Concluding Plenary- for the 6th September 2012

Retailing and Distribution History  - CHORD Conference

Abstracts 14.00 - 15.00

Jonathan Morris, University of Hertfordshire, 'Coffee House Formats Compared'

The coffee house as a public space has generated much attention from scholars across various disciplines reflecting the recent success of the international coffee chains.   Habermas’s identification of the 18th Century coffee house as a centre for the formation of public opinion has been re-investigated by cultural historians and contemporary geographers alike, while the sociologist Oldenburg’s musings on the nature of the ‘Third Place’ were appropriated by Starbucks’ CEO Howard Schultz as an explanation of his company’s appeal, even as George Ritzer was busy adjusting his McDonaldization thesis to present the Seattle chain as the middle class embodiment of the Golden Arches, rather than as the alternative purveyor of authenticity that he had originally portrayed it as.

We now have a growing literature, therefore, on the coffee house across the centuries, and its various international contexts, yet there has been no convincing attempt to produce a comparative analysis of the coffee house format within either a spatial or chronological framework.   This presentation will modestly attempt to do both, focussing on the business formats behind the various incarnations of the coffee house.   It will analyse why the coffee house took different forms in different contexts – for example the English coffee house, the French café, the Italian coffee bar – and why these have experienced success and failure in different eras.  It will consider the role of the beverages served, the kinds of clientele to whom the coffee house appealed, the relationship between coffee and alcohol provision, the trading hours and the elements of service incorporated into the formats – and how these need to be contextualised into broader developments within society, notably the structuring of the home and work environments. 


Dr Laura Ugolini

Room MC334

Tel: 01902 321890