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Starbucks sucks, but I stil go there

Starbucks sucks. Their coffee is burnt and awful, their teas are lame supermarket stuff, their food is hyper-expensive, their music is very loud and their employees are encouraged to act like drunks. Probably the only good food they offer is bagels, which they always keep in short supply. Their new attempt at offering coffee crystals only underscores their cluelessness.

So why do I, and so many others still go there? Is there anything that "indie" cafes can learn from Starbucks?

Yes. Starbucks does several things right that even their obnoxious coffee and most doltish employees cannot completely undermine.

First, they provide a functional environment. Their solid chairs, tough tables, decent lighting and available electrical outlets are reliably pervasive. If I can't have high cafe culture (Vienna, Budapest etc), then let me do my thing. People who go to Starbucks to read, write, or work on a laptop can do those things for the most part.

Second, the employees, despite yipping like monkeys half the time, are forced to be friendly and upbeat. In the Philadelphia area, where I have witnessed workers at Borders and Blockbuster Video inventing cruel names for customers, where I have been given filthy silverware at Bertucci's, and where I have seen trash strewn all over the floor at other cafe, frankly the idea of employees aspiring even lamely to professionalism and being nice even if in a dippy Starbucks way is refreshing. I don't ask for much, but customer service in this region is horrific, which makes Starbucks look all the better.

Third, Starbucks often is situated where parking is free. There is a trend now for business to set up shop inside little towns and on Main streets, where parking is expensive. This is a mistake. Starbucks is everywhere. With them, I don't have to risk getting a ticket.

Fourth, in Washington state whence Starbucks originated, they have serious competition. Not so in most other places. They learned things by competing with equals that gives them the edge over relatively weak indie cafes. It seems every indie cafe reinvents the wheel and gets it wrong half the time. I've seen indie cafes done horribly wrong, like incompetently-made "artsy" chair that were painful, or idiot owners who smoked in the cafe, and I've seen it done really well. Starbucks is the Model T of cafes: One size fits all.

In summary, even though Starbucks is a clueless company that makes awful coffee, and in fact it is a union-busting company by the way, they do a few key things right.

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  1. Your points are well taken but what does this have to do with Pennsylvania? Where do you live and frequent? We might be able to suggest other coffeeshops that are an alternative to Starbucks. I know the situation is not so great in the suburbs,. but in Philly at least there are many good and "functional" alternatives to Starbucks.

    I agree with you for the most part but a big functionality issue for me at Starbucks is the lack of free wi-fi. With a couple exceptions, wi-fi is free at indie coffeeshops.

    1. What I don't understand is they decreased the price of a tall coffee from $1.60 to $1.50.

      They made a big deal how they had to increase the price by a dime and now they've lowered it. People got used to paying that extra dime which I'm sure contributes to their bottom line...what are they thinking is a dime going to "help" the average customer in this recession.

      BTW: That "burnt" taste put them on the map.

      1. Love your post Foonbubby. I have the misfortune to live in the Philadelphia area also, though on a sunny day when the trees blaze red and yellow I'm pretty glad. I appreciate that at Starbucks the customer service doesn't fall below a certain level. I used to live in North Carolina for a bit and when I came home to Penna to visit I experienced cultural shock from the rudeness that is so prevalent. I go to starbucks too. There is a saxbys across town that has much better coffee but once when I was in the foyer I heard one of the workers lament loudly " here comes that lady who never tips!" Naturally I didn't tip that day either. The worker dropped the Ma'am bomb on me when she gave me my latte. For the uninitiated or male hounds the ma'am bomb is when they say ma'am it kind of comes out between a snarl and a hiss. Ah the veneer of good manners. I've never been back. I tip erratically at the starbucks and they usually still squirt the little bit of chocolate sauce on the whipped cream atop my hot chocolate. At least the one in Lansdale does. Starbucks do change though. The sbux in North Wales on route 202 used to be my favorite until my last visit. There were only three young males working there and even though my friend asked for mugs they still put the cocoa in to-go containers and alas no chocolate syrup topping. At starbucks there is a general level of decency as far as service, cleanliness and atmosphere. As someone who frequents gaming shops where the owners and employees can be openly cruel to their customers I appreciate the brief respite sbux offers.

          1. Starbucks does not suck.

            1. The stores are generally always clean and well-kept
            2. Their restrooms are clean and free
            3. They use filtered water for their ice
            4. They don't look at you funny if you sit and lounge around without buying anything
            5. They're a great place for last-minute late night birthday (or Xmas) gifts
            6. They donate to and are actively involved in community events and functions
            7. They pay living wages and provide health benefits
            8. They made it possible for all those "indie" coffee shops that people seem to love to open and thrive (before Starbucks would you ever think of paying $2+ for a cup of coffee?)

            10 Replies
            1. re: ipsedixit

              Ipse, it looks like your post was taken from an employment brochure. It has that disconnected from reality cluelessness that is typical of Starbucks propaganda.

              Regarding water quality, restrooms and cleanliness, I'd expect that of any cafe or restaurant and if I did not see it, I would call the Health Dept. Therefore mentioning these does not distinguish Starbucks whatsoever. Same with the "gifts" you mention since indie cafes sell ceramics etc.

              > 6. They donate to and are actively involved in community events and functions

              That's mostly untrue. I've observed that when they "give to the homeless" for instance, they throw food in the dumpster. For more info on Starbucks' dishonest marketing, google "starbucks lies".

              > 7. They pay living wages and provide health benefits

              Patently false. Most Starbucks workers are only part-time and not permitted to work over 20 hours a week, because that's the threshold for getting health benefits. At $8 per hour and 15 hours per week, that's only $480 per month before taxes -- not enough to live on. Starbucks also has a crazy rule that any lapse in earnings disqualifies a worker for getting health benefits. This is why workers want to unionize Starbucks.

              > 8. They made it possible for all those "indie" coffee shops that people seem to love to open and thrive

              Starbucks is infamous for its predatory policy of setting up shop near indie cafes in order to wipe them out.

              Itse, your dishonesty harms Starbucks. If you treat customers like they are children who can be easily misled with second-rate marketing nonsense then you drive them away.

              Of interest:

              1. re: Foonbubby

                I do not work at Starbucks, nor am I a *regular* at Starbucks. The only connection I have with Starbucks is that my portfolio probably holds Starbucks stock, mostly indirectly.

                But to respond to your points:

                Starbucks v. Indies. The point of my post wasn't to say that Starbucks was somehow intrinsically or objectively *better* than Indie coffee shops. As the preface to my post states, it is merely to point out that Starbucks "does not suck." So the fact that the stores are clean, the water is filtered etc., goes to support that statement. Same with the gifts.

                As with the living wages ... I don't disagree with you that many of Starbucks employees are part-timers (in fact, many people prefer to only work part time at Starbucks -- e.g., students). But there are many that are full-timers, e.g. managers, and they do make living wages and do have good benefits. Again, not all employees have these benefits, but then again that's true for all companies. And if you want to compare it to Indies (which I was *not* trying to do), how many Indie coffee shops provide their full time employees with health benefits? Again, the point of salaries and benefits was not to say that Starbucks is better than an Indie, merely that Starbucks does not suck.

                As to predatory pricing ... that's just smart business. But you cannot argue the fact that but for the popularity of Starbucks there wouldn't even be a market for Indie coffee shops. Starbucks -- almost by itself -- has created the market for designer coffee, and which has now allowed Indie coffee shops to ride the coattails of that trend. (Note: if Starbucks was so good at setting up shop next to an Indie coffee shop to wipe them out, how come there are still so many Indie coffee shops? Why isn't the world populated exclusively with Starbucks?)

                And, heck, if they want to treat me like a child ... Great! I'm already feeling too old ...


                1. re: ipsedixit

                  As to health insurance, all companies offer full time employees health insurance so again Starbucks is not special because of that. To boast as they/you do that they offer health insurance generally is disingenuous, as you are ignoring the plight of their part-time staff, which is the vast majority of workers.

                  As to whether Starbucks created the market...

                  False. If you're talking about rural Missouri, or a bedroom community in the suburbs somewhere, I would agree. In many places like that, there were no cafes nor coffee culture. Coffee was only sold at restaurants, truck stops, supermarkets. But in cities where the majority of the population is, cafes of varying quality existed before Starbucks. I know because I went to them. Some have withstood the Starbucks onslaught by innovating. But Starbucks did not create coffee culture in the cities, it existed already. They just expanded it.

                  Therefore your argument is wishful thinking, like someone bragging about a sports team.

                  Starbucks is the Thomas Kincaid of coffee.

                  1. re: Foonbubby

                    Sorry Foon

                    I'm with Ix on this one. You argument seems more like the rantings of a conspiracy theorist. Ignore everything that doesn't fit your argument.

                    So we're to assume that you and a few others have figured out that Starbucks sucks while the rest of us millions are all wrong??

                    I regularly go to Starbucks. I'll sit and chat with the employees. They love working there. Some are part time, some are full time. The FT's get a nice benefits package. The PT's well, most places offer no benefits to PT's. Does that mean all places suck?? It also means less turnover so that the latte's, etc. are served by people who have done it before. Not newbies.

                    I live in a major, major metropolis. There were a few Indie coffee stores before Starbucks came. Now there are several. Ya, you're right that they didn't invent the coffee scene. They did however make it main stream.

                    It took me a while being dragged in by my wife to find a coffee/group of coffee's I like. Now I'm a coffee nerd. I have a French press at home and a few different coffees.

                    The fact that young people are in there on a Friday night doing homework is something I really like to see. Heck, if they existed when I was in school, I may have done well. Hard to do home work at a bar or a movie theatre.

                    The fact that you don't like their coffee does not make it suck. You are not Judge Judy and executioner. You merely have an opinion. You are like my dad. If he doesn't like it, it sucks. It can't possibly be good but just not to his liking. It sucks. Period.


                    1. re: Foonbubby

                      There are 29 different coffee bean blends and roasts (5 are decaf). I prefer some over others, but by no means are any of the beans "burnt". You can ask to try a French Press of any flavor for $3.50. It's on the pricing board.

                      You started out with a title of it 'sucks' but you still go there and now are ranting about busines practices.

                      It *is* a business. It exists to make money. There is not a high employee turnover rate. You can barely tell when someone is a 'new' employee, because they are all trained and professional.

                      Minimum wage exists to be a starting point or to supplement an income, not a permanent way to support a lifestyle for a mortgage, spouse and children.

                      1. re: Cathy

                        I agree that Starbuck's French press coffee is much better than the brewed swill. Consumer Reports also agrees the brewed swill tastes burnt.

                        Saying "It *is* a business. It exists to make money" is a child's argument. You might as well say "The Italian Mafia exists to make money" to justify their crimes. Or "slavery *is* a business after all, geez". Starbucks is union-busting, employee-unfriendly company. That's evil.

                        You ignore also that Itse was claiming Starbucks provides a living wage, which I was rebutting. Read before you type.

                        1. re: Foonbubby

                          Every one of the beans can be made in the French Press as well as brewed. You are saying *every* brewed bean "sucks". I disagree.

                          A legitimate, tax paying business. Al Capone was arrested for tax evasion, not for all his other crimes.

                          I don't like your sweeping generalization that the employees are "yipping like monkeys half the time". They are at work and everyone at work chats with people who they see every day for hours at a time.

                          The common definition of living wage is to pay enough for a single person to survive, not to support a family and mortgage. If you are told you are hired for 20 or less hours per week, are told your hourly wage and can do math, you know this is not the job that will pay your bills and can look elsewhere for a job with better hours/better pay or an additional part time job. You don't need a Union to do that for you.

                          1. re: Foonbubby


                            Let's just agree to disagree. I think some of what your posting is going to get all of us in trouble (i.e., calling Starbucks "evil").

                            We're all here to share and post our experiences and feelings. We now know yours quite well, and I think you know mine (and a few others).

                            Lets just leave it at that.

                            Cheers and happy eating (and drinking)!

                  2. re: ipsedixit

                    I'm with you on everything but #4. *I* look at people funny if they lounge around SB w/o buying anything, esp. when it's busy and there are no seats available for paying customers. There should be a policy against that, esp. during peak hours.

                    1. re: gloriousfood

                      I haven't seen too many people not paying at all, except in the city where maybe a homeless person would take a snooze in the Starbucks comfy chair.

                      Usually squatters (my term) buy a $2 item every hour or so. That's about fair I'd say.We're not talking about cafes in Vienna where a waiter serves cappuccino on a silver-plated tray and there's a free cookie with each cup, after all. It's only Starbucks.

                      Anyway I noticed that Panera Bread puts a sign on tables explaining that squatters should respect the store's need to make a profit during peak hours. They also throttle the Internet during peak hours.

                      I think most people would prefer a polite sign to an unwritten policy explained by a person.

                  3. So they don't kick you out for loitering, the employees are nice, their toilets don't stink, they have free parking, they provide competition, but their coffee stinks. Still not enough to make me want their coffee.

                    Once I understood that they deliberately burnt their coffee so they could drown it in sugar, syrup, and cream and charge you a premium, it all made sense. I tend to drink it black, so I avoid the place entirely.

                    7 Replies
                    1. re: monkeyrotica

                      Can I ask where you found out that they deliberately burn their coffee? Like you, I drink my coffee black, and I find Starbucks coffee to be almost undrinkable b/c it tastes so burnt to me.

                      1. re: Cachetes

                        There was a thread on coffeeforums that discussed this a long time ago. Basically, they claim to roast their coffees darker to offer a consistent blend, since they buy so many beans of varying flavors. You could also make the case that burning masks the flavor of mediocre beans. Either way, mild roasted coffees can't stand up to sugar/cream/pumpkin-cinnamon-Worse-Than-Hitlerspice; they overpower the coffee flavor. Burnt coffee doesn't have this problem.

                      2. re: monkeyrotica

                        Starbucks now claims there is consumer demand for the burnt crap:

                        It's a bit like the USSR saying people enjoy waiting in lines.

                        1. re: Foonbubby

                          Good one. I hope other people are smiling when they read this thread. I'm thinking of heading over to general or NAF to start a thread on customer service in the North East part of the US just to read what other people have to say. But alas I have to get back to work. I like your writing style Foonbubby it is very crisp. Have you written about customer service in our neck of the woods anywhere? Would love to read more about it.

                          1. re: givemecarbs

                            Thanks. I did write a guide at one point, but I deleted it since my feeling was that I really ought to relocate to a nicer place. Writing's a good coping mechanism though.

                            My instinct tells me I should go to the Seattle area. They have drive-up coffee stands there with great espresso served by young women wearing bikinis.

                          2. re: Foonbubby

                            What I heard is that they deliberately over-roast their beans to achieve a consistent flavor across all their locations and the massive amounts of beans from different growers that they have to source. So the same way that a McD's cheeseburger tastes the same from Seattle to Miami, a cup of Starbucks coffee will taste the same, too, despite the fact that the beans used are from a totally different grower and harvest.

                            1. re: Foonbubby

                              What??I like the way their coffee tastes. Apparently some other people agree with me. You don't. Okay. That's fine. Doesn't seem like such a big deal.

                          3. I don't understand this at all. You don't like their coffee, you think they treat their employees unfairly and that they hurt small businesses. Why in the world do you still continue to go there? Just because they're well-lit with sturdy chairs, wall outlets and free parking? Honestly, go to a library. I feel like I'm taking crazy pills reading this thread.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: mjhals

                              Well, the point of the thread is that cafe goers sometimes have priorities other than coffee and that indie cafes should learn that.

                              Some already have. I visited a cafe in California a few years ago that had more sofas than tables. They had like 6 or 7. It was very cool.

                              In my case, furniture, parking, and electricity matter more than coffee. A cafe is a place to find some normalcy. Or as Starbucks people say it's a "third place".

                              Some indie cafe owners demonstrate that they don't get this critical third place concept.

                            2. About the only time I'll step foot in a Starbucks is when it's my ONLY choice for getting coffee. Unfortunately this can be the case when on the road: working an event at a hotel, long drive and stuck eating at a travel pit stop, etc. I, too, find the coffee foul-tasting and burnt as my preference is for black coffee...usually I have to go for a skim latte at Starbucks as it's the only way to make their brew palatable to me without loading it with hundreds of calories' worth of sugar, syrups and cream...

                              I think what most drives me crazy about the place is so many people ordering all of those ridiculous caramel-mocha-frappa-chinos drinks and no express line for those of us who just want a plain cup of coffee! I was working a convention once where the hotel's Starbucks was the only place to get coffee on the premises without sitting down in the restaurant...and the line took so long because of all the fancy drink orders and time it took to make them, you probably WOULD have been better off just ordering a full breakfast in the hotel's restaurant. I'm not kidding when I say it took me at least a half-hour to bring back a couple cups of plain coffee to my co-workers that morning...

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: sockii

                                This is a really good idea. Especially now that McDonald's is stepping up their coffee game, Starbucks could be losing customers that just want coffee. I actually prefer to get a plain large cup for $1 at McD's then wait for burnt cup at Starbuck's. McD's coffee is way better than it used to be. I like it better than DD's now and you can't beat the price.

                                1. re: sockii

                                  Hmm, I tend to find that when I offer just plain old coffee, it is much quicker. If I have a craving for Starbucks, and don't want to wait on the line, I just order the "tall coffee of the day." Usually that gets made quickly by whoever is behind the counter, and I have it by the time my order is done.

                                2. I go back and forth on Starbucks. Right now, their Peppermint White Mocha is what drives me to the place. Love that 300 calorie beverage.

                                  I went to a few different Starbucks yesterday, to buy some limited edition cups that my friends all swooned over. In two different stores, I spent over $100 each. Both times, either the manager or the barista offered me a free drink. Nice touch.

                                  I've walked into independent cafes (whose atmosphere I usually prefer) to see the barista picking their hair, chatting on a cell phone, or sitting on the counter talking to people. I leave.

                                  I worked at an upscale chain restaurant for a few years. We had tons of regular customers who said they come back because of the consistency. They like to know how the food/service is going to be. Most people don't enjoy surprises when it comes to things they consume, which may explain why Starbucks is so successful in neighborhoods where there are options.

                                  1. I'll drink Starbucks, but I prefer Caribou when it comes to coffee chains. I think their coffee tastes much better.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: szeglin

                                      I totally agree. Here in DC, Starbucks is the dominant coffee chain. There's one in the hotel down the corner from my office, so we all go there, and there's one in my regular supermarket, so I go there, and there's one in the same plaza as my regular Costco, so I go there, etc etc etc.

                                      There are a few Caribou Coffees and I stop in whenever I am in the vicinity of one, because their coffee is much better than Starbucks. But convenience matters too.

                                    2. You can get a state-of-the-art coffee maker for $250 or so and have good coffee in your home without waiting in line and drinking crap.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: observor

                                        Yes, and for just a few extra bucks you can hire someone to lug around that coffee maker along with coffee beans, a grinder, fresh water, a power generator, perhaps milk, a steamer and your sweetener of choice, all so you can have phenomenal coffee on the go. Yep, no argument, that's the ticket, an infinitely better option than ever stepping foot into the intolerable hell that is a coffee chain.

                                        Hey, I just read on another thread that it's possible to make a better hamburger at home than what you can get at most chain restaurants. Who knew?

                                        1. re: Arthur

                                          Well, if your place of business is too cheap to have decent coffee, then I suppose throwing out money, time, and cups at Starbucks is a safe bet. But for a guy who just needs his morning, and maybe evening, fix, it seems a wise choice to prepare your own, better coffee.

                                      2. So what does that have to do with the taste of coffee?

                                        This is Chowhound. It was founded on the premis of finding the most delicious food and sharing that information with others.

                                        Starbucks coffee is not delicious to anyone even nominally serious about good tasting coffee

                                        So Starbucks coffee tastes bad therefor Starbucks sucks.

                                        You can have Stepford employees requred to be polite, lots of parking, lovely and functional decor. That is just puttling lipstick on a pig.

                                        A Chowhound would rather go to a dump where the employees insult you but the coffee is sublime.

                                        One thing you didn't mention in your functionality list is that Starbucks opens earlier than most independants. Still, given the choice between Starbucks at 5am and McDonald's at 5am, I'd pick McDonald's. The coffee tastes better and costs almost half the price.

                                        And while you are trying to dance on the graves of independant coffee shos that take pride in roasting and brewing good coffee, let's talk about Starbucks predatory practice of opening next door to indpendants and trying to kill them off.

                                        The marginal ones go under while the good ones hurt for business because people who are lured by a know brand name versus an unknow independant. Or they loose business to people who value a slick looking people pleaser over a decent cup of coffee.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: rworange

                                          I have to give McD's credit for really raising their game when it comes to coffee. The hot coffee is perfectly fine, and the iced coffee may even be a little better than Dunkin Donuts'.

                                        2. You could go for the hot chocolate instead of the coffee.