Starbucks Moving from Coffee to Cabernet–What Do We Think?

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:

“Total turnoff.  You go there for the calm, for the sip on coffee, open your laptop feel. Not to get drunk.”

“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.

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The High School Party Scene: Then & Now

by Caren Osten Gerszberg

When I was a sophomore in high school, my brother—then a high school senior—planned a big party at our house. Not only did he have my parents’ blessing, but they even went out to dinner while he was setting things up in our basement. It must’ve been winter, because I remember my brother making a fire just before the guests began to arrive, when a spark flew and lit one of the couch pillows on fire.

I guess the quickest way to deal with the pillow was to toss it outside, presuming the flames had been put to their rest. Within a couple of hours, only when numerous firefighters and their big red engine pulled into our driveway, did any of us realize that the pillow had been smoldering outside the basement door. The neighbors evidently called 911 when the odor wafted their way.

The friendly firefighters tended to the pillow and most definitely noticed the scene—harmless high school beer-drinking revelers hanging out, listening to music, and playing pool. Once the pillow was extinguished for real, they smiled and took off.

Fast-forward 30 years and note a number of significant facts:

  1. I’m the parent of the high school senior now.
  2. The drinking age is 21, while it was 18 when I was in high school.
  3. I live down the street from the local police station.
  4. High school kids in our community routinely attempt, often successfully, to smuggle beer and booze into a house party.

Last Saturday night, it was my child’s turn to host the party. While we were glad to let our daughter invite friends and other students from her school’s performing arts program–in celebration of four days of play performances–my husband and I had no intention of going out while the festivities took place. In fact, we had a plan in place, which was to ask each and every teen who walked through our front door to leave their coat and any bag on the table by the front door. This seemed a reasonable request, especially since we know people who have hired off-duty police officers to stand outside and monitor any potential contraband being smuggled into their kid’s party.

Once the shindig began, hordes of kids began to pour through our front door. These days, it takes only seconds to text your posse and tell them where the fun is. My husband stood guard at the door, while I took to the stairs. Within 30 minutes, the police had arrived.

The two officers stood on our front lawn, amid the small groups of kids who’d most likely exited to get high or drink outside of our house. When word traveled to the basement that the police were on site, my daughter ran upstairs and asked us to stall for a few minutes–she needed to clean up the beer cans she’d already discovered in the guest bedroom downstairs. We told her we would try, but I couldn’t help but wonder: “How is possible that kids have the nerve to stick bottles and cans down their pants and in their shirts right in the face of two adults who are asking them not to?”

Well, live and learn. My husband eventually let one of the officers take a walk inside and around the house–despite my hesitation–and the officer concluded that all was well and we were “doing a great job.” We were asked to lower the music (oh, did I mention two of the kids brought their professional DJ equipment?) and the party rocked on.

Kids came and left, and though we continued to eye each one of them, more beer and a bottle of vodka made it passed our parental checkpoint. The fire alarm eventually went off–thanks to the DJ’s fog machine–but the party lasted until about 1:00 am. My daughter came up afterwards to thank us for the party, and told us she had a great time.

The following morning, while cleaning up, I found a water bottle with the words “Cousins’ Reunion” splashed across the front–with just a little water left in it. “Smell it,” my daughter said. “Oh yeah,” I instantly realized. “Pure vodka.” My husband, meanwhile, was outside busily picking up empty beer cans and bottles around our front yard and our neighbors’.

I couldn’t help but feel badly for these kids. They are growing up in an environment that has made alcohol so forbidden, so undeniably dangerous in nearly every way, that they feel the need to sneak it at every turn. While the dangers are obvious–and we’ve been clear to discuss them with our daughter in addition to what she’s learned in school–there seems to be such a focus on controlling our children that they are bursting at the seams to get their hands on the stuff.

I wish things were a bit more relaxed, like when we were in high school. If the authorities showed up, rather than ask you to search your house, they’d survey the scene, see the responsible parents on hand, and go merrily on their way.

Caren Osten Gerszberg is a co-editor of the Drinking Diaries.

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Binge Drinking highest among the wealthy, according to the CDC

The latest estimates to come out of a survey conducted by the Centers of Disease Control reveal that binge drinking–defined as four or more alcoholic drinks per occasion for women and five or more for men–is highest in wealthier adults (with annual household incomes of $75,000 or more) and among high school students. About 33 million Americans are binge drinkers. Most are not alcoholics.

In an piece on these latest findings, Scott Hensley writes, “Now, it’s probably obvious that binge drinking isn’t so good for your health. In the short run drinking like that contributes to accidents and sexual transmission of disease. Keep it up, and there’s liver damage and a higher risk for heart disease and stroke.”

Naturally, these numbers are not to be taken lightly. According to the CDC, binge drinking was the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States and it annually accounted for, on average, approximately 79,000 deaths per year during 2001 and 2005.

The problem, though bad, isn’t much worse than it’s been in recent years. In 1993, the CDC says, about 14 percent of adults had gone on drinking binges. But as Dr. Thomas Frieden, head of the CDC put it, “Because binge drinking is not recognized as a problem, it has not decreased in 15 years.”

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We Want to Know: Would You Let Your Underage Teens Drink In Your House? How About Their Friends?

Today, I read yet another article about parents arrested for letting their underage teens drink in (or this case, outside) their house. This time, it was two moms, who admittedly, were intoxicated themselves when the police came and found 15 teenagers drinking in their yard and making noise. In her defense, one of the moms said something to the effect of, “I can’t control my kid. Can you control yours?” When the officer asked her why she didn’t call the police, she said that it was Homecoming, and drinking is what kids do on Homecoming.

When we did a poll here at Drinking Diaries, asking “Would You Let Your Underage Teen Drink In Your House?” the answers were evenly split between: “Yes, but only sips of wine or beer at the dinner table” and “Yes, I’d rather have my kids drink under my supervision than out of sight. At least I’ll know what my kids are doing, then.” Fewer people said they would not allow their kids to drink in the house.

Here’s the real question: If you’d be willing to let your kids drink in your house, would you be willing to let them share a few beers with friends? What if they had 5 friends over, and they wanted to drink? What if it were 10? When does letting your teen drink in your house morph into hosting an underage drinking party–for which you can get arrested.

We want to know: What are your thoughts about this controversial issue? Are you willing to risk breaking the law, or do you (or will you) follow it to the letter?


Step Four: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

401493172v3_225x225_Front“One Step at a Time” is a series of original essays we will be running monthly. We are excited to have writer and mom Patty N. share her fresh perspective as she embarks on the road to sobriety.


by Patty N.

The Fourth Step – a searching and fearless moral inventory – is not so much a step as it is a personal fact-finding mission, a sort of self-guided tour of the past designed to help us figure out why we drank.  Just after my 90th day of sobriety, a clue appeared in my Inbox.

Doug Harrison* wants to be friends on Facebook.

I clicked on the link expecting to see the freckle-faced boy I knew in high school. Instead, a middle-aged man with a receding hairline and a face I no longer recognized greeted me. But just seeing his name  – Doug Harrison – sent me right back to the summer of 1981.

I was fifteen years old, heading into my junior year of high school and had absolutely nothing to do no job, no camp, no family vacation, no responsibilities. Bored and a little lonely, I spent my days at the country club pool where my best friend, Amy, was a life guard. Doug, also fifteen, worked at the club as a golf caddy, and he would come swimming every day after work. One evening, he showed up with two cans of Budweiser for the three of us to share.  I hated the taste, but I loved the buzz. That was my first drink.

Soon after, Doug invited me to go tubing down the Truckee River with his brother, Steve – a senior – and a group of his friends.

“Are you kidding me?” I asked. Steve Harrison was the most popular guy in high school. He was the star of the basketball team, dated the head cheerleader and drove a brand new Camaro Z-28.

“Steve told me I could bring a friend,” Doug said. “And I want to bring you.”

A couple days later, Steve’s Camaro roared into my driveway.

I can’t believe I’m in Steve Harrison’s car, I thought. It smelled like new leather and Coppertone. Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” blared from the cassette deck.  Steve’s blue eyes met mine in the rear view mirror.

“Welcome aboard,” Steve said. “Do you know Deb?”  He nodded toward his tan, buxom girlfriend, who was dressed in a bikini top and cut-off shorts.

Of course I knew Deb. Everyone knew Deb. But she had no reason to know a geek like me.

“Hi,” she said, flashing her bright white homecoming queen smile.

“Hey,” I said, flashing my mouthful of metal. I self-consciously crossed my arms over my flat chest.

As we drove toward Truckee, Steve tossed two Mickey’s Big Mouths into the back seat. I studied Deb, her polished toes resting on the dashboard, as she effortlessly drank her beer. When I took a sip of mine, I actually gagged a little. Beer tasted bad enough and this cheap malt liquor was even worse. But I forced it down anyway.

I was definitely lit when we got to the river and, by the time we finished tubing, I’d had at least two more Big Mouths and a bag of green grapes. I stumbled into the back seat of Steve’s car.  Everything was spinning. Then, knowing I’d never make it to the bathroom, I leaned out the window and vomited on the door of the Z-28 in front of Steve, Doug, Deb and all of their friends.

They all started laughing and chanting, “Grapes! Grapes! Grapes!”  That’s the last thing I remember before I passed out.

I woke up just as Steve was pulling into my driveway. My head was pounding and I felt so humiliated that I’d thrown up in front of the popular kids – and on Steve’s car!

What if my stomach acid ruined his paint job – I’ll never be able to go back to school, I thought.

“Sorry I got sick,” I said, unable to make eye contact.

“Hey, that’s okay,” Steve said. “It was pretty funny.”

“Yeah,” Doug said, “It was fun.”

My mom was in the kitchen when I went inside.

“How was it?” she asked.

“It was fun,” I said.  “It was really fun.”

The next day at the pool, Steve and Doug cheered, “Grapes, grapes, grapes” when they saw me.  I was still a little embarrassed, but I loved the attention.

“Wow,” Amy said, “It sounds like you had a good time.”

My definition of fun became distorted that day on the Truckee River and, as I dig deeper into this personal excavation that is the Fourth Step, I’m able to see how often I confused self-destructive and even dangerous drinking with fun. Being the center of attention, making people laugh, and joking my way out of uncomfortable feelings – all of these became staples of my drinking life for the next 30 years. I denied my disease and dismissed my behavior, choosing to believe I was just a fun drunk. But nobody goes to A.A. because they’re having fun; we go because we can’t pretend anymore.

Doug Harrison wants to be friends on Facebook. CONFIRM or IGNORE.

I wanted to just click IGNORE and get rid of that thumbnail sized reminder of my embarrassing summer of ‘81.  But A.A. promises that if we thoroughly follow each Step, “we will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.” Or in my case, throw up on it.  I knew what I had to do – I had to click CONFIRM.

*Names has been changed.

To read Patty’s earlier entries on Drinking Diaries, click here.

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