The corner bar - Starbucks?

January 22, 2012

The Starbucks bar experiment


National Public Radio said today as I was driving home that Starbucks is launching a (yet another) grand experiment.  They are going to start having beers and wine in their stores.  


I confess I was a little surprised.  I love the idea of a coffee shop/ bakery with good wine and beer.  It just makes sense.  You already are paying for the space and you probably are already staying open at least through the start of happy hour, so by investing a tiny bit more you can expand your profits tremendously by utilizing your space and your staff closer to its full potential.  


The catch for Starbucks is that unlike most coffee shops I was always under the impression that Starbucks had designed their shops to be attractive and yet extremely uninviting with respect to hanging out.  I thought part of their plan was to get people into the shop and then right back out.  Most Starbucks are lacking in comfortable seats, so while things look good and the music sounds good, and the lighting is nice, but there are almost no places to go sit where you could hang out for hours.  This is contrary to the coffee shop tradition where you have comfortable couches that suck you in and do not let you out.  I confess I would rather have great coffee than great seats, and I have no problem with the idea of keeping people moving in order to stay profitable,  and I can see how someone who pays one dollar for a coffee and then hangs out all day is likely to drive a business under, but alas Starbucks does not offer the great coffee to complete this plan (although I think their coffee is better than average, just not in a class with the true elite like Velton’s, Paradise, Klatch,…).  It seems like by definition if you are selling booze you do not want people drinking and dashing, so the idea of booze at Starbucks is not quite natural as at other coffee shops.  


Now recognizing that they tend to have over roasted coffee that is not fresh I cannot resist wondering what beer and wine they will serve.  I think they are too full of themselves to sell really cheap beer (say Old Milwaukee, for example), but do not have the taste or style to serve any of the great craft beers like Stone.  That leaves a range from Bud up to Sierra Nevada and my guess is they will have beers along those lines.  What do you think they will serve?

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