A couple of weeks ago, Starbucks—with 10,700 U.S. stores—announced that it will be serving wine and beer (and savory snacks) in a handful of locations in Atlanta and Southern California by the end of the year. These locations join plans for several coffee-cum-bar Starbucks in Chicago, and the already five existing coffee/bars in the company’s hometown, Seattle, and one in Portland.
Apparently, the change in the coffee-only focus is a response to customer feedback for additional options to relax in Starbucks’ coffee houses. “As our customers transition from work to home, many are looking for a warm and inviting place to unwind and connect with the people they care about,” said Clarice Turner, Starbucks’ senior vice president, U.S. Operations in a release. “At select stores where it is relevant for the neighborhood, we are focused on creating an atmosphere where our customers can relax with a friend, a small bite to eat and a cup of coffee or glass of wine.”
After the decision to roll out the booze to other cities, Poll Position conducted a phone survey of 1,113 registered voters and asked the following: Starbucks is beginning to serve beer and wine in some of its stores. Do you think that it is appropriate for Starbucks to serve beer and wine?
Respondents were divided with 39 percent saying yes, 39 percent saying no and 22 percent describing themselves as undecided. The poll’s administrators said men and women were divided on whether selling beer and wine is a good move for Starbucks.
Not surprisingly, men favored Starbucks selling beer and wine 49%-34%, while women opposed it 45%-30%.
After reading these results, I decided to take a poll of my own. I asked about 50 people, both men and women, ranging in age from 15 to 75, what they thought about Starbucks’ transformation.
Some were opposed to the idea because of how alcohol will change the coffee-house atmosphere:
“I don’t like it. Starbucks has a certain vibe that doesn’t include people getting buzzed on alcohol.”
“I like the café experience, sitting there and reading. I don’t want my café to be my local pub also.”
“I think it goes against the environment that Starbucks tries to give off which is a warm, friendly coffee shop. If you start selling alcohol it will lose its peaceful sense.”
“For me, the two don’t mix well–Starbucks is a spot to go for coffee during the day and, at least for now, I still adhere to the 5:00 cocktail rule!”
Some liked the idea of moving towards the European model:
“It recasts Starbucks more in the mold of a European café. Cappuccino in the morning, Prosecco by night.”
“In Europe, you see coffee bars also selling wine. Starbucks provides a sense of community, a gathering place, and wine always goes with that. The only thing is, I think they’d need to adapt the decor/atmosphere–less utilitarian, more luxe, sexier lighting perhaps. And music.”
“Kids in america are underexposed to alcohol in a ‘part of life’ way. It can be a good thing to have it around in a place which is not a bar where people act more responsibly…My theory is the more it is not a big deal, the less the kids will make a big deal.
Some expressed concern about teens:
“I think it is horrible. Starbucks is, for some kids, a safe haven, and I’m not sure why they need to introduce alcohol into the mix.”
“As long as they are checking IDs, I’m fine with it.”
“I’m concerned because so many young people are already abusing the amount of caffeine they consume in a day. Then add the temptation of alcohol (and how easy it is to get a fake ID to purchase it).”
“So long as they carefully monitor minors, I see no problem in expanding the line. Having said that, there was something cozy and wholesome about having a non-mood altering zone there.”
There are those who try to stay away from alcohol:
“I think selling beer and wine essentially makes Starbucks into a bar—so many people in recovery try so hard to stay out of bars (and we spend a lot of time in coffee houses!)”
“The other night, around 5 pm, I had some time to kill in NYC before meeting friends for dinner, and I didn’t want to go into a bar alone but I thought a glass of wine might be nice. I chose Starbucks instead, and got coffee but fantasized about wine. Still–I think there should be some alcohol-free zones, so I’m on the fence, leaning toward compassion for those who need not to be around it!”
Some just feel strongly:
“I think it is a big mistake. It would probably make me boycott the company whose stores I am currently in about two times a day.”
“I think wine fits more with an upscale coffee store; perhaps select beers, but Bud at Starbucks makes no sense—might as well buy eggs and milk too.”
“I’m fine with it. It broadens their business opportunity and should help strengthen sales, something all enterprises could use these days.”
“I wholeheartedly support their decision, feels a bit more like the European relationship to wine and beer — normalizes the place of these drinks in our culture.”
There are those who cover all the bases:
“My initial reaction was, “Oh no!” I suppose I feel that way because I view Starbucks as a calm and peaceful place to read the paper and meet friends while enjoying a nice cup of coffee or tea. I suppose in some sense that a nice glass of wine or beer would not detract from that experience. In fact, many people would enjoy a good read or conversation with a glass of wine or beer. I suppose it is the other problems associated with alcohol that concern me — over-consumption, under-age drinking, and the trouble that accompanies those things that puts doubt in my mind as to why this is necessary. I like Starbucks just the way it is. I would prefer to go elsewhere for my glass of wine. I am sure this decision by Starbucks is economically motivated to increase sales by capturing a new group of consumers. I guess I keep thinking that I like Starbucks just the way it is and if it ain’t broke, why fix it?”
And those that think, why not?
“When people get hung over, they can switch to coffee. With wars and the economy, it is such a minor thing.”
“We do not have prohibition any longer and live in a free market society, so they should be allowed to sell beer and wine.”
Needless to say, the subject of coffee houses morphing into bars is a loaded one. It seems a risky move for Starbucks, but only time will tell how the new metropolitan “coffee/bars” will be received. As far as I’m concerned, a few hours of work while sipping a latte is nice, but so is capping the afternoon with a glass of cabernet. It’s important that teens have a place to congregate, so maybe they can head to the diner, or one of the frozen yogurt places now cropping up on every corner.