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Ideas are the Only Currency in the New Economy

The Art of Business – Ristr8tto Cafe in Thailand

April 30th, 2012 · No Comments · Entrepreneurship

Big Ideas:

  • Most businesses do a pretty lousy job of serving customers. The Ristr8tto Cafe in Thailand is an example of company that clearly gets it.
  • Great businesses can’t be built on efficiency and administration alone, any longer. Success is dependent on delivering a great customer experience.
  • Business can be art if you really care.

Most Businesses Offer Mediocre Products with Even Worse Customer Service

I’ll be blunt. Most businesses suck. Owners only seem to care about profits. Employees often do as little as possible to keep their jobs and all stakeholders blame everyone else for the sad state of affairs. It happens in government, large corporations, chain stores and even small businesses. There are exceptions, but they are so rare that I am going to start a new series this blog to hi-light amazing businesses around the world. These are companies that care about delivering exceptional experiences above all else. Everything they do is art. Unsurprisingly, exceptional companies also seem to generate higher sales and income.

Ristr8tto – Chiang Mai, Thailand.

On my first visit to Thailand more than 15 years ago, good coffee was pretty hard to come by. Not any longer. There are decent cafes all over the country. You might guess from this post that I like good coffee.

Ristr8tto is a relatively unassuming cafe on the trendy Nimmanhaeman Street frequented more by locals than the backpacker scene. My wife and I walked by several times and noticed that it was always packed with customers, even though many neighboring cafes were quiet. One day we finally gave it a try.

Ristr8tto Cafe, Chiang Mai, Thailand


Immediately upon entering, your eyes will be drawn to the large flowchart type menu explaining exactly how to order. Your first choice is hot or cold coffee. If you choose cold, you are once again directed with “Why not hot coffee?” The owner admonishes you to not ruin a great espresso drink with ice and syrup before you even order.

The next choice is what type of espresso drink you want, followed by the origin of beans. If you really want to get fancy you can also choose the type of latte art you would like to finish up with.

Lattee Art

As a side note, I once asked a Starbucks Barista why they don’t do latte art. She said she could make butterflies and many other designs but it would take too long in this busy cafe. I was the only customer at the time.

Fortunately, Anon, the owner is never too busy for latte art. Every cappuccino and latte is finished to perfection every time without exception. You don’t take short cuts when you are an artist.

Ristr8tto doesn’t sell much else other than coffee either. There are a couple of desserts to compliment your beverage, but make no mistake, you are there to enjoy a damn good cup of coffee.


The young Thai owner of Ristr8tto, spent several years in Australia where he had an opportunity to study the art of coffee, opened and sold his own cafe, won the world latte art championship in the Netherlands and returned to Thailand to open another cafe. This is clearly a person that lives for coffee. I love the fact that several pages of the menu are dedicated to telling his story.

He is perfectly happy to explain the nuances of each bean, talk about exactly what makes the perfect espresso and personally decorates your drink with virtually any latte art design you want. The owner is an artist. Coffee aficionados definitely appreciate his talent and knowledge of his craft.


There is no shortage of chain cafes in Chiang Mai, including Doi Chiang and the ubiquitous Starbucks, however, for any respectable Ristr8tto customer, it would be blasphemous to go to any other establishment. How can you not patronage a business that clearly loves their work so much? There is no competition when you operate at this level.

My wife and I went out of our way to visit this small little cafe because it was good and the owner cared. Do you care that much about the service and quality you offer the customers you serve?

Could Ristr8tto Improve?

Overall the cafe is doing a fantastic job, but I would offer a couple of suggestions to be even better. First, a second espresso machine would shorten wait times and increase throughput during busier times. Space is limited and this is a large capital expense, so perhaps this might have to wait for a new location, but it would definitely increase sales if it were possible.

The second suggestion would be to install a small oven in the back to offer fresh baked pastries. The smell of freshly baked croissants would be too hard to resist for any customer. While coffee purists, like the owner Anon, would argue that they don’t want to mask the aroma of the coffee, a good croissant and a latte are just too good of a combination to pass up. I suspect sales could be increased by 50% or more, if they have the capital for the equipment and can make better use of the back space of the cafe.

Action Items:

  • What experience do you offer your customers? What can be improved? I am constantly astonished at how little business owners care about their craft. Don’t be one of those people.
  • Go into an Apple store and closely examine every part of the customer experience. (Lots of knowledgable staff. All staff have devices to sell you right on the spot without lining up at a cash register. All products are simply displayed with ample space for you to test them out. iPads are used for sales information. The packaging is beautiful.) Everything is perfect from beginning to end.
  • Search out other companies that offer exemplary service and learn from them. Great companies are hard to find but they do exist.
  • Do you care so much about your job or your business that you treat it as art? If not, maybe it is time to change careers?
  • What is your art? Make that your business and do it so well that people rave about your work.
  • Do you know of an amazing company? Let me know in the comments below.


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