Recently in Edinburgh as we tend to do in distant cities we found the best third wave coffee shop in town. Generally places with beards, rock music and pungent delights of smokey fresh roasting coffee beans.
Artisan Roast, featured well chosen, roasted and served beans but the deft touch on the roaster what not the standout element of the experience. The lack of counter was. Even as third wave coffees shops long ago detached from the 80's west coast cult of espresso snottiness there was a great sense of human relationship with the counter absence.
A shared space with no division, secrets or separation between customer versus patron. It was like walking into a home. Also like the awkward transaction at the end of a hair cut when you stand in the place of work of your barber and without the safety of a counter hand over money the way you do to a friend.
It probably was designed this way because of the space and a frugal start up rather than jamming the culture of cafes, but there is something to the personal connection of counterless retail. Apple has been doing it for a couple years and before that Jack Spade in SOHO NY many years ago first got me thinking about it. The Monocle shop in London too.
For a retailer of hard goods counterless is easy as there is no preparation/construction. If the preparation is part what a knowledgeable customer is intrigued by, open up the process. Bring the people closer together.
though still make a darn good coffee, and pleasingly the folks at Artisan did.