Blog Post

Why Starbucks Annoys Me

Starbucks is one of my favorite places to hang out; an office away from office. The open and welcoming layout and friendly Baristas more than make-up for the less than stellar and over caffeinated brew they serve. The constant ringing of the phone is such an annoyance, that I love escaping to one of the four cafes within a block of my office (and my apartment), logging on to the T-Mobile wifi network, and answering the email which piles up faster than dirty laundry in a dorm-room. These visits have been one-constant in my daily schedule that fluctuates like an EKG.

Lately, these visits have become less pleasant.
Why? Loud music.

Starbucks has been shilling the Hear Music CDs and is piping that music into its stores via Satellite Radio. And they are playing this music loud. Its not just loud, it blares, making it almost impossible to have a conversation, or entirely focus on the email you want to answer, an article you want to draft, or simply enjoy taking a few minutes off a very busy day. I have started to arrange meetings in alternate locations, like Peet’s or Tully’s or even the conference room in Business 2.0 offices.

Just because damn Starbucks is too loud. Am I the only one who finds this annoying?

Andy Abramson suggested that it was intentional, and they want to use the loud music to shoo-out folks who sit there using their space, and not generate enough dollars/square foot. That might be so… of course, it very well could be that they (and T-Mobile) don’t want people to be using too much of their wireless Internet resources (though they would still want the monthly subscriptions I bet.) If that is the case, I wonder how long before Starbucks loses some of its appeal to mobile workers?

Starbucks founder, Chairman and Chief Global Strategist, Howard Schultz was recently heard touting Starbucks as a network and was extolling the virtues of being a super music sales machine. I don’t know, call me old fashioned but focusing on your core business, and keeping the customers happy with things that brought them into the store in the first place is more important than making money from music.

75 Responses to “Why Starbucks Annoys Me”

  1. call me old fashioned but focusing on your core business, and keeping the customers happy with things that brought them into the store in the first place is more important than making money from music.

    Om, do you remember Starbuck’s JOE Magazine from the late 1990’s? You would think that Howard should have learned the stray-from-the-core lesson back then.

  2. In the UK, 3G is coming down in price quite rapidly.

    A 250mb/month card costs about the same as a wifi account. And of course, you get the convenience of being able to use it without being tied to a hotspot.

    Unlimited cards are still a lot more, but I think we’ll see a dwindling of hotspots in the next 2-3 years.

  3. Judging by the reaction here maybe we all need to effectively ask the managers to turn the music down so we can read, think, and converse sanely.

    If everyone does it and they refuse, then Starbucks will loose our patronage.

    I for one drive 10 minutes to a place in San Diego called It’s A Grind. Free WiFi and better coffee.

    I once called Starbucks Conference Room S. It was a great place to hold meetings. Now it’s so noisy that meetings at Starbucks are shouting matches.

    The second thing is the temperature in the summer. They crank the A/C up to cool the places off to the point of freezing you out.

    Are these intentional moves? Since they can be corrected so simply and this blogs replies clearly indicates an amazing amount of similar concerns that the have lost the allure they built up early on.

    I just wish they would comment to you Om, but that’s not their style…

  4. Wifi is their core business? I think all coffee retailers go through this problem. People that use starbucks as an office need to pay a premium for that service. They are in the business of selling coffee not providing you office space.

  5. Most independent coffee shops I visit are just as bad with the music. The best music is music you don’t think about or even notice for that matter. Highly percussive music with lots of modulation disturbs thought patterns and interrupts conversations. Discomfort translates into lost sales opportunities and creates a barrier to building customer loyalty or erodes it. Duh, Starbucks.

    I’m surprised there hasn’t been more innovation in creating a “business coffee shop”. Maybe an “open-source” like environment for on-the-fly collaboration or undisturbed work.

  6. wai,

    i feel your pain. even though i would like to partonize small and indie coffee shops, i don’t have many options in downtown san francisco. there are some great wifi enabled coffee shops in san francisco, but they are just too far away.

  7. I go to Starbuck several days a week. What I find is they play the few boring CDs over and over again. The repetition drive me nuts and it forces me to put on my iPod at all times. Unfortunately I’m held hostage by Starbuck because it is they only place that have wifi around my office. Otherwise I always go to local cafe over Starbuck when I have a choice.

  8. Tom Steinert-Threlkeld

    Having a hard time working up the nerve to ask the barista to turn down the volume, Om? Works every time.

    This is one of the human aspects of a large chain. Not some kind of chainwide malicious profit-seekiing tacticl;.

    Get real.

    Drink the decaf, Om, and get on with some of your substantive commentary.


  9. The only thing I use in Starbucks is their toilet facilities – I’d much rather give my money to a small independent space at least here in San Fran.

    Have to admit when I’m the road S ucks is a known quantity but I hate the way they killed all the independent coffee shops in Manhattan…

  10. Valid point, but Starbucks can make quite a few bucks out of selling CD’s in their stores. Recently read ‘Pour your heart into it’ where Schulz talks about music playing in Starbucks, and how they sold tons of CD’s by request.

    But, yes, I agree with Larry. The small independent coffee houses are much nicer. At least here in London :-)

  11. Chris Anderson

    Four words: Bose Noise-Canceling Headphones.

    With the right playlist, they’re the best productivity tool ever. You’ll look a bit geeky, but it’s the best way to turn off the Starbucks distractions.

  12. Some clarifications from a person in a position to know: While the overhead music has an XM satellite radio ID every so often, the programming in all but the ‘media bar’ stores is delivered from a proprietary player (with a volume control) in the back room. The programming generally reflects whatever CDs are for sale during a given time period, though baristas can and do change to other programming as they wish. Speaker placement is about the last thing the contractors do when they build out a store, and they usually end up at some remove from the main counter. Considering the baristas usually want to hear the music while they work, and that their workplace is pretty noisy, the volume tends to get jacked up, often to the dismay of a customer seated just beneath a speaker. It can be done a lot better.

  13. Starbucks strikes me as a brand that’s about to jump the shark. I like their coffee. I like their stores and their comfy chairs. I like the wifi even if it costs me. I don’t mind the sound level. What’s falling is the overall quality of the experience.

    Same thing happened to McDonald’s. Stellar quality for years and then one too many times I went and got a crappy burger. Now you go into McDonald’s expecting a crappy burger but it wasn’t always like that. Starbucks is now becoming crappy quality. I order a simple coffee but I have to watch over them with hawkeyes because 50% of the time they screw it up. Sometimes the shots aren’t pulled correctly and they use them anyway. Sometimes the stores are a mess. Sometimes the employees are less than friendly.

    With McD’s, I only visit them in the suburbs where reasonably polite, enthusiastic high school kids take some pride in their job before becoming jaded. I have a feeling I’ll only visit Starbucks in the suburbs pretty soon.

  14. You’re not the only one Om, now that you mention the music I noticed the same thing working out of Starbucks on recent trip to NYC.

    Could be worse though, I live on Bainbridge Island, off Seattle, where the city does not allow franchises. So we have no WiFi coffee houses, pay or no pay, in city of $25,000. I have to take a ferry to get WiFi or drive off a bridge to the north to get away from my office.

    Was just thinking yesterday I’d give anything for a WiFi coffee shop.

  15. I’m at the first step in a 12 step program – “Hi, my name’s Rob and I’m addicted to Starbucks Hear Music label”….see, I can admit it. It’s true! Every other time I’m in there (which isn’t that often since I prefer Dunkin Donuts coffee) I seem to have to buy one of their CD’s. You can’t deny that they turn out some good stuff – starting with the Ray Charles duet’s album.


  16. I once knew a Barista at a non-starbucks who would use music to attenuate the number of people in the cafe. Loud music if there were too many people and quiter music when numbers became more reasonable. I’ve also seen many cafes effectively turn off their heating in the winter. Great way to save on energy bills and increase throughput.

    Intentional or not, these sorts of measures are essentially variations on the sort of brand cannibalization that many manufacturers employ when they leverage their brands to help move lower-quality versions of their existing product lines. Given the ubiquity of coffee shops that now exists, consumers have many choices, and will ultimately shy away from poorly controlled environments.

  17. Om,

    This is why I never give Starbucks my patronage. I always prefer to go to independent coffee houses. Why? The wireless is usually free, it’s quieter, less hurried, and the coffee is better. I can get work done in small independent coffee shops that realize how to give a customer a quiet place to work and a good cup of coffee.