Coffee Shop Culture and Communication- Gene Coffee Main Street

My activity surrounds the core question of how “social class manifests in the context of a coffee shop”. My individual research questions divulge this topic through smaller ethnographic research questions to explore what elements inhibit or promote the manifestation of social class, as well as, what is social class as a definition, in this context. The questions that arose are: what is the culture of the customers as defined through menu choice? How does the relationship between the way customers interact with each other and with the workers create an indicative community or lack of? What is the relationship between the architecture and decor with customer culture? How does location add to the curation of culture? These questions will act to explore how Gene Coffee Shop on Main Street Vancouver manifests a particular social class. I hope to create knowledge surrounding coffee shop culture and the ways that public spheres generate culture and social class.

Media scholar, Manning, defines cultural norms within the context of the chain Starbucks Coffee, in which ordering Starbucks is done using a cup size code that deviates from small, medium and large into the language of tall, grande and venti. Manning states that this is a branding technique, in which Starbucks utilizes because “people don’t just want coffee but brand distinction” (Manning 2008). However, the cultural norm within Gene Coffee would involve not using the Starbucks language to order, as it is a local establishment. The cultural norms that surround the coffee drinking experience at Gene Coffee further includes: not bringing food or drinks from home. To take part in the coffee shop, a purchase of food or drink from the shop is necessary. An established norm of not bringing young children that can cause disturbances to the environment, causes the demographic to be largely young adults spanning through their 20’s and 30’s. These cultural norms are strengthened through my observation of the space.

Within the research field I am able to position myself in regards to Writer Identity in the Politics of Writing. The autobiographical self consists of “the writer’s life-history and sense of his/her roots” (Clark, Ivanic 1997). Relating to the theory my autobiographical self is my European roots connected with my upbringing in a small town located on Vancouver Island. My age of 19 and my sexual orientation and identified gender of female furthers my autobiographical background.This “life experience affects how (I) write” (Clark, Ivanic 1997) about the research and may create an inherent bias, which is important to acknowledge.

The discourse self is defined to be “the writer’s representation of his or herself in the text” (Clark, Ivanic 1997). This disbursal self is represented by the way I present myself through language throughout the piece. This relays to the audience a sense of my own self identity as a writer. In this context, my discourse self is representative of a first year communications scholar. This is displayed through language specific to the field of communications, throughout the piece. Despite this definition it is important to note that “writers consciously or subconsciously adjust the impression they convey to readers” (Clark, Ivanic 1997). This sub conscious shift has the potential to alter my discourse self through a change in language used in relation to literary background or lack of.

The self as author is defined through the “writer’s sense of authority and authorial presence in the text” (Clark, Ivanic 1997). This position is related to a sense of own voice within writing. This pertains to the experience within the coffee shop and the sharing of these findings within an academic setting. This experience is an addition to my authorial presence as it gives me the necessary motive to feel as I have “the authority to say something” (Clark, Ivanic 1997). The authorial presence within the text is relayed through use of voice with the personal pronouns “I” or “My”.

My data collection strategy derives from mixed methods research. Throughout participation, observation and field notes categorizing the research. Data is concluded through interview collection of fellow participants. The collection strategy was surrounded by the main questions and tracked customers as they entered through the door, ordered, sat and eventually left. A map was sketched out and individuals actions measured through observation and then recorded by comments, following the passage of time, in association with actions made by customers. Notes on the map and overall decor of the cafe were recorded, including; scent, menu and music. Customers interactions, and facial expressions are recorded while within the coffee shop map context to answer main questions. Each customer’s autobiographical self was questioned through observation of clothing, attitude and movement to reveal biases and hint at social class categorization.

My observations from the coffee shop surrounded how social class manifests due to the location of the coffee shop. Amidst an art central neighbourhood with surrounding galleries, music, skate and thrift stores, Gene attracts a largely young and creative demographic in which customers were seen drawing or working on projects. The relationship between customers with each other and with workers enhances this local atmosphere.

Gene coffee shop’s menu hangs above the heads of customers when first entering the shop. The menu is black, and words are removable white blocks in all capitals with 11 drink items ranging from 2.50 to 4.50. This informal lettering and lack of menu choice of food or descriptive quality (an order is defined as a single or a double) is indicative of culture and social class. Sociologists Wright and Ransom define menu in relationship to social class as a distinction between high and low, as upper class is often “exotic, ignored, foreign and above average prices” (Wright, Ransom 2005). This differs from Gene Coffee’s “basic language”, indicating a lower class. The lack of description may also presume that customers are local, and already know what they want. This simplicity of the menu deviates from a Starbucks menu, which has a plethora of choice. Gene’s menu differs from popular establishments of consumer culture, creating a social class which also strays from what is popular. These customers then can be labelled as “hipster” in which the definition portrays a creative millennial differing from conformity and rather indulging in a simplistic manner.

The customers entering the coffee shop seem to have an already formed relationship with the workers. An interaction indicative of this is, a worker asking a customer “whens your birthday again? Tomorrow is it?” this describes a longstanding relationship between customer and worker which may span years. Between customers, individuals seem local and interactions between them represent that the same people frequent the coffee shop.

Man1: “Hey man I haven’t seen you in a while”
Man2: “Yea have you talked to John”

This customer culture is distinct within the coffee shop and is representative of how location results in atmosphere and culture within this public sphere.The architecture and decor is representative of minimalism. Walls are glass windows, and the floor is scuffed and unfinished. The chairs are plastic and a small vintage chandelier hangs in the corner, seemingly ironically. This minimalism links to the simplicity of the menu, in creating a consumer culture different from traditional consumption of luxury coffees.

The provisional answers to these questions are shaped by my autobiographical self in which my upbringing in a middle class home allows me to view the area of Gene Coffee as appealing within its minimalistic nature. This bias is what creates the ability to connect to the social class of locals which manifest within the shop. My discoursal self within the context allows me to view the relationship between customers and workers from an outside perspective.

Following the format of Ethnographic Interviewing as Contextualized Conversation by Stage, I have stated an “explicit purpose” and described the goals in which the interview hopes to achieve (Stage 2003). The questions created to be ethnographic research questions which are “descriptive questions (that) form the backbone of interviewing” (Stage 2003). As a grand tour question I state “Is there a relationship between how social class manifests and the location and decor of Gene Coffee?”. This question is then followed by a mini tour of questions, such as those specific to menu or appearances of customers, to distinguish the connection between decor and social class to answer my central question.

The information gathered from the interview supports the notion that decor and location within the coffee shop initiates culture and class manifestation. The location of surrounding “skateboard shops” causes Gene Coffee to “reflect that culture” as well as the “customers (who are) taking it back to simplistic roots and deviating from conformity”. This simplistic non conforming outlook, is what I concluded created culture within the coffee shop.
Elements of the interview that contradict conclusions made are, that the interviewee felt that a culture was already established within the coffee shop, making them feel left out “because it’s local it makes you feel excluded already as if you are missing out on some part of the culture”.

My overall findings conclude that Gene Coffee’s manifestation of social class is in part due to the location within Vancouver Mainstreet, and is reflective of the artistic community of this area. Social class manifests surrounding the coffee shops minimalistic decor, and glass walls leaving room for the defining elements of the shop to be the people within. The simplistic decor is reflected in the menu choices, as limited options for an affordable price, further draws in a young demographic of millennials, who are able to work from within the coffee shop via sketching and usage of online platforms on laptops.

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