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Kai Ryssdal: If you amp up on your way in to the office every morning with a swing by Starbucks for a non-fat double shot latte, maybe you’d consider stopping in on the way home to unwind with glass of merlot? This past Monday Starbucks started testing alcohol on the menu at a store in Seattle.
Ann Dornfeld reports.
Ann Dornfeld: I’m walking into the Starbucks on Olive Way in Seattle. So far, looks like the usual suspects. Hissing espresso machines, lemon pound cake in the pastry case, guy in front of me who can’t figure what to order. But what’s this? A display of enough beer and wine to start a party.
Kris Engskov is Starbucks regional vice president for operations. He says the company decided to experiment with liquid depressants right alongside its usual stimulants because the chain gets most of its customers before 11 a.m.
Kris Engskov:We saw this as a business opportunity. And I think we’ve thought about this for a long time, but this was a real opportunity to test it.
Starbucks has already tried alcohol on the menu of two of its Seattle stores that don’t bear the Starbucks brand or logo. Now for the first time it’s putting beer and wine on the menu after 4 p.m. at a Starbucks-branded store.
Branding expert Rob Frankel doubts turning baristas into bartenders will pay off.
Rob Frankel: There’s an old adage in show business, you know, “Singers wanna be comedians and comedians wanna be singers.” If people want late hours and wine, I don’t know that they’ll be going to the same place they get their coffee.
Frankel says the move harkens back to when Starbucks experimented unsuccessfully with hot breakfast items. Customers weren’t too thrilled about the smell of ham and eggs. Frankel says Starbucks threatens to turn off customers this time with awkward situations where people get carded in line or cut off after too many pilsners. He says that could undermine the company’s family-friendly brand. So maybe it’s no surprise that Starbucks chose Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood for its trial run with alcohol. It’s an area full of drinking establishments, and the young people who love them.
Marcail Moody-Burks and a friend have just stopped by to check out this new, boozier Starbucks. They walk in, look at each other, giggle, and walk right back out.
Marcail Moody-Burks: It’s kind of weird because it’s Starbucks, and it’s a corporation, and whatever. I always feel kind of guilty going there anyway. But then it’s like, I go there for my coffee, I don’t wanna go there for my beer and wine too! I just feel kinda dirty!
Other customers were more enthusiastic about the idea. Jessica and Eric Reichow are big Starbucks fans. They drove here from the suburbs to have beers and a cheese plate. Still, Jessica says it felt odd to drink at a Starbucks.
Jessica Reichow: You know, if I’m having a beer, I wanna be able to be loud and have fun. But it’s not really the place to be loud. There’s people doing their homework on their laptops and things, and people in groups talking quietly, and I just felt like it’s fun to have a beer but I’d only have one, I think.
Starbucks says they’ll be listening to customer feedback like this before deciding whether to put alcohol on the menu of the Starbucks near you.
In Seattle, I’m Ann Dornfeld for Marketplace.