If I may be so bold, Howard, smelling the coffee isn't the problem it's getting to it. In the 'Bucks nearest my office, I'd venture that two out of five days I don't have the 15 minutes to wait to purchase a simple cup of black coffee. Just coffee. No milk, no sugar, no syrup, no fooling. No way.
It's not the atmosphere, Howard. It's your incompetence. Or at least that of the executives who work for you at your way too laid-back HQ. You're talking atmosphere when you should be talking about front-end operations. Instead, in my Starbucks we have the morning chaos, the lines stretching all the way to the ludicrously heavy doors, a drill duplicated at the coffee hour of 4 p.m., where they've mastered the art of have exactly one less person on hand than needed. Then again, I can't blame the local manager for this parsimony, since she hardly has any room for more people. The place is too cluttered up with displays of coffeemakers, mugs, CDs, books and that other crap you can't sell.
And please, let's not blame the machines, either. French and Italian cafes ditched the handmade espresso years ago for automation and don't seem to have suffered ennui because of it. You think Café Flore in Paris would lose its charm because it served automated café au lait? Je pense que no friggin' way. Sit down in Starbucks and enjoy a cup and some conversation? Sure, if you can manage to snag a seat from the WiFi squatters who have set up an office for the price of a latte. (Here's a suggestion: Set up joint outlets with Kinkos, and get these freeloaders out of your stores. What shall we call it? Starkos? Buckos? Stinkos?)
Starbucks began life as a place to get a killer cup of coffee, espresso or cappuccino. A commodity turned into an art form. Great idea. Liquid bliss. But now it's an overcrowded, underdesigned mess. Even McDonald's coffee has been rated higher than Starbucks by Consumer Reports. Your joe has lost its mo. And that's your fault, Howard. And Wall Street's. As a public company, Starbucks is under constant pressure to grow same-store sales to make investors happy. Fair enough. So, like every other retailer, you've asked the question: What else can I run through this retail box? First it was more complicated, more expensive drinks your caramel macchiatos, your white chocolate caffe mochas. You guys are actually proud that there are 10,000 different drink combinations. Are you insane? Don't you know what happens when you increase complexity in any business process? Steve Jobs makes 10 products. Seems to be working out pretty well.
From coffee you added tea and baked goods and lunch items and CDs and books and DVDs; and now breakfast. Starbucks has installed an oven in its stores to warm its new egg/cheese/meat breakfast combos. And you wonder where the coffee smell has gone? I just know that somebody in HQ is going to ask the logical question, if they haven't already: What else can we run through those ovens? We're only using them in the morning. Why not cookies? Or pizza? Or pretzels? Or tacos?
I'd love to wake up and smell the coffee, Howard, but I can't. Because 17 people are always in line in front of me, each ordering a grande two shots nonfat no whipped cream extra hot dolce cinnamon latte from the pike position, an egg florentine, a croissant, a Sheryl Crow CD and a half-pound of Guatemala Casi Cielo.
You don't need more ambiance, you need more throughput. More machines, more sales terminals. You want us to smell the coffee, just grind some. In the meantime, we're waiting.