Starbucks Going White Dwarf

February 27, 2008

starbucks_anemi.jpg If you are out for an evening Starbucks coffee, you’ll be out of luck tonight. That’s because nearly every one of the 7,100 Starbucks locations in the U.S. will be closed from 5:30-9 p.m. local time as baristas learn more about making espresso drinks.

Officials at the Seattle coffee giant (NASDAQ: SBUX) said the training will affect more than 135,000 baristas in the U.S. The training event is “designed to energize partners and transform the customer experience … to provide a renewed focus on espresso standards that will help ensure the exceptional quality of every beverage,” officials said in a statement. Brilliant. A stellar implosion, if you ask me.

Huh? “Espresso standards?” What standards? Best I can figure it, hot water manipulated by a machine can be forced through any type of roasted and ground coffee beans. This is not astrophysics, nor is there really any cultural or historical significance to espresso.

You see, espresso (“fast” in Italian) was invented in 1903 by a guy named Luigi Bezzera, a machinist, bored after work and noodled around to find a faster way make a cup of coffee. Voila, espresso was born, but Luigi was poor with marketing lira, so he sold the rights to patent the machine within two years. Luigi’s machine used steam pressure, but this was changed in the 1940’s to basically what you see today with that spring piston lever thing. Essentially, what you get is a shot of coffee in about 20 seconds – woo hoo!

Responding to high turnover among coffee shop staff and a desire to reduce training costs, most commercial manufacturers are developing or improving lines of fully automatic machines, which allow a minimally-trained employee to create an espresso drink by merely pushing a button. Starbucks has been a notable adopter of these machines. Drop a puck of coffee in, hit the go button, fill the cup, stick out hand and manage a smile.

So, what the heck does this Starbucks corporate “statement” mean, and what’s this closing and training all about? What it is, is a really dumb PR marketing idea, albeit free advertising, thanks to the press, and just one of Starbucks new ideas “freshly brewed” by likewise new CEO Howard Schultz. Somebody should release this badly paraphrased collective statement to Howard; “Wake up and re-price the coffee, it’s the economy, stupid.” People simply are not lining up to sip a $12, triple shot skinny soy latte in the midst of a recession or a home repossession. The “customer” is going through just about all the “transforming experiences” he can stomach right now.

The training session is just one of several ideas implemented by new CEO Howard Schultz. In the seven weeks since Schultz took over again as CEO, he’s dropped breakfast sandwiches from the stores’ menu, announced limited free Wi-Fi in stores, and announced major layoffs. The free use of Wi-Fi is a nice touch to assist in job searches, I suppose, if you can afford to sit a spell, and the uber-pricey flash-frozen egg sandwiches are surely not missed, so there is progress. But, for my money, what there is remaining, Starbucks is the one who needs the transforming realization that they are simply in the “fast food” coffee business, and start acting the part. 7-11, Dunkin’ Donuts, and McDonalds understands this, and prices accordingly.


~ X anemi


  1. Well, I too was wondering what type of training is needed for an automated machine. Although, some shops do need to understand the difference between a machiatta (lots of foam) and a latte. I think it’s a mistake to take out the free wi-fi…I’m headed to Seattle’s Best for the free internet and a Raspberry Mocha with the free chocolate and free wi-fi (I’m sure it is all included in the price of the coffee).

  2. I need coffee

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