Big Ideas, Delivered With Impact

I Loathe You, Starbucks

In Resources on August 1, 2009 at 7:36 am

By Tim Beyers

Source: Google image searchStarbucks brews a decent cup of coffee, but it stinks as a place to work when I need one.

Look at the store designs, and the lines. Every Starbucks store is made to move people in and out as fast as possible. The pitching, foaming espresso machines may as well be screaming at me to get my drink and leave.

But you wouldn’t know that from management’s comments. In March, a spokesperson told The Wall Street Journal that changes to its menus and pricing were meant to give Starbucks the feel of a coffeehouse.

Um, no. Have you seen the furniture? No way does Starbucks doesn’t want for me to think of its stores as a destination, an office away from my office. Choose from a cushion-less, wood Gestapo chair or the surrounding comfort of a sofa chair? Something’s going to suffer — either my back, or my hands. (You try alligator-arming your way through a story from a sofa chair.)

And that’s annoying. Days like yesterday are when I need Starbucks most. Days like yesterday are why I pay for a monthly subscription to AT&T’s Wi-Fi service. Starbucks serves Ma Bell’s particular brand of wireless brew, providing an oasis when my own network breaks down.

Or at least that’s how it would be if I were welcome at Starbucks. I’m not.

So when I found myself connectionless yesterday morning I went first to Stella’s, a Denver-area coffeehouse that has spacious tables, chairs with cushions and at least some back support, free Wi-Fi, friendly service, and a lot less noise. Stella’s, in other words, is everything Starbucks isn’t.

Source: Google image searchWell, almost everything. Stella’s suffers from inconsistent Wi-Fi service. Welcoming chairs and tables and friendly service don’t mean much when I can’t file my scribblings or reach my editors. Starbucks really should be my go-to when I need a break, or when my network breaks. It isn’t.

Dozens other Denver-area Wi-Fi hotspotters are better suited to my needs, including McDonald’s, Panera Bread, Barnes & Noble, and best of all, my local library. They won’t break my back, my hands, or my bank account.

I loathe you, Starbucks. And that can’t be how CEO Howard Schultz wants it.

© Copyright 2009, Tim Beyers.

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  1. I love Starbucks lattes. Lately I’d been wondering why Starbucks didn’t have free wi-fi. But can you imagine if they did? You think it’s crowded now? Free wi-fi would probably make it worse. And then you’ll have all the people staying to drink their coffee while browsing the internet, leaving no room for everyone else. So I think free wi-fi would be a blessing and a curse for Starbucks customers.

  2. You found friendly baristas at an indie coffeehouse? The customer service at my two local Starbucks far exceed that of the local indie coffeehouse. It’s sad, really. I would rather give my money to a local. However, if I’m paying more than $1 for coffee, I deserve to feel like I’m welcome to walk into the joint. I don’t need a sofa or a chessboard. Coffee, wi-fi, a chair, a table and friendly service is all I want… and, sadly, Starbucks serves it best here.

  3. When I lived in Denver I couldn’t afford home Internet service and Starbucks drove me nuts too. If you’re near downtown you could try Leela, on 15th and Champa. It’s crazy at night but if you’re working in the afternoon it’s pretty peaceful. Plus, it’s comfortable, and the wireless is reliable (at least it always has been for me). Otherwise, yeah, local library’s always a good choice.

  4. That’s exactly the opposite feeling I always get when I go to a Starbucks. It could help that the locations I frequent are on a college campus, so that in addition to professionals, they also have quite a student population there at most any given time.

  5. I’ve never felt welcome at Starbucks. Item one: they burn their beans. Item two: they have ridiculous names for small, medium and large. Item three: they use even sillier names for their beverages, rather than “coffee with milk and sugar.” Item four: the person who takes your money sends you to coffee purgatory, an unmarked place lost in time somewhere to the right where you do what? Item five: overpriced, dried out snacks (you can buy an entire Entenmann’s for the price of a single, dusty coffee cake slice).

    I would rather have a coffee with milk and sugar and a marble frosted donut at Dunkin’ and save 50% and support some striving Indian immigrant franchisee family than a band of pretentious corporate cuppies in Seattle.

  6. Well Tim, you may be in luck one day. I stumbled upon a TIME magazine article the other day about the new ‘Stealth Starbucks’. It was then that I realized that this place is just down the street from me?! Welcoming atmosphere, free wi-fi, but no trace of a Starbucks brand?! http://blog.jaypurcell.net/post/159706729

  7. I’ve studied Starbucks — that is, asked myself what makes them special. I’ve been to many stores, etc. and I’ve figured it out. Its not the ‘customer service’ or the ‘product’ although they are great. The real secret to their success, I think, is that they are selling friendship. It may as well be called ‘rent-a-friend’. If you are a repeat customer to the same location, no matter what, you will get some cheerful repartee, eye contact, attention, possibly a compliment; some recognition that you exist and are living a life for the 60 seconds or so that it takes you and the worker to transact your order. Regardless whether you have tons of friends or are pathetically withdrawn or have a veneer of not wanting a friend or are plain unlikable, when you go into Starbucks you get to have the friend treatment, not a server, waiter, barista, a friend.

    Grant you, its a one-minute or less ‘micro’ treatment. But, if you are enough of a repeat customer, the friend will even know your name and your order. And it feels good to have a friend, maybe its the best feeling. And so, we return for our ‘friend fix’. I don’t know if Starbucks trains their people to think of themselves as ‘rent-a-friends’ specifically, or just hire people who are naturally friendly and young enough not to be too cranky, but ether way, I think its cool. As far as seating, I only drink in the store when I’m out with my little daughter so I don’t mind the type of chairs or if it has wifi.

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