Disloyalty Card Rewards Restless Coffee Addicts

Categories: Coffee
A few weeks ago, eight local cafes quietly began setting stacks of a promotional card out on their counters. It's the kind of thing coffee shops have been giving customers for years ― buy X drinks, get one free! However, this new "disloyalty card" adds a novel twist: It rewards shopping around.

The idea for the disloyalty card emerged in London in late 2009, when Gwilym Davies, a World Barista Champion, convinced eight small, independent cafes to participate in a group promotion. Anyone who bought a drink at all eight cafes could come to Davies' place, Prufrock, and get a free drink. The idea has since been picked up in Seattle and Toronto.  

Alex Rogers, a salesperson at Ritual Roasters, heard of the idea and decided to launch a San Francisco version in conjunction with Good Food Month. "I was worried that the coffee scene was about everyone promoting their own companies," Rogers says. "This would be a good way to get everyone together and promote the greater coffee community. So I organized it, but it's by no means Ritual's idea or our thing."

Rogers sent out invitations to a number of local, independent roasters, some of whom declined to participate, and asked roasters that didn't have a retail outlet to nominate a cafe to represent their beans. The San Francisco card differs from other cities' promotions in two ways. For one, each of the eight participating cafes represents a different roaster ― Ma'Velous uses Ecco beans, for example, while Epicenter Cafe showcases Barefoot. And the card holder who gets seven stamps can get a free beverage at the eighth cafe, no matter which one it is. Rogers printed up 1,000 cards in the first run and distributed them equally between the eight cafes.

Mark Harris, co-owner and GM of Epicenter, says he's been talking up the cards to his customers. "The disloyalty card dovetails with my attitude toward specialty coffee," he says. "I treat it like wine ― telling people you should try all the varietals and drink as much as you can. For me, it's pretty ingenious. It encourages growing this vertical, which is people who appreciate really good coffee."

Some of the cafes, like Coffee Bar have been setting the disloyalty card out next to their own loyalty card, while other cafes, like Sightglass, have kept their stack of cards in a drawer, distributing them to people who ask. And the card has received some criticism ― TheShot.com seems to think it creates a cartel. But Shannon Amitin, owner of Farm:Table, likes what the card stands for. "With the card, we're creating more of a community and less of a hostile, competitive business. It's good karma."

Participating coffee shops:
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Laura Wray
Laura Wray

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