Exploring the Back 40 of the Starbucks Empire
The interior of the Starbucks I observed as reference for this article.

Though I’ve been to quite a few Starbucks coffee shops in my lifetime, I can’t say I’ve gotten anywhere close to visiting a majority of the “more than 21,000” locations that make up this immense franchise (“International Stores” 2016). With shops in multiple countries around the world, whether they exist as their own venue, at a small counter in a building belonging to another company, or are conveniently located on a college campus; Starbucks has managed to become a globally known corporation with many, many loyal customers since its creation in 1971 (“Company Information” 2016).

As a new college student who is a habitual coffee drinker and a long-time lover of Starbucks coffee, I was delighted upon my arrival on campus to learn that the college has its very own Starbucks. This on-campus Starbucks is much more convenient than attempting to reach another location and is highly trafficked as a consequence. However, it is not the only place on campus — by a long shot — to get coffee. I could go to pretty much any food vendor on campus and get an adequate cup of java. Why do we choose to wait in a huge line for a drip coffee that could be purchased elsewhere or made in my dorm!? Seriously! I have a bag of “Starbucks® Caffé Verona® Blend, Ground” in my room that I could brew any time I want coffee (Starbucks Caffé Verona Blend 2016). Why go to all the trouble of actually visiting the shop?

A photo of my Caffé Verona® Blend, Ground.

I don’t know the motivations of others who — despite their best efforts — somehow find themselves at Starbucks again and again, but for me, going to Starbucks has always been a treat. I grew up on a small, Starbucks-less island in the Pacific North West and didn’t go to the mainland often because the hassle of the ferry boats was just too much. I think that’s how my Starbucks fixation began. If, for some reason, I went off-island with my parents in the morning I would always want to go to Starbucks. It was a sort of tradition. Before we embarked on any road trip we would stop at Starbucks to pick up breakfast and coffee. I love the alt-pop playing over the sound of coffee grinders and milk steamers, and the cozy, yet modern atmosphere that can be found in the average Starbucks location. However, the Starbucks on my college campus is a bit of a let down.

It’s been totally half-assed!

One thing I can usually count on at a Starbucks is consistency. No matter where I am or the time of day most Starbucks locations are fairly identical. Even the Starbucks locations I visited when I went to London and Paris last summer were no different than what I expect from a shop in the United States. The way they’re decorated, the drinks you can order, how you pay — it’s all quaintly predictable. But, not to put too fine a point on it, the Starbucks on campus doesn’t conform. This location shares a room with a campus market chain where hurried students can buy junk food and soda or a prepackaged salad. About a quarter of the space is used for the market. The other seventy-five percent of the room goes to Starbucks and a walkway to extra seating that acts as an imaginary partition between the two businesses.

Sometimes, when Starbucks is really busy, the line encroaches on the walkway. It’s times like these that an order might take 12 minutes, from the time a customer gets in line until they pick up their drink, to be completed. The long wait doesn’t seem to dissuade most people from getting their caffeine fixes before they head to class — I know it doesn’t dissuade me. Most people come in alone and seem to be phlegmatic or downright glum. It helps that the staff members are friendly even when they are really busy or their machines for one reason or another won’t accept Starbucks cards. Also, there’s usually good music playing, though sometimes there’s none. The drab grey/olive-green, but mostly grey, walls of the campus Starbucks don’t do much to improve customer’s moods either. Not the spotlight light fixtures, low ceiling, or the signature yummy drinks can fix the fact that the people coming and going create a draft or the fact that the seats are clumped close together and are borderline uncomfortable.

The company website even extols qualities that are supposedly universal within the Starbucks franchise. As they purport,

“We’re not just passionate purveyors of coffee, but everything else that goes with a full and rewarding coffeehouse experience … the music you hear in store is chosen for its artistry and appeal.”
-Starbucks Corporation

I call bullshit.

Despite the claim that they deeply care for every aspect of each of their shops all the way down to the background music it’s clear that the Starbucks on my campus doesn’t exhibit this high level of attention to detail. Note the clock on the wall in the top right corner of the header image. That is the perfect example of a clock that could be found in a 1990s classroom. It is probably the most tacky clock an interior decorator could find. It isn’t that this Starbucks is bad… it’s just on the outskirts of the franchise — in the back 40. For that reason, it probably is not managed at the same standards as most other branches that exist as their own venue. My on-campus Starbucks isn’t terrible, just terribly mediocre.

This is a map I drew to illustrate the relationship between the on-campus market and the Starbucks.

At least this Starbucks location provides five round tables (the five large, grouped circles in the above map) that give room for both studying and socializing, though I think this Starbucks mostly serves as a place people go to grab coffee and run. In any case, it’s better than some of the little nooks that are set up in grocery and book stores and in airports. Those only have room for two and a half baristas behind a counter and have just enough merchandise and logo placement to justify them being a ‘Starbucks’ instead of some other random coffee vendor. A place like that is less than half-assed. At the on-campus Starbucks there is a lot of merchandise for sale and a lot of promotional signage that the ‘U’ shaped line winds past. The goods available for purchase range from travel and ceramic mugs, to Starbucks Christmas tree ornaments, to teas and prepackaged coffee beans (see the earlier mentioned Caffé Verona® Blend). As you can imagine, there is a lot going on in a small space.

Perhaps in the future the on-campus Starbucks will separate from the market chain, become its own venue, and be managed at higher standards. Right now it’s way too busy and I want Starbucks to be comfortable and calm — a place that is better for studying or just hanging out. That’s the atmosphere I cherish and expect and it’s why I’ll go to other Starbucks locations. The heavy foot traffic, resulting draft, and lack of comfortable seating of the Starbucks on campus retracts from a venue whose title promises more. I would love for the on-campus Starbucks to meet the company’s self-proclaimed standards and my own expectations. Not that I’ve caught anyone else complaining about this locale.

Starbucks still sells good coffee.

Bibliography:

Starbucks. “Company Information.” Starbucks Coffee Company. Starbucks Corporation, 2016. Web. 18 Jan. 2016.

Starbucks. “International Stores.” Starbucks Coffee Company. Starbucks Corporation, 2016. Web. 18 Jan. 2016.

Starbucks. “Starbucks Caffé Verona Blend.” Starbucks Store. Starbucks Corporation, 2016. Web. 26 Jan. 2016.