Cup of Joe: Faster Than Cup of Jane?

How long does it take to grab a cup of coffee?

If you happen to be a woman, plan on adding 20 seconds to your morning ritual. That’s how much longer women wait to get their coffee compared to men, according to a study by Middlebury College economics professor Caitlin Knowles Myers.

Myers and five of her students timed 295 transactions at eight Boston-area coffee shops. Her study controlled for complicating factors, including the complexity of the drink order (skinny? soy? 3 percent milk?), the appearance of the customer, and the length of the line.

But even after accounting for these factors, women waited about 20 seconds longer. And the wait increases when lines are longer and decreases when the proportion of female employees is higher.

Neither age, race, or appearance affected wait time, Myers reported.

Despite the study’s findings, coffee aficionados—and aficionadas—surveyed in Harvard Square coffee shops seemed blasé.

Angelica W. Nierras ’09 didn’t believe that women wait in line longer.

“Maybe men are more intimidating,” she said while waiting at Tealuxe, “but I feel like I can be pretty demanding.”

Other female customers were less skeptical, but still unperturbed.

Carolin Oelschlegel, a student at Harvard Business School who said she gets coffee just once a week, said, “To me, 30 seconds don’t matter at all.”

Some even questioned the value of the study altogether.

“It makes me wonder who actually times these things.” said Christine Y. Auh, also of the Business School. “It’s not really something you would think about.”

Men who frequent the Square’s coffee shops didn’t show much concern over the study results either.

Eric M. Wahl, a former employee at Tufts’s student-run cafe The Rez, is skeptical of discrimination being the explanation for longer wait times.

“I mean, I can’t even imagine the cause of something like that,” he said, while waiting at the Starbucks in the Garage. “Presumably it implies some sort of sexism, but I just don’t see how.”

And some men said that though their orders came out faster, the speed came at a cost.

Evan J. Sperber ’08 reveals that while he got his drink a good 30 seconds before his female friend, Starbucks botched his order.

“I ordered the Caffe Vanilla Frappuccino Light,” Sperber explained. “This”—he pointed at his half-consumed beverage—“is a Vanilla Bean Frappuccino.”

Peet’s Coffee & Tea on Mt. Auburn Street attributes the pace of its service to the “bump bar,” a screen above the drink counter that displays orders as they are placed.

“I don’t know what kind of stores [the researchers] went to, but if you look at how our system is set up, the customers are taken care of one at a time,” explains Peet’s veteran barista, Kendall Howse. “All the drink orders go to the screen, so there’s no way for gender to come into play at all.”

So what explains the study’s findings?

Economics Professor Jeffrey A. Miron had a few theories.

“The basic economic explanation would be that males and females have different beliefs in tipping responsiveness,” he mused. “And the ‘pure animus’ view is that servers respond to men because they’ve been socialized to treat men well.”

But that theory has problems of its own, Miron suggested.

“That might lead you to expect a race effect, but that’s not observed, which makes it awkward...” he trailed off. “I’d like to see the basic facts replicated before I lose any sleep over it.”