Starbucks Mulls Alcohol Offerings

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(Updated with additional details and background information.)

SEATTLE, Wash. (TheStreet) -- The drink offerings at your local Starbucks may soon include beer and wine. Starbucks is looking to start selling regional wine and beer, and a selection of local cheeses served on China tableware.

The expanded offerings are aimed at transforming its stores into more of an all-day café. Starbucks already outfitted several locations, including one on Olive Way in its hometown Seattle's Capitol Hill area. The test store's barista bar was rebuilt so customers can sit at and around it, conversing with the baristas and watching them prepare drinks, much like customers at a traditional bar would do.


The new store was designed to look like it had been a part of the neighborhood for years, with a "green" design and sustainability-minded décor.

"It's the biggest undertaking of design of any retailer in the world," Arthur Rubinfeld, global development chief at Starbucks, told USA Today. All new Starbucks-owned stores will be LEED certified, approved by the internationally recognized green building certification system, developed by the U.S. Green Building Council.

If the refurbished location proves successful, Starbucks could make moves to expand the updated concept to other Starbucks locations, according to the newspaper report.

It could also help Starbucks tap into the afternoon and evening markets of store traffic, where a customer may come in for a $4 cup of coffee on the way to work in the morning, then stop back for a $9 glass of wine and a cheese plate on the way home. About 70% of all Starbucks business happens before 2 p.m.

So far, just two Starbucks location have been outfitted with the new café-style concept, used as "living labs" to test their appeal for consumers. The redone locations do not even boast the unmistakable Starbucks logo on the storefront, signs that have been drawing caffeine-starved customers for nearly 40 years.

Instead, the stores were named by their street locations with the words "inspired by Starbucks" understatedly etched onto their doors, according to the USA Today report.


Market testing of new café-style stores is not the only change to be implemented by Starbucks as of late.

Reports last week showed that Starbucks is asking baristas -- the workers behind the counter who actually make the coffee drinks -- to work at a slower pace so customers don't feel like their coveted caffeinated beverages came off a mechanized assembly line.


Starbucks wants its baristas to prepare two drinks at a time at most, and to take more care in preparing each beverage, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.

The report also said baristas should steam milk for one drink at a time instead of a whole pitcher for multiple drinks, as well as rinse pitchers after each use, remain at the espresso bar at all times and use one espresso machine instead of two.

 

A barista who works in a Starbucks location that has already put the new guidelines into practice told the Journal that working on a maximum of two drinks at a time has "doubled the amount of time it takes to make drinks in some cases," and that his customers now wait in longer lines.

Another barista whose store has yet to employ the new rules told the newspaper he was concerned about his ability to keep up with the volume of customers if only making one beverage at a time. "While I'm blending a frappuccino, it doesn't make sense to stand there and wait for the blender to finish running, because I could be making an iced tea at the same time," he said.

Starbucks maintained that its new drink-making protocol will lead to more consistent beverages made in a time-efficient manner, and that the drinks will be fresher and hotter, even if some customers will have to wait longer for certain drinks like no-foam lattes.

The push toward more of a coffee house-wine bar, rather than a quick-service coffee chain -- and with slower, more deliberate service, to boot -- could be a way for Starbucks to return to its roots in a way.

The coffee chain spent years transforming its baristas into java jockeys capable of slinging out increasingly overpriced drinks at breakneck speeds. All that production has done little for quality, and now corporate seems to be having its "What have we done?" moment.

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Starbucks is clearly addressing a growing quality issue, and looking to go about at it from several angles.

Starbucks also recently announced last month that it would raise prices on some of its menu offerings to offset rising commodity costs.

 

The Seattle-based chain said the increases would be targeted to "certain beverages in certain markets" in response to the recent jump in the price of green arabica coffee, which it said was close to a 13-year high. It also noted volatility in the cost of other key ingredients, such as sugar, dairy products and cocoa, as a factor in its decision.

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