I was running low on energy today so I stopped and grabbed myself a Starbucks coffee. I rarely drink coffee, let alone pay for a Starbucks coffee. I went through the drive thru and ordered a tall vanilla blonde with cream and Splenda. All these years Starbucks has been popular and I am just now figuring out the sizing. I still don’t venture too far off the normal coffee when ordering because I don’t want to get lost and end up with some crazy concoction I wasn’t prepared for. Anyway, enough of my tangent.
When I got my drink it was presented to me in the typical disposable cup with the typical green doodad to plug the hole in the lid. I don’t know for sure, but I imagine Starbucks isn’t the inventor of this drink stopper, but it is very handy. It’s not that I don’t know what it is. I do. I’ve seen drinks from Starbucks with this coffee plug for years now, but today it made me think about things a little differently.
Why do we pay a premium for coffee at Starbucks? From my understanding of the company’s success story, they were very successful in creating an untapped niche in the coffee market to provide an experience superior to any other coffee establishment. By providing this experience they were able to charge drastically higher prices than a typical coffee shop or convenience store. They were rooted in their urban models and became known as, what we call today, “the third place.” Not your home, not your work, but somewhere in between.
With their success came higher demand in other markets and rapid growth throughout the world. Naturally this growth seeped into outer cities and eventually spread into suburban areas. People throughout the world love coming to this new environment where they can socialize and relax in an urban setting while drinking their morning coffee or completing their work outside of their normal office environment. According to the Starbucks webpage, the CEO, Howard Schultz, wanted to create “A place for conversation and a sense of community.”
But why does this lid plug raise questions in my head today? Think about the one thing that I said about my morning experience today that conflicts with the explanation of why the company is able to charge a premium for their coffee. I ordered my coffee through the DRIVE THRU. I didn’t interact with anyone other than the barista. I didn’t experience the urban setting or music. However, I did in fact pay a premium for this coffee. Is Starbucks’ coffee better than others? I think that’s debatable and many people will say that it’s not.
I imagine one of the driving forces in Starbucks adopting the use of this drink stopper was to help their customers by limiting or preventing the number of opportunities for their coffee to spill during their commute to wherever they are going. Every single hot drink is served with this doodad. It is obvious that the intention is for you to leave… quickly.
Now, don’t get me wrong. My comments are not meant to fault Starbucks in any way. They are in business to make money, and they do. Lots of it. If they have figured out how to get people to trade $4 for a cup of coffee over and over and over again without breaking any laws, then I applaud them. They are no longer an urban company. They are a very successful company with urban roots.
Here’s where it gets tricky… We have a growing suburban sprawl taking place in our country. This is nothing new. It has been going on for many years. Yes we hear a lot about the revitalization of the urban core of our major cities. The younger generations want to rent an apartment in the city rather than own a house in the ‘burbs. However, the fastest growing areas of this country are in between or outside of major urban cores. We are building massive housing developments and slapping overreaching Homeowner Associations on them to control the beige neighborhood. We are paying premium prices for coffee on our commute. We are commuting several hours per day and spending over $3500 per year to reach a job to pay for all of these extra expenses. We have become a society that chooses not to interact with others because we are so busy with our own lives and task-filled days.
Where does it stop? I think my next cup of coffee is going to be in a ceramic mug sitting with friends at a local café.