Starting Monday, Starbucks customers are welcome to sit outside and sip a while — as long as they don’t light up. The international coffee giant is extending its ban on indoor smoking to outdoor patios and dining areas in California.
The change was prompted by an increasing number of communities that have enacted smoking prohibitions in outdoor dining areas.
Greg Beato’s take on Starbucks in the new Reason is right on, acknowledging the company’s successes while recognizing that its attempts to reinvent itself with shops like the undercover 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea won’t restore its reputation as an innovator:
For all their ostensible authenticity, such adventures in interior design cannot match the truly radical act of installing espresso machines in bank lobbies. Like Seattle’s other great cultural export from the early 1990s, Nirvana, Starbucks has always been most vital, most interesting, most revolutionary when at its most commercial. […]
At [15th Avenue Coffee and Tea], the quest to cultivate highbrow customers continues. There’s a wall covered with excerpts from Plato’s dialogues. Blended drinks are banned from the premises, and you can safely assume that Bearista Bears, the highly sought-after plush toys that Starbucks has been selling since 1997, won’t ever appear here either.
But if Starbucks really hopes to re-establish its authority as an innovative, forward-thinking trailblazer, it should perhaps use its next experimental venue to honor its heritage as the first chain to take gourmet coffee culture beyond the narrow boundaries of traditional coffeehouse values and aesthetics. Imagine a place with matching chairs, clean tables, beverages that look like ice cream sundaes, Norah Jones on the sound system, and absolutely no horrid paintings from local artists decorating the walls. A place, that is, exactly like Starbucks!
I walked by 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea on my most recent visit to Seattle. It looks like a nice shop, but it’s a tiny part of the Starbucks empire and the coffee, of course, is still Starbucks. In a city that’s full of great coffee shops I’m not sure why anyone would seek it out.
On a related note, it looks like Starbucks is about to launch pour over brewers in some of its stores. There’s probably no better example of the company becoming an imitator than this. Pour over bars have become one of the leading trends in quality-oriented coffee shops as they shift toward brewing individual cups on demand. Part of the reason they’ve become so popular is that the high-tech Clover machine was bought up by Starbucks and taken off the market, forcing those shops to turn to alternative brewing methods. So it’s funny to see Starbucks copying low-tech pour overs now too. It’s as if the company believes installing all the accoutrements of an indie cafe will bring in the coffee lovers when its real problem is that it doesn’t have the systems in place to match the quality of its smaller, nimble competitors.
Nonetheless I hope that Starbucks succeeds at generating interest in individually brewed coffee; that would be a great step forward, though I find it hard to imagine that there will be a mass consumer shift from drip to pour over. I hope too that the customers who are introduced to the method at Starbucks will also try it at a shops with greater passion for the product and lighter roast profiles.
(And if you can’t tell, I’m still bitter about losing the Clover, which I’ve always preferred to pour overs anyway.)
[Pour over link via Starbucks Gossip.]
A blog established to encourage Starbucks (SBUX) to stop supporting smoking at their stores. SBUX, where it is legal, allows smoking outside of their stores. Not a very “socially conscious” policy. Not to mention, how does a business so closely tied to the Susan G. Komen Foundation for the Cure (breast cancer), reconcile allowing smoking at their stores?
Yikes, giving people a place to smoke, even if that place is outside, now detracts from a business’s social consciousness? And wanting to find cures for cancer now requires taking control over customers’ personal behavior? Obviously Starbucks is a private business and if they decide to ban smoking outside their stores they have every right to do so, but:
1) It might be more reasonable to ban it only in some stores, such as those with small urban storefronts. Suburban stores with large patios could easily accommodate smokers and non-smokers.
2) A guy smoking a cigarette in open air isn’t going to give anybody cancer. He might be annoying but so is the guy with the portable radio, the guy who hasn’t bathed in three days, and the friends chatting too loudly about their sex lives. In a civil society we learn when to tolerate such things and when to ask the store to intervene and it’s not clear that a chain-wide ban is needed to deal with them. In any case, allowing people to smoke outside where they do harm only to themselves is perfectly compatible with raising money for cancer research.
3) This blogger’s “campaign” is part of the trend to demonize smokers, portraying their behavior not just as unhealthy but as anti-social. This kind of thinking is what has led to extending legislated smoking bans from indoor spaces to places like beaches, golf courses, and public parks, where it’s absurd to claim there are any deleterious health effects from secondhand smoke. Starbucks might reasonably decide that forbidding smoking would be good for business but this would not put them on moral high ground.
4) Yes, it’s rude to light up next to other people without asking their permission but where else are smokers supposed to go? Now that they’ve been exiled from indoor businesses, even from tobacco shops in some jurisdictions, one can understand why they feel entitled to the outdoor spaces they have remaining.
5) Starbucks actually deserves great credit for their non-smoking policies. As I wrote about in 2006, they’ve been a pioneer in international markets for creating smokefree cafes in countries where these were predicted to fail. (The title of this post is a translation of the signs they posted in Austria explaining their policy: “aroma protection through a smoke-free space.”) They’ve probably helped change expectations for American cafes too. Given all this, it’s a bit spiteful to call them socially irresponsible for accommodating their smoking customers outside.
6) Sitting outside on a summer day with coffee and a cigar can be a wonderful experience. If you can find a place to do so where you won’t impose on other customers I highly recommend it.
Last year Starbucks took a lot of heat in the press for an $86 million ruling against them for taking tips from baristas and giving them to management. In reality the “managers” in question were shift supervisors doing essentially the same job as baristas and customers leaving tips reasonably expected them to get their share. I defended Starbucks at the time and I’m glad to see that a California appeals court has reached the same conclusion [full decision in .DOC format here):
Specifically, the undisputed facts show: (1) the vast majority of the time shift supervisors and baristas perform the same jobs; (2) these employees rotate jobs and work as a “team” throughout the day; (3) customers intend that their tips placed in the collective tip boxes collectively reward all of these service employees; and (4) Starbucks’s manner of dividing the collective tip boxes among the service employees (based on the time worked by each employee) is fair and equitable. […]
Because the trial court’s interpretation of section 351 was not supported by the statutory language and led to a result contrary to the fundamental purpose of the statutory scheme, it is one that the Legislature could not have intended. We reverse the judgment in its entirety.
Cue allegation from amazingly persistent commenter Gary that the appeals court must have been bribed by Starbucks in 3… 2…
[Via Starbucks Gossip.]
I had an article in the Fall issue of Doublethink about the competition between Starbucks and independent coffee shops. This was my first time published in a magazine and seeing everything laid out with original photography was pretty neat. It’s published online today here.