Is Free Coffee worth it?

Is Free Coffee worth it? via

At least twice a week I  commute to Bath. And, like many other commuters in the city, I stop at Waitrose to get my free coffee.

If you haven’t come across the Waitrose loyalty card before, you can use it to pick up free takeaway coffee/tea or get a big reduction on hot drinks in the cafe. When the supermarket first started the scheme a couple of years ago all hot drinks were free –  a rather over-generous, and unsustainable,  gesture on the part of the marketing team. As a result people only used the cafe for their free drinks, causing huge queues. Now the loyalty card has been refined and a special takeaway self-service station set up. You  have to get your card scanned in order to get a takeaway cup (which is pointless for someone like me who brings a reusable cup).

Free Coffee at Waitrose - is it worth it? via

For the past few weeks I have been happily joining the queues to get my free latte and feeling rather smug when I produce my re-usable cup (while trying to inform people of the evils of disposable coffee cup lids in the process!). But a couple of things have got me thinking about this:

  1. On my walk into work I pass a small coffee shop. Despite being on a busy main road it’s not in the best position for passing trade and a friend and I have commented on this. Last week the manager handed out a free pre-stamped loyalty card to us. The idea was that if we came in and got a couple of coffees we’d earn enough stamps to get the next one free. I admired his attempt at reaching out to potential customers, but still happily passed by en route to Waitrose.

Bath coffee shop loyalty card

2. On my way back from a meeting at the Fashion Museum I passed by another cafe, The Boston Tea Party, which is part of a small chain. I was pleased to see they offered a discount to people bringing in their own reusable coffee cups. But I’d already got my free latte and didn’t want another shot of coffee that day. So I just passed on.

BUT if I didn’t get my free coffee from Waitrose I COULD have popped into the new coffee shop, or got my latte fix for a reduced price from Boston Tea Party. And slowly I began to wonder how many local coffee shops were struggling with customers because they were getting their daily cuppa free of charge from somewhere else?

A quick search indicates there are 82 coffee shops in Bath which is a huge number I know. Some of them have been established for years,making use of local and tourist trade. Others are more recent and, I believe, may not last as long as location and cost are pretty crucial. As overseas tourists don’t tend to have Waitrose cards it’s probably the local and national trade that is affected more by the free coffee from the supermarket (which also has a great central location). Anecdotally I have family members who will only use Waitrose to get their free cuppa when they are visiting another town – no matter how many great independent coffee shops there may be.

While I don’t have any hard evidence for the decline in  sales of coffee in other shops, particularly at commuter time, I’m going to make a change. I’m going to skip the Waitrose latte in the mornings and seek out some of the independents. I also want to locate those shops that give discounts to customers with their own cups. So watch this space…..



10 thoughts on “Is Free Coffee worth it?

  1. Very good thinking. If you have the money, buy your coffee. If you like the idea of being able to go into a small independent cafe one day and spend some time, buy your coffee now, otherwise the choice to do so will be removed if they close. And then you HAVE to go to Waitrose etc.

  2. Good for you! I feel so sorry for the independent cafes – in this instance, I am pained by the efforts the two you mention.

    An independent cafe in Leeds had people out with placards on a Saturday, almost begging people to go in. Unfortunately, when we tried it was too full, but recently I noticed it had closed down. Hard for them with a Pret-a-Manger selling a filter coffee for just £1 nearby. There was also a Waitrose across the road (not cafe, though) and that has also closed down.

    • I think with some of the coffee shops it does depend on location – the one that handed out the card wasn’t in the city centre so probably doesn’t get much passing trade other than the morning commute. The Waitrose cafe/supermarket is in a very central location and even has the library next to it (although this is about to change as there are plans to relocate the central library in Bath).

  3. I agree with you that we need to think about these things.
    My principle is to always pay for it when i would be buying one, but to also use the free Waitrose offer when I wouldn’t otherwise be buying a drink, in other words it’s an extra when I wasn’t intending to spend money.
    As for using the independents, I absolutely agree. I try never to use the big chains that are often owned by private equity companies or large multinationals. And Bath has plenty of genuinely independent tea and coffee places so no reason at all not to support them.

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