Monday, October 24, 2005

Every 97 seconds, a caffeine addict is born

Today I'm taking a short break from my intermittent history of my checkered work history in order to provide you with a minor rant on an insignificant subject.

Dunkin Donuts coffee.

Now, I'm not upset about the coffee. In fact, the coffee fills a specific need, and over the past decade, Dunkin Donuts franchises have multiplied at a blinding rate in order to fill this need.

Dunkin Donuts provides good, not great, hot coffee that is always fresh, always drinkable. Other coffee chains may have better coffee, but odds are, that coffee shop isn't on the corner of your street. Odds are, Dunkin Donuts is. And if that coffee shop with better coffee is in your sights, and it's not first thing in the morning, odds are that the better coffee has been sitting in a nondescript thermal carafe for who knows how long, making the better coffee not quite as good as it once was when it was fresh coffee. Given the high volume of customers at Dunkin Donuts, it's unlikely that any pot of coffee there lasts for more than 97 seconds, even if it's 2 a.m.

So what's the problem? Good, hot, fresh coffee on every corner at any hour. The problem happens when Dunkin Donuts gets spooked by the Starbucks reflection in the rear view mirror every year or two and decides it has to get all fancy schmancy with the product line.

A couple of years ago, this resulted in the unfortunate Coolatta crusade. Dunkin Donuts shoots some flavored coffee syrup into a plastic container of crushed ice, charges $4 a pop, and calls it a day. I tried these travesties a couple of times, I swear, I really gave them the benefit of the doubt. But it was a false-starter. Lucky if the flavor lasted for more than a third of the cup before you ended up sucking on shaved ice for your $4.

Then there was the vanilla chai experiment. I found this slightly more successful, if only because the chai was so incredibly sweet, every time I drank one, the sugar rush would last for at least half of the day. After that, Dunkin Donuts made a direct attack on the lifeblood of Starbucks, espresso, lattes, and cappucinos.

This was likely their biggest disaster to date.

The general strategy of this campaign was to replace the snootiness of the Starbucks barristas with the general confusion of the average Dunkin Donuts employee who has been asked to make nothing more complicated that a medium regular ever since the first store first opened its doors. Quickest way to make your self an unpopular man? Try ordering a nonfat medium latte early in the morning at a Dunkin Donuts while you have a full construction crew behind you trying to get their iced coffees and munchkins for the job site.

At least the latest Dunkin Donuts plan doesn't consume as much time in line, but once again, the chain is convinced that it has to do something more than what it does best. Dunkin Donuts has always had flavored coffees, but now it seems to be putting its money on something called flavorology and mystic matches. I don't care that if I like french vanilla coffee that my "mystic match" is blueberry upside down cake. You've got me with your coffee, just like you have the rest of New England, and probably soon, the world.

So stop fretting about all the upscale competition and just keep those fresh pots coming every 97 seconds.


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