There was a recent blog post in the Seattle PI titled ‘Starbucks customer takes company to task over table squatting’.
The author of the post, who admittedly had been at a Starbucks New York location for a several hour period, was asked by the manager to leave the store since he wasn’t making any additional purchases. The situation was also discussed on the Today Show and in this CBS New York story.
I was surprised to learn that this was not an isolated incident. In fact, several Starbucks have decided NOT to embrace the idea of longer length customer visits but rather, in some cases, shun them. I should mention that this doesn’t seem to be a corporate policy but something Starbucks corporate has said is up to the discretion of local regional stores. Whatever the case may be – as a coffee drinker I am confused.
It takes a quick Google search on the name Starbucks to find out how well the company is doing. Chief Executive Howard Schultz recently told Reuters, ”Starbucks is having its best year and our business remains strong.” Most of us who follow the stock market know this is a huge turnaround from 2008 when the company got pounded in the housing market collapse. I would actually say that their restructuring to get consumers back into the store and buying coffee has been quite impressive.
So I am confused, then, about why a manager would feel like they need to rush customers out the door for hanging out too long. Didn’t it used to be that the whole idea of a coffee house was to give people a place to go, relax, sip coffee, type on your laptop, listen to poetry, etc. I remember the early days of Starbucks when squatting seemed to be encouraged, not shunned. I can’t completely fathom what would necessitate a move away from what some may consider a strong ideological component of the brand. For a quick turnaround experience? Is Starbucks coffee even good enough for that? (Guess that’s an entirely new debate….)
Putting my entrepreneurial hat on for a moment, from a practical business standpoint the reason why Starbucks may not want squatters is logical. Squatters take up space and might discourage others from entering the store who would undoubtedly buy some sort of product; in general, squatters make it less comfortable for those who have just made a purchase and now have nowhere to sit. It’s all logical. But is that strong enough to throw a curve ball in what once was part of the overall customer experience? Didn’t Starbucks first adopt Wi-Fi so people would hang out?
If the Starbucks brand is about offering the customer a quality coffee experience, surely there can be a compromise here. Maybe the high-trafficked stores can dedicate certain sections for squatters and/or have certain hours they are allowed to squat. Maybe they even charge some kind of extra fee – fair is fair. But to flat out say no more doesn’t feel good to me.
From a public relations standpoint, does Starbucks corporate really want to deal with any sort of negative press on this issue? Wouldn’t it be better for them to figure out a way for all sides to win (and not leave it up to individual stores)? Isn’t the Starbucks experience supposed to be the Starbucks experience – no matter which Starbucks you are at.
I guess all this leads me to the end of my post – I do have other work to do today. Of course, it doesn’t seem like I will be doing it from my local Starbucks. Today, for me, Dunkin Donuts wins!