Documenting a service

As soon as you enter Dobra Tea, you encounter the reception that also serves as the tea making station and product display. It smells wonderful, there’s yellow lights on wood, exotic carpets and ’s a very visceral experience from the moment you put one foot in the café.

The host/waiter/chef hands you a menu (it’s a binder full of teas! Definitely implies that these guys know their teas) and a tiny brass bell that you ring when you’re ready to order. For me this was an important artefact and my perception of what it implied changed as I experienced more of the service.

Initially, I thought it was cute and quaint, a nonintrusive and non-hurried way of ordering. The sentiment seemed in sync with the pace and mood set up by the décor. But when I had to ring it, it felt embarrassing to expect service at the ring of a bell so to speak. The less formal way of making eye contact and smiling to ask for help rather than ‘order’ seemed more natural than the use of props that solidified power dynamics.

The other interesting thing about Dobra was the use of spaces to create nooks and niches that allowed for different kinds of behaviour and interactions. Most of the people who were working on laptops or studying were sitting at the tables and chairs and those who were engaged in conversations with other people or reading leisurely were sprawled on the diwans and couches. Also, people who sat at the back seemed to stay longer (maybe they wanted to, that’s why they sat at the back) than those who sat closer to the entrance.

The interaction from a customer’s point of view was pretty straightforward. I’ve mapped it as a task flow

Walk in — Find a spot (an excuse to explore the space, figure out your own intentions and how you want to spend your time) — Unpack — Decide what to drink+eat (‘read’ the menu (artefact), validate authenticity+evaluate if expectations match the content) — Order (ring a bell (artefact)) — Wait — Drink+eat+work/talk/daydream — Pack up — Go to the payment counter — Pay (with a card, you interact with a person, then tablet (artefact), then person — leave

From an employee’s point of view –

Greet customer — Hand them the menu — Hear for the bell — Get the order — Make the tea/food — Serve the tea/food — Discretely check up on the customer — Manage payment — Clear table — Do dishes — Check inventory — Order inventory

Infrastructure involved –

Making tea, cleaning etc doesn’t happen at the back. Infrastructure for power, plumbing, maintaining safety and hygiene regulations have to be considered.

The decision to conceal (heating) or reveal infrastructure and processes through visual or sound or both (washing up) is a very deliberate one aimed at creating and selling an experience by appealing to our rational and irrational mind.

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