A Big Mac along with a glass of chardonnay? Who knows? That could be on the way. Starbucks is heading in that direction. The chain will soon be selling beer and wine in select locations. Four to six stores in the Southern California area will offer alcoholic beverages by the end of this year, as will some stores in Atlanta and Chicago
The chain began testing its new spirited approach in Seattle in 2010. Starbucks now offers beers for $5 and wines by the glass for $7 to $9 in five locations in that city and one in Portland, Oregon
The questions are: what will this move do to the Starbucks brand? And how will customers have to change their habits in order for it to pay off? Currently the chain makes most of its daily sales by 2 p.m., which explains the foray into the spirit business. On the other hand around 75% of Starbucks customers are there for take out. That won’t work in the beer and wine business. These customers will have to say and enjoy their beverages in-house. And what about the kids and teens that have made Starbucks one of their staples. Will mom and dad be happy sending their kids to a beer and wine establishment?
If this were Europe, there would be no issue. There families are used to going to pubs or cafes where coffee, food and spirits are sold. But, the U.S. isn’t France or England and we generally have a different take on where liquor should and shouldn’t be served. And what happens when a Starbucks barista has to 86 someone? What will be the protocol for that?
Starbucks has built an amazing worldwide brand. It has regularly changed its menu offering different types of drinks and food items, but a jump into the world of beer and wine is a big one. Adding a new pastry, sandwich or fruit drink does not risk compromising the chain’s brand, but offering a happy hour where sprits flow freely will challenge the way many of its customers view the company.
Only time will tell if this gamble will pay off. Because it directly impacts their brand recognition, it could either turn out to be a PR miscue or a public relations homerun. Chances are it will land somewhere in the middle. Since they are only experimenting with a handful of stores, if the publicity effect is extremely negative, they can quickly shut the program down. But if the reaction is simply lukewarm, or only somewhat negative, they will most likely give the news stores a fair shot and launch a media relations campaign extolling the virtues of this new approach. If it works, it could become a one stop shop for buying one’s stimulants in the morning and depressants in the evening. The next big question could be, how are they going to get people to leave?