s customers are stopping by on a rather infrequent basis- which takes a lot of the fun out of having a “usual” order.  Debenhams simply doesn’t need to be that hip.

And yet, my main critique of this menu is that it veers a bit much toward cutesy for my liking. Does a grown person actually want to have to say “really really milky coffee” out loud? In my opinion, these “product names” are more like “product descriptions” and would be better off in parentheses to the right of the product’s true name.  Because really, Debenhams’ “simplified” menu has just taken away the fancy sounding words and replaced them with cute words. And that’s just another kind of gimmick now, isn’t it?

Unfortunately I can’t find any articles about whether the new menu helped or hurt. Any UK readers out there want to report back?

Want to have some fun laughing at ridiculous coffee orders? Check out this order generator.


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