My junior year in college, I was given the opportunity to take a semester and study abroad. I had many options to choose from because my university was great at making friends with other universities who had campuses across the world. After about 15 minutes of researching all my choices, I settled on Rome, Italy. It was settled. I left the following fall semester. I spent four wonderful months traveling around Europe, tasting interesting foods, drinking bitter beers and wines, making a fool of myself trying to learn the language, and best yet; drinking the coffee. If you’ve never had true Italian coffee, you need to stop whatever it is that you are doing right now and hop on a flight. Yes, that’s right, I’m giving you permission to stop reading my article and get your butt on a plane to sip some delectable Italian coffee. Since your now booked flight probably won’t leave for a few hours, I’ll finish up my thought. I had never tasted or experienced anything like those Italian coffee shops before. The smells, the sight of ancient ruins outside the windows, the beautiful language surrounding me, the beautiful people speaking the beautiful language. I never wanted to leave. At the end of my adventure abroad, I was even fluent enough in Italian to speak to the barista behind the counter who made the glorious cappuccinos and served me buttery flaky pastries. It was an experience each and every time I visited one of those coffee shops. People didn’t just go there to get their daily fix but to socialize with friends, to read a book, to ask how the baristas wife and kids were. It was a place to sit, to relax, to breathe in the life around you. It was a place to see your neighbors, talk to your enemies, and reconcile over a latte. Those coffee shops were friendlier than any block party ever thrown and more soothing than any yoga class ever taught.
Coming back to America, I walked into one of my local coffee shops and was hit with a major blow of reality. Let me rephrase that; American reality. No one was making conversation. No one was laughing or joking with the barista. The foam was too light in a cappuccino and the croissant was too hard. There were too many open laptops and not enough open hearts. There were too many drinks being made and not enough friendly banter. Eventually, I once again acclimated to the American coffee scene and life went on as normal. That is, until I dropped out of college a year later. Lost, afraid, and bitterly ashamed, I ran off to Colorado to hide in the mountains. It was there that I was hired as a barista at Starbucks. I went into my interview with minimal knowledge about the company and a fear of shorting my landlord on rent. Luckily, I was hired on the spot. Starbucks has a process called “on-boarding” where the new hire comes in and tastes different coffees, and learns about the company they will be working for. During my “on-boarding” process, I learned about the history of Starbucks and what it meant to wear that green apron.
Starbucks began as a place to emulate the coffee shops in Europe. It began as a dream to give people the “experience” of a coffee shop. I’ve worked at Starbucks for eight months now. I’ve risen through the ranks and have become a barista trainer, Coffee Master, and Shift Supervisor. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that I love my job. However, there is a change brewing for me soon. My adorable, neighborhood Starbucks store is soon becoming a drive thru. No more will my regulars walk in the doors to greet me with a smile, instead I get to see metal and wheels pull up to my glass window. No more will I hear kids telling their moms about their day as they drink their after school treat. Instead, I will hear the hiss of car engines as they wait in line to speak to me through a speaker. It saddens me to think that my customers will be losing the very “experience” that Starbucks was built upon. The very reason why I loved gallivanting around Italy and getting lost trying to find the coolest coffee shop. In a case study written for the Journal of the International Academy for Case Studies it discusses why Starbucks began drive-thru’s in the first place. It was to boost their sales, because they found people like convenience more than experience. That seemed to be the only reason for Starbucks to be making these race car lane contraptions. And I have to tell you, it makes me sad. It makes me sad for the customers that will never know what Starbucks was intended to be. It makes me sad that “convenience over experience” is the party line of this generation of Starbucks goers. As Starbucks continues to grow their drive thru store percentage across the United States, I can only hope it finds a way to maintain the “experience” of what it means to be a coffee shop. I hope the company that I love will stop trying to compete with fast-food chains by acting like a fast-food chain. I hope the company built on integrity, vision, and connection will establish themselves as a coffee shop once again. “Convenience over experience” is no way to enjoy one’s coffee, or better yet; live one’s life.
References for Information Sources: Seaford, B., Culp, R., Brooks, B. (2012). Starbucks: Maintaining a Clear Position. Journal of the International Academy for Case Studies, Volume 18, Issue 3, 39–57. http://s3.amazonaws.com/academia.edu.documents/44323472/Case_study_-_STP_-_Stabucks_maintaining_a_clear_position.pdf?AWSAccessKeyId=AKIAJ56TQJRTWSMTNPEA&Expires=1474585459&Signature=vNNwKpE6BOAOXEV78OlJkZE0tuM%3D&response-content-disposition=inline%3B%20filename%3DSTARBUCKS_MAINTAINING_A_CLEAR_POSITION.pdf
References for Media Sources: All photos were taken by the author.