Why Every Cafe Should Schmear Your Bagel

Have you ever ordered a bagel and schmear and been handed a flimsy plastic spoon and a tiny plastic tub? Have you then had a burning desire to throw the un-schmeared bagel back at your bored, bespectacled barista and yell “FINISH THE JOB?!” If so, you might identify with this story.

(Spoiler Alert: This story is not about bagels.)

My anger has nothing to do with bagels (nor baristas), and everything to do with the concepts of waste and corporate social responsibility. 

Compare these two scenarios.

Scenario 1: You order a bagel. The bagelier slices and toasts the bagel, then uses a dedicated knife to apply cream cheese from a large vat. The knife is then replaced in the vat, and you’re handed the warm, cut, and schmeared bagel wrapped in a paper sleeve and a single napkin.

Scenario 2: You order a bagel. The bagelier asks you, “for here or to go” and you confirm that it’s “for here.” The bagelier slices and toasts the bagel, then puts it on a paper plate along with a plastic tub of schmear and a plastic knife. By the time that he’s called you, the bagel has begun to cool, and between the time you pick up the bagel, pop open the top of the tub, and apply the cream cheese, your bagel is nearly room temperature. You then throw away the knife, tub, and plate all within eyesight of your bagelier.

Not only is the first example more efficient time-wise (note that the bagelier treats every order as a to-go, increasing the speed of delivery), but it also makes more sense environmentally, economically, and experientially. Let’s break that down.

Environmentally: Imagine 100 people ordered a bagel with cream cheese. At the first cafe, the byproduct would be 100 paper sleeves – not a big waste considering the necessity of the sleeve in preventing a mid-meal schmear smear, and actually saving water by serving the dual role of plate. At the second cafe, the byproduct would be 100 plastic tubs (which have to be cleaned before recycled), 100 plastic knives (same as above), and 100 paper plates (which are usually completely untouched but are by and large thrown out). Even compostable utensils are useless compared to the first scenario, as reduction is always more sustainable and less resource-intensive than recycling. Also, despite decades of recycling, people still don’t know how to separate, so compostable and recyclable items oftentimes join the journey to the landfill.

Economically: The true pain point for effecting change is the low price of resources. Based on a quick scan of WebstaurantStore.com, we can roughly estimate that restaurants spend only $0.02 per knife, around $0.04 for the lid and tub, and $0.05 per plate. For $0.11 a customer, it seems unlikely that any cafe will change its policy based on price, especially with the considerable markup of the food items covering the excess. However, the restaurant business already operates on very thin margins, and $11 lost per day on 100 inefficient bagels can stack up over the year. If a cafe operates 350 days out of the year, that’s $3,850 lost revenue – maybe that’s enough of an incentive for a small business to consider alternatives.

Experientially: When do you buy a bagel in a cafe? If you’re like me, it’s when you’re already on your way to somewhere else and want a quick bite to eat in transit. Operative word: quick. If I wanted to schmear my own bagel, I would buy all of the materials at home, and it would take me the exact same amount of time as waiting for the bagel maker to toast it in store. The immediate experience of buying a bagel is diminished by the work that I now have to do to complete the transaction, and that makes me not want to return to the cafe. UX (user experience) design is not limited to tech – it’s critical that every establishment evaluate what outcome they’d consider optimal and what steps are necessary to achieve that ideal objective. (Jeff Axup’s blog, aptly named Restaurant UX, provides more examples.) If I’m turned off by this wasteful practice and blasé attitude towards customers, I’m not going to eat at that cafe again, which costs the cafe future profits.

As consumers, we have incredible power to affect supply-chain economics, through boycotts, product recalls, and simple behavioral changes. However, for the most part, we default to a price-comparison when choosing everyday goods. This is a normal function of being a cost-conscious consumer, particularly in a society of widening inequality.

Therefore, it’s the responsibility of the business – of all of those in the supply chain, really – to think deeply about what resources they offer and how often they’re made available. There’s a big difference between handing someone a bagel with a knife, for instance, and pointing them in the direction of the accoutrement kiosk. When companies take a deeper look at the lifecycle of their products and identify even one area of improvement, they are taking a step towards reducing society’s so-called “dependence” on finite resources and reimagining a process in which human-centered design reigns supreme.

As a human, that’s a future I’d like to see. Now schmear my damn bagel.


Sustainability Series - Bagel #2

By Way of Introduction (Windmill Project Update, Vol. 1)

Once again, I find myself embarking upon a grand journey. Luckily, this time I can leave my 70L backpack behind, because this journey is all in the mind. Yes, family and friends, I’m talking about the exciting adventure of professional development!

Hear ye, hear ye: I now proclaim that by the start of 2016, I want to be working as a UX (User Experience) Designer.

But first, there’s a lot of other work to do. Fortunately, I’m already on the right path. As the marketing and design analyst for MentorCloud, I have the chance to hone my skills, test out theories, and apply lessons from the countless UX blogs and design-thinking books that I’ve been devouring. I’m in the process of designing our new website, and am masochistically looking forward to showcasing the evolution of failed ideas once the finished product goes live.

Along the way to learning the ins and outs of UX, I’ll also be polishing my UI chops (a critical companion to UX), as well as mastering the fundamentals of HTML and CSS. Combined with my existing knowledge of content writing and business development, the ideal outcome is to become a wholly component front-end designer. In some future world, I would work with a client to position their product in the market, craft a compelling voice, mock up collateral options, design an appealing and appropriate user experience, and then make it all happen via code. Seems ambitious? Not to me.

As a result of this voracious appetite for knowledge, I come across a daily handful of recommended reading, useful tips, and general tidbits I’d like to share with the broader community. While I’ve recently begun to share these on Twitter (shameless plug: follow me!), some articles require a bit more than 140 characters to respond to in enough depth. Hence, I bring to you: the Windmill Project Updates, a quick way to check in on what I’ve been learning and hopefully learn something new yourself.

(The categories will be as follows: marketing, business development, content, UI, UX, HTML, CSS. Topics unrelated to the front-end development world can also be found on this blog, but won’t be tagged as belonging to the “Windmill Project Update” series.)

Monday | August 3, 2015

“What Japanese Etiquette Can Tell Us About Good UX Design” (FastCompany)

Anticipation of the other’s needs: The host should respond to guest’s needs before the latter feels such need himself.
Flexibility to the situation: Refers to the appropriate amount of formality or casualness respectively.
Understatement: The host should not display his efforts, in order to create a natural feeling for the guest.

Japan has earned its reputation as a technological powerhouse, a model for serene, effortless beauty, and a worldwide leader in hospitality. While the design relationship between the first two has received ample attention by the tech community, the importance of the third attribute has been overlooked. This FastCo article addresses that by highlighting a practical framework for measuring the true functionality of your website, using human-human relationships as a base. By reimagining visitors to a website as guests in a home, designers are reminded to create simpler, more intuitive experiences that result not only in high conversion rates, but also brand loyalty and increased retention. Developing an emotional relationship with a user is tough, but worth the wait; using the Japanese hospitality framework at the very least reduces friction and improves likelihood of a positive impression of your site, and at best provides you with repeat customers and a strong word-of-mouth marketing strategy.