What the Los Angeles Times dubbed "coffee confusion" is being deconstructed by British department store chain Debenhams. Following a survey, which apparently showed that 70 percent of its coffee-drinking customers "couldn't figure out a latte from a mocha or a venti from a grande," the store has rewritten its menu in plain English.
Now, in Debenhams at least, cappuccino is "frothy coffee," caffe mocha is "chocolate flavored coffee" and a caffe latte is "really, really milky coffee." Basic black coffee is "simple coffee" while an espresso shot is "a shot of strong coffee." And as many know, or have had to learn, tall equals small, grande equals large and venti equals extra large. For Debenhams' customers, size choices but will be simplified to cups or mugs.
Although the 100,000 coffee drinks Debenhams sells each week represents a fraction of the 70 million cups per day consumed in Britain, the store is at least taking heed of its own customer base. The historic popularity of coffee houses in England, dating back to the seventeenth century, was not based on extravagant nomenclature as practiced in the twenty-first century, especially by chains originating in the U.S. That said, American media were far more taken with this story than British. The only national newspaper to cover it was the down market, albeit widely read, Daily Mail.
Two quotes in The Mail summed it all up. Debenhams' director of food services, John Baker, explained that the menu is being trialed in its flagship store in Oxford Street "so shoppers spend less time playing coffee Cluedo and more time enjoying their favorite drink."
Chrissie Maher, founder director of the Plain English Campaign, welcomed the new menu by praising anything that is plain English and enables customers to "make an informed choice. If they can read the menu clearly, they are more likely to try something new — and who knows — they may come back for more."
Would using plain English descriptions help or hurt coffee sales in the U.S.?