In a previous blog entry, I wrote that Starbucks was at risk of becoming Dunkin Donuts. While the green giant is undoubtedly more successful than its northeast competitor, my suspicion that they were sliding off the fidelity axis and reaching down the convenience axis (there is, after all, usually a larger market share on the convenience axis) was recently confirmed during a recent trip back to Boston.
The coffee served at conferences—is predictably lousy. Therefore, I knew that I didn't want the complimentary coffee provided by the Westin Boston Waterfront hotel, and instead made my way up and out to a nearby Starbucks (the only coffee shop within walking distance).
I waited in line, and then ordered my usual; Double Americano, No Room. Despite the short walk, I was still foggy, and was eagerly awaiting my caffeine fix. Given the size of the line, I told myself that it might be a few minutes before my drink arrived. To my astonishment, they had my americano in my hand in under 30 seconds. I wasn't counting...I was actually aware of the time because there was a horrible cover rendition of the famous song "Rainbow Connection" being played in the store that was making me cringe, and I couldn't wait to get out of there.
How on Earth did the barista—actually, he looked like a recent high school grad, not a barista—get it done so quickly? I didn't even see him grind the beans, pack the grounds and turn on the espresso machine. Did they give me coffee by accident? I peered around the side of the employee area and saw, to my disgust, a fancy-looking machine that delivered a full range of coffee-like drinks—espresso, double espresso, americano, etc.—with the push of one button. Simply put cup under spout, push button, get coffee drink. This was the equivalent to a coffee soda fountain. Gross.
Needless to say, the americano wasn't any better than the conference bilge that I later succumbed to (I wasn't about to pay Starbucks fidelity pricing for a mere convenience product when I could get something more convenient with only marginally less fidelity for free). I half wondered if they were using their awful VIA Instant Coffee in their fancy new machines, which provided no view of the beans, and no sound of the beans being mechanically measured out and ground to order like other vendors offer.
In my opinion, Starbucks has fallen into the realm of fast food. They are not merely Dunkin Donuts; they are the MacDonald's of coffee. And since they still charge a fidelity premium for their coffee, which only has convenience-grade quality, I will actually make it a point not to waste my money there any longer when I can get comparable coffee for half the price practically anywhere. Thankfully, I live in San Francisco, where I can frequent real coffee shops (Bello, Ritual, Four Barrel, Blue Bottle, etc.) and enjoy some high fidelity brew.