The de-sensitizing of Starbuck’s


StarbuckslogoIf you’ve been a regular visitor to jkOnTheRun you know that my work sees me running around most days and Starbuck’s has been a frequent stop for years.  I first started frequenting the mega-coffee house(s) when they teamed up with T-Mobile and started offering WiFi.  Not cheap WiFi either but then again it’s consistent and I never find the connectivity is down.  I’m a coffee lover which helped make my relationship with Starbuck’s a perfect match.  I love my triple venti sugar-free Vanilla cappuccino.

A memo from Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbuck’s hit the news this week and it seems he thinks Starbuck’s has “lost its soul”.  He wants the chain of coffee shops to regain its lost appeal and more importantly the lost atmosphere that early stores provided.  Mr. Schultz, you are right about that, modern stores are almost antiseptic in appearance.  When you visited one of the early stores you felt like you were in some artist’s loft in New York or San Francisco, but not now.

In his memo Mr. Schultz thought that the automatic espresso machine eliminated the romance of a visit to Starbuck’s.  I think he’s off the mark with that observation.  So why do modern Starbuck’s locations not provide the same homey atmosphere the chain was originally famous for?  The answer is pretty simple to me so here’s my two cents.  The coffee shops began to lose the appeal when the wildly popular Frappuccino was introduced.  There are few things so irritating like the blenders that sound like a 747 is taking off at the next table.  It is flat near impossible to relax and read or work in the shops with all that racket going off constantly. 

I used to walk into a Starbuck’s and find at least one or two people sitting in the easy chairs reading books or newspapers and generally taking a respite from the hustle and bustle of the day.  I don’t see that very much any more and I believe it’s because it’s nearly impossible to relax with all the noise.  It’s to the point that if I get a business call while I’m sitting at a table I have to walk outside so I can hear my call and not have to explain where I am.  Mr. Schultz, you know you have a noise problem when the party on the other end of the phone call understands why the call is so noisy when you tell them you’re in a Starbuck’s.  What kind of relaxing atmosphere is that?

Speaking of those tables, what’s up with the uncomfortable chairs?  You can’t sit at one of those little tables for very long without your butt and thighs going all numb.  It’s hard to continue on with your day when your butt is numb.  Get us some comfortable chairs or at least put a little cushion on them.  Unless you believe it’s in the company’s best interest to keep turnover high at the tables then your plan is working.

Lastly Mr. Schultz, and this ties into the whole noise thing, when you started selling music in the stores the order was obviously given to play it 24/7, and play it loudly.  It must have been a successful plan because every Starbuck’s is doing it now, and over time the volume has been cranked up to the point that now a visit to a Starbuck’s is like a visit to the record stores of old.  Loud annoying music makes conversation darn near impossible, and sitting down with a good book an exercise in futility.  There’s nothing wrong with softly playing music, heck I love music.  But it can’t be the dominating part of the Starbuck’s experience.  You’ve got the non-stop blenders for that.


Mickey Segal

I thought it was funny that the word San in “San Francisco” in James Kendrick’s post got turned into a green hyperlink by the intelliTXT software that adds advertising links.

I like the idea of links to useful material that are added automatically to text, but the current implementations have not given such hyperlinks a good reputation.


Some of the problem is that we have SO many starbucks now. As much as I like them, they used to be very special because you hardly ever found one.

Now they are crammed into whatever retail space was recently vacated (seriously, one just went into a former 31 flavors location).

Along one stretch of road, there is one in Target, on in a strip mall, and one in a Barnes & Noble.

The focus seems to be on expanding, not on making a cozy social setting.


Well if we’re not talking about the coffee for a second, then I think starbucks has gone down the toilet lately. My local starbucks is reasonably quiet, both in popularity and noise level, but i think the hard plastic chairs should be banned.

IMHO, what we need is more local coffee shops styled like the early Starbucks. With WiFi, of course ;)


Well, I must admit I am only a fan of Starbucks when desperate for coffee in Houston, Dallas, or some other major metropolitan area where demand dictates payment for internet. However, don’t overlook other chain coffee shops like Beaners in Michigan (my favorite) or sandwich shops like Atlanta Bread Company or Panera who offer better coffee and food accompanied by free wifi.

By the way… my favorite drink at Starbucks is a caramel-mocha frappuchino so I can’t live without the blender. I just suffer with my WWAN from Cingular or Verizon if I am forced to get my coffee from Starbucks instead of an establishment with free wifi.


I read, I think it was in the local newspaper (St. Louis), that, for just regular drip coffee, McDonald’s actually makes a better product than Starbucks. I also agree with the blender thing and the wooden chairs. Around here, most of the Starbucks are relatively quiet, but I would love it if they would cut out some of the music. They used to play quiet jazz, that was nice.


It’s odd how sometimes you stumble on a blogger’s post that is merely an observation or gripe from his daily life but it turns out it’s a shared experience. I used to go to Starbuck’s and enjoy the lounge experience, soothing music and relaxed setting. I remember meeting students in a much more comfortable setting than my office. I used to spend a part of the day there with my notebook and documents to go over just to change from my office decor. I stopped going except for a quick latte on the go. Last time I met a student at Starbuck’s we were seated at an unbalanced table on small cramped chairs. The music was loud and it was the same CD that had been playing the whole week. My throat was already sore trying to explain something to a student when the blender started for the fourth time cutting short our discussion. That did it for me. I asked the library at the University if they could allow me to bring my coffee (that would be paradise) but no luck so far. Are you listening Howard ?


Great great article! Anyway you could send this to the CEO of Starbucks?

Take away the music – totally agree. I don’t go to Starbucks to find our what iTunes to purchase.

Take away the blenders – don’t have to take them away but rather place all blending machines in a soundproof booth, or give a $500K stipend to an inventor who can develop a silent blender. Make it fun, appealing, commercial and you’ll have the whole world behind your efforts.

Wooden chairs be gone- totally totally agree.

Let me also add…

MORE OUTLETS!!! – It’s beyond me how a new Starbucks can go up in 2007 and one outlet is placed in the corner of the sitting area. If battery life for laptops isn’t going to improve then MORE OUTLETS PLEASE – if you want to keep our butts in the seats.

LESS BATTERY ACID – Sometimes the java at Starbucks from the drip is just sludge! GAG!!! They really need to concentrate on a nice smooth cup of coffee and give it a commercial name and appeal. Something that resembles the drip that comes from my Cuisinart, my filtered Cuisinart, not a percolator reminiscent of the wild wild West.


JK, I completely agree with you. I find it hard these days to go to Starbucks and getting some work actually done. I used to go there to “get away” from the noisy office (phones) and people traffic; not more so much.

One suggestion that I have is that you post a message on with a link to this post. They really do read their web site for customer feedback, and this may give them some ideas. I’ve posted “complaints” on their web site before, and they have always responded in writing (my complaints have been product related though, but they always come through).

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