A Glass of Wine at Starbucks?

by Eve Resnick on October 19, 2010

in General

Who ever dreamed of having a glass of wine at Starbucks in the evening? For a lot of coffee drinkers, Starbucks is THE brand symbolizing good coffee when a morning jolt is needed. Now after drinking lattes or cappucini all day consumers will be able to unwind with a glass of wine.

Dream? No. Reality  in Seattle for the historic store on Olive Way in Seattle’s bustling Capitol Hill area.  The store was closed for three and revamped according to the wishes of the customers: outdoor deck, indoor fireplace, sustainable furniture, expanded menus, as shown in this video. The $7 to $9 glass of wine can be served over an expensive cheese plate or some bisque soup.

The purpose of this striking move is to attract evening customers. 70% of Starbucks business happens before 2pm. It is less costly for the company to expand its business into wine and food in existing stores than to open specific locations dedicated to evening traffic. Consumers seemed rather agreeable to the idea of having a glass of wine at their favorite coffee place after work or after dinner.

What will such a move change for the brand? Some people are reluctant, such as Bryant Simon, a Temple University professor and author of Everything but the Coffee: Learning about America from Starbucks: “People don’t go to Starbucks to be cool or to show off. They go for a predictably good cup of coffee and a place that’s predictably clean and safe.”

But brand guru Scott Bedbury begs to differ: “Brands have to evolve or die,” he says. “It’s a tall order. But if anyone can pull it off, it will be Starbucks.” My question is about the consumers: are they ready to get their morning latte at Starbucks on their way to work and their relaxing glass of wine on their way back home? As a coffe and wine lover – and a big Starbucks fan – I just hope Bedbury is right!


1 Sam Dependahl October 19, 2010 at 6:03 pm

I am not entirely clear on the current state of the Starbucks brand. At one time, a morning Starbucks cup was so fashionable it almost doubled as an accessory. I think Starbucks may now be perceived as a high-end fast food restaurant. It’s not the best coffee and not particularly trendy, but it is consistent and accessible. It’s a comfort to know that wherever you go an acceptable cup of coffee or sandwich is never far. For this reason I would love to see Starbucks wine service take off nationally. While it may not ever become my choice destination for wine, it would be nice to have it as a convenient option.

2 tiger October 24, 2010 at 2:14 pm

“For a lot of coffee drinkers, Starbucks is THE brand symbolizing good coffee when a morning jolt is needed.”

which is proof that a lot of coffee drinkers don’t know terrible coffee when they drink it.

3 Tim Franklin October 24, 2010 at 5:13 pm

Tiger, you’re such a snob. Yes, there’s better coffee at some coffee places around the country but, before Starbuck’s there wasn’t much of anything. Though you may loathe their corporate sensibilities you can thank them for making something other than what you dunked your donut in.

4 Alana October 24, 2010 at 6:42 pm

Bravo Tim – I completely agree! Starbucks has done much for coffee in USA/Canada, if not globally. In my neighborhood, Starbucks remains a consistent meeting place and while I generally enjoy their coffee sometimes by the evening I’ve already had sufficient amounts of coffee. So I think it would be nice(if I’m already headed there) to have an option like wine – however (like Sam) I doubt I would go there specifically for a wine experience.

5 randulo October 24, 2010 at 6:49 pm

My take on Starbucks is that they designed an environment that was meant to be the coffee equivalent of a wine bar and added ambiance and wifi to that mix. Many, many geeky programmers come out of their ill-lit basements to work on their laptops in these places. Since all that has a cost, they pass it on with absurd prices for the drinks, but they are reasonable prices for the rent of a comfy spot and the Internet. Since wine markups are and have always been high, their prices won’t be out of line. It remains to be seen whether wine will be a hit there or not. Personally I do not believe the products they are are particularly good whether coffee or bakery, but I do get the brand and the comfort they sell.

6 Scott October 24, 2010 at 11:43 pm

I am bemused by the concern over “brand,” or more specifically, why every visit to a commercial space in the U.S. has to be a “brand experience.” In Europe, they don’t have morning-coffee-brand restaurants and evening-wine-brand restaurants. They have places that serve customers all day according to their wishes. No doubt they serve more coffee in the morning and more wine in the evening. Most of the “stunning” renovations to this Starbucks store described above are the sorts of things that make corner restaurants in Europe far more enjoyable than nearly any locale in the U.S., things the European places have had for centuries. Perhaps Americans are just longing for someplace with an Old World combination of practicality and charm and not actually for an update to any brand at all.

7 randulo October 25, 2010 at 8:11 am

My experience suggests that brands are the way Americans relate to products. The recent Old Spice commercial seems to validate that theory, but in Paris, a more telling observed phenomenon is that Americans eat in MacDonalds, flocking to it like a church of their denomination. THey know the brand, the product line and pretty much what to expect. “Never mind that we spent hundreds to experience a different culture, I’ll eat cheap and familiar.” Someone once told, “Europe was ok but we were disappointed not to find more buffet-style restaurants.”
So when Starbucks started opening places in Europe, I was certain they’d fail. Yes, I was totally wrong, Starbucks in Europe went pretty much the same as the iPad. Lots of nay-sayers and against the odds, success.
Finally, in Paris, I went in a Starbucks ready to pay the price for wifi, but their wifi was an extra charge. Right next door was a small café that had free wifi and a friendly woman barista. THat’s where we settled down for our coffees and wifi.

8 Scott W October 25, 2010 at 1:32 pm

I will have to wait and reserve judegment until I see the wine list. As some have said they can find better coffee elsewhere, so the same might be true based on Starbucks choice of a wine offering. Branding aside, I don’t know that Starbucks would be my first choice of a place to go for a glass, but if you are looking for a nice place to just grab a glass or two with friends, why not.

9 Michael Graves October 25, 2010 at 6:03 pm

I travel a lot. Mostly around North America, but occasionally to the UK or Europe. Given a choice between Starbucks and anything else and will always choose the alternative. Starbucks is the MacDonalds of coffee. The product is not great but it’s fairly consistent from place to place, just in the way that a Big mac is a known quantity wherever you might be in the country.

Given this understanding of Starbucks there is simply no way that I would buy a glass of wine from them. There will always be a possibly interesting local alternative close at hand.

Besides, there’s value in supporting local retailers, where “local” is defined as not being a national chain.

10 Evelyne Resnick October 26, 2010 at 8:07 am

Thanks to all of you for those very interesting comments.
@Scott and Michael: In france, if you go in a “café” for a morning coffee or a pre-dinner glass of wine, you’ll get a good coffee, a horrible glass of wine and loud customers. For a nice experience, you’ll have to go out of your way to an upscale wine bar and pay the price. Europe doesn’t really have nice “around the corner” shops.
@Sam, Alana and Randulo: the “brand” strategy is very important to Starbucks and, to many tourists traveling to the US, is really the symbol of what America is about. Hamburgers means MacDonald’s, pizza is Pizza Hut, soft drink is Coca Cola and coffee is Starbucks. Those are the 4 “food” brands Europeans know as they know Levis jeans, Converse shoes and American movies. The “branding” experience is an American concept and when back to their own country, Europeans love to find those stores in their own country. This is the “taste of America”. Why wouldn’t Americans be sensitive to such a strategy? America is about branding.

11 Patt October 30, 2010 at 11:08 pm

My opinion is that this is a well-aligned strategy for Starbucks. When Howard Schulz was developing the brand, it was more of a search for the “third place.” Where people could gather, socialize and in this case enjoy a better than average cup of coffee. That “place”, between home and work, seems like a natural extension. I agree with Scott, either evolve or die. Salute Starbucks!
PS: Who would ever buy wine from Costco–LOL!

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