Canadian Pizza Magazine

Marketing Insights: Where Everybody Knows your Name

Michelle Brisebois   

Features Business and Operations Marketing

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Remember the sitcom Cheers? Did you ever find yourself
wishing you had a place like that to go to? Somewhere that didn’t have
the demands of home or work – where you could just hang out?

Remember the sitcom Cheers? Did you ever find yourself wishing you had a place like that to go to? Somewhere that didn’t have the demands of home or work – where you could just hang out?

Once upon a time we had local pubs, soda fountains and barbershops to congregate at – to provide us with a sense of belonging outside of family and work. With the creation of suburbia and strip malls, those special community havens were replaced by sterile, systemized operations. These businesses were geared to speedy service and fast turnover – loitering was bad for the bottom line.

Many food service operations still function under this premise and focus on the effective turning of tables. This assumption may be worth a second look because there’s been resurgence in using foodservice operations as a “home away from home.” Loitering seems to be making a comeback.


Craving this sort of gathering place is actually a normal psychological need and, according to sociologists, key to a healthy society. Ray Oldenburg refers to these sanctuaries as “the third place” – the first being home and the second being work. The third place is where communities can interact and develop a sense of cohesiveness.

When urbanization (and single-purpose zoning laws) created new communities, the third place fell by the wayside. According to Oldenburg, this is mostly a North American phenomenon since there are still cafes in France, beer gardens in Germany, piazzas in Italy, pubs in England and Ireland and teahouses in Japan.

Sociologists explain that the disappearance of the third place puts more stress on the workplace and family interactions because we now have only two sources for social interaction. The third place gave us a sort of “private public life.”

It was an attempt to recapture this third place culture that launched Starbucks in the early eighties. With comfy chairs and soothing jazz music, the revival of the coffee house invited us to hunker down and stay a while. It was a novel idea, a charming old niche idea that became trendy or at least … that’s what we innocently thought.

The renaissance of the third place has been the foodservice equivalent to letting the genie out of the bottle. An average coffee house these days has more laptops humming than the local Best Buy. It’s not unusual to see people sitting alone tapping away on a project or answering e-mail. Groups of people often conduct business meetings and the faces tend to be familiar day after day.

These new atmospheres are different from the traditional “third place,” which is to be separate from family and work. In fact, they have become the new office place. If we buy into the theory that a consumer trend is really just a large number of people seeking to solve a common problem, then what unmet need is creating this trend? 

Since our social interaction supposedly comes from home and work, perhaps this behavior is borne out of a need to fill a loneliness created by the demise of the traditional workplace. As more positions involve telecommuting, many of us just don’t get the people contact we normally get from work.

In a way, the resurgence of “the third place” has resulted from the loss of “the second place.” Laptop computers coupled with wireless technology are the tools enabling the trend. In June of 2005, notebook sales exceeded those of desktop computers for the first time. Prices for laptops are dropping and battery life is rising.

Business Week reports that 95 per cent of laptop computers are now sold with wireless (Wi-Fi) capability making it easier for consumers to stay connected with ease. It used to be that setting up a laptop to connect to the Internet off site was about as easy as conducting open-heart surgery. Wi-Fi hotspots communicate with a wireless device over a wireless LAN (local area network), enabling mobile professionals, business travelers and consumers to access the Internet, e-mail and corporate networks in public locations. This can happen as long as the user is within a 50- to 200-metre radius of a Wi-Fi hotspot.

I chatted with Nick Davis, spokesperson for Starbucks in Seattle. He shared with me the fact that Starbucks patrons were driving the request for Internet connectivity early on.

“In fact,” said Davis “customers were asking the baristas if they could hook up to the phone line to check their e-mail.” This prompted Starbucks to seize this opportunity to strengthen their brand – which is about providing a place where people can make connections and enjoy a great cup of coffee. Starbucks has partnered with T-Mobile HotSpot over the last few years to roll out wireless Internet service.

Offering wireless service can actually shift more business into day parts that are traditionally slower.

“Most of the Starbucks customers using this service are busy professionals,” Davis said. “They tend to come in after 9:00 am and since our peak time is 6:00 am – 9:00 am, it’s not really interfering with the rush.”

I wondered if people were really connecting with others at the coffee shop given that they were focused on their own computer screen.

“Actually, we’ve found that during busy times, customers will share a table to make room for other patrons and they make connections with each other this way” said Davis. The business advantage in having customers who stay longer and make connections to other customers is brand loyalty. A customer who has an emotional attachment to an operation will often spend more, come more often and bring in other customers.

Today’s consumer seems to feel naked without their connection to the Internet. calls this “online oxygen.” AOL reports that the Internet is now the primary communication tool for U.S. teenagers.

Ipsos-Reid asked Canadians the famous “desert island” question, in which respondents were asked what they would want to have with them in the event of being stranded on a deserted island. The majority (51 per cent) of online Canadian families said they would bring their PC over their telephone (21 per cent) and TV (12 per cent).  It’s clearly a case of “love me – love my laptop” and savvy food service operators are making the shift to accommodate this sentiment. McDonald’s is discovering that wireless service helps employees stay connected with each other as well – facilitating the sharing of best practices and information. 

If you do consider implementing a wireless service in your operation, make sure you partner with a reputable and knowledgeable wireless provider. There is potential for a security breach but professionals will be able to help you work around those issues. The Internet really allows all of us to “find our tribe.”  No matter how unique your hobby or how left or right wing your opinions, through the World Wide Web, birds of a feather are just a click away. If you offer wireless service – your customers need never feel alone.•

Michelle Brisebois is a marketing professional with experience in the food, pharmaceutical and financial services industries. She specializes in brand
strategies. Michelle can be reached at

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