Coffee drinkers don’t want publicity stunts

Anyone who walked down Craig Street last Tuesday evening was likely surprised by the conspicuous closure of the street’s cornerstone café. Starbucks closed 7100 of its stores from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. for a mandatory training session for some 135,000 in-store employees in order to improve the service of the company’s baristas.

Taking advantage of Starbucks’ self-imposed time off, other coffee chains and independent shops offered deals for those willing to lure themselves away from Starbucks’ locked doors. Coffee Klatch Roasting, a small company based in southern California, responded by giving away free coffee accompanied by a press release reading, “I’m not sure why it’s going to take them three hours to learn how to press a button,” while competing giant Dunkin’ Donuts doled out $1 lattes from 1 to 10 p.m.

These companies seem to have a better idea of what consumers, including us, want — a cheap cup of coffee and dependable store hours, not a barista with the ability to memorize strings of adjectives and fill bizarrely specific drink orders within 120 seconds.

The stunt was likely a response to the corporation’s recent macro-management change. In January, Starbucks founder Howard Schultz returned as CEO to bring the company back to its roots — no more hot breakfast sandwiches, no more extraneous merchandise, just a good cup of coffee and the aroma of freshly roasted beans that greets customers as they walk in the door. While we agree with this initiative, we think Starbucks should focus on making, rather than showing us, the changes.

This extraneous training session raises questions as to the demographic to which Starbucks is catering. Right now, the company’s claim to fame is its specialized drink-making abilities and the amount of options it offers, yet the stores are often based in college towns and high-traffic urban locations where most people just want a decent cup of coffee on the run. Starbucks clearly closed its doors in an attempt to impress customers, and we think it’s great that its competitors were able to capitalize on this failed marketing ploy.

Starbucks has realized what its true demographic wants and has started offering a $1 cup of coffee with free refills at select Seattle locations, as if a reasonably priced cup of coffee is a new-fangled idea to experiment with. We’re happy that Starbucks is coming around, but we’re more enthusiastic that other coffee companies are putting the heat on the industry’s long-time giant.