Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Starbucks and Alcohol

So apparently Starbucks started experimenting with selling alcohol in its stores as early as October of 2010, when it began serving beer and wine in a single Seattle location. Since then, the concept has expanded and as of March of this year there were 26 Starbucks stores with alcohol on the menu. But that's just the beginning.

According to a USA TODAY article, Starbucks' alcoholic beverage sales "will expand to thousands of locations." A company spokeswoman stated, "The concept is a natural progression for Starbucks as we seek to create a new occasion for customers to gather, relax, and connect with each other in the evenings."


Greg Williams, the man behind the terrific film about recovery called The Anonymous People, wrote an excellent op-ed piece that just appeared in The Washington Post. His point is that selling alcohol in their stores will alienate a key part of Starbucks' customer base. A group that drinks a lot of coffee.

"Every day, people in recovery meet up in Starbucks cafes to support one another, to talk to their 12-step sponsors and, most of all, to be welcomed in one of the few lively, popular, alcohol-free gathering places in their community," Williams writes. "Starbucks should pay special attention to them."

With millions of people in recovery in the United States, Starbucks might end up losing more than a little business. But I'm sure they probably researched this alcohol sales thing to death before taking the plunge and determined that any risk would be worth the reward of a beefier bottom line. (I mean, it's all about the $$$, right?)

For anyone reading this who thinks I'm going to go on a tirade about Starbucks selling alcohol and suggest people boycott Starbucks, I'm sorry to disappoint you. I'm not going to do that. I won't be starting a Facebook page or petition in opposition of their alcohol sales either. Starbucks isn't doing anything illegal or something that puts kids in harm's way (not directly, anyway).

I will go on record, though, as saying I am 100 percent against their decision.

In the interest of full disclosure, A.) I don't drink coffee; B.) My wife does drink coffee and is a regular Starbucks customer; C.) We own some Starbucks stock (and by "some" I mean a measly 3.1826 shares as of this writing; so, a little more than pi); and D.) My wife and I both gave up drinking alcohol almost six years ago ("Be the change you want to see in your son").

I don't go and hang out in Starbucks stores on a regular basis. In fact, the amount of time I've spent in Starbucks over the years probably adds up to maybe an hour or two. Total. Most of that time has been spent waiting in line to order my wife's "Venti decaf with a splash of traditional," so I could surprise her with it on Sunday mornings. Or waiting in the store while my wife gets her own coffee. I think I've actually sat down in a Starbucks twice in my life. (It might be only once.)

But every time I've been in a Starbucks it's seemed like a decent place for people to hang out and socialize, both for adults and kids. A family kind of place, if you will. I've also noticed how many teenagers and young adults frequent Starbucks. Anytime you combine coffee with free WiFi, you're going to have a teenager/young adult magnet on your hands.

I guess my opposition to the whole Starbucks-selling-alcohol thing--aside from the people-in-recovery angle--is two-fold.

First off--and I realize this may sound incredibly selfish since I'm a non-drinker--why can't there just be popular places for people to socialize without alcohol? Alcohol has such a huge presence in this country. Everywhere you turn, there it is. It's all over television, in restaurants, at sporting events, at more and more movie theaters, etc. Sure, lots of people use alcohol responsibly. But alcohol also causes considerable health and social problems. I'm just bothered by the fact that our society is constantly being fed the message that drinking makes your life better and more fun. People, life without alcohol doesn't suck. In fact, it's pretty great.

Secondly, why does Starbucks have to start serving alcohol in its stores when they know so many of their customers are teenagers and young adults? A large number of high school kids--maybe even junior high kids--go to Starbucks some evenings to hang out with their friends and do homework. The fact that they may be sitting at a table with their coffee or hot chocolate and their laptop, next to someone who's sipping on a beer or a glass of wine just doesn't sit well with me. Kids hanging out in places where adults are drinking alcohol seems wrong to me. You wouldn't let your kid go to a bar to do their homework, would you?

I want to make something very clear. I am in no way suggesting that Starbucks will be selling alcohol to minors or that minors will be trying to buy alcohol at Starbucks. I trust that Starbucks is responsible enough to check IDs and make sure that doesn't happen. I'm just of the opinion that kids and alcohol don't mix. Now, if Starbucks required that customers be of legal drinking age or accompanied by a parent when frequenting their stores that sell alcohol, that would change things. But I have not heard that mentioned at all and I doubt very much that Starbucks would do that.

That's my Starbucks rant. You may agree with some or all of what I said. You may also think I'm a crazy person who is just trying to impose my will on everyone. Whichever side of the fence you fall on, that's your right. Just like it's Starbucks' right to sell alcohol in their stores.

I'm going to try and convince my wife to stop drinking Starbucks coffee. (I don't know if she will or not.) And as far as our 3.1826 shares of Starbucks stock? I think it's time to sell.


Something to Think About: 90 percent of Americans with a substance abuse problem started smoking, drinking, or using other drugs before age 18.

No thank you, Starbucks.


  1. You are kinder to Starbucks than I would be, so I'll just say that they really ought to evaluate their customer base before they change their menu so drastically.

  2. I'm so glad this is getting some attention. I talked to a Starbucks representative last month. We live in a small town - 25,000 so Starbucks is the only place in the evening where alcohol is not served. Starbucks response was that it would be a corporate decision where alcohol would be served and that the decision would not be influenced by local opinions.