There are 30,833 Starbucks stores in 80 countries around the world, many of which exchange tired pedestrians, teachers, and students every day that are far too depleted to register what remains unnoticed. Rarely, one may come for caffeine and stay for the people watching, disguising inward judgement as smiles at fellow coffee consumers.
Millions of minutes are wasted waiting in lines and drive-throughs for 4 million coffee-based beverages sold at the Seattle-based chain every day. Customers spend the minutes in their cars, discovering new music, taking filtered Snapchat selfies, researching how many hours at the gym it will take to burn off the 380 calories in a Grande caramel Frappuccino, and tallying up how much skyrocketed gas money and class tardiness is worth the half hour line and 16 ounces of an overpriced oat milk latte.
The company makes over 22 billion dollars in annual sales, selling approximately 4 billion cups globally each year. What fills these cups? Tasty pink strawberry-acai-coconut-rainbow-sunshine-sugar juices and blonde-medium-dark roast coffees with four pumps of white mocha and salted sweet cream cold foam, made by baristas who couldn’t care less about what’s on the ‘secret menu’ invented by washed up customers who can’t handle a strong brew.
CNBC Make It writer Shawn Carter claims that his daily Starbucks addiction costs him $2,300 a year, considering it a mandatory expense on top of student loans, New York City rent, and credit card debt. Why is he such a loyal $6.04-latte-a-day customer when you can buy an entire jug of Starbucks iced coffee for $5.49 at the store? Simply put—the ambiance. “Starbucks is a place where, even if you walk in alone, you’ll feel like everyone knows your name,” Carter writes, mentioning his always-comfortable ‘rapport with the staff.’ As of October 2021, Starbucks’ customer loyalty program has nearly 25 million other members just like Carter.
The chain clearly makes extreme efforts to design every location similarly, creating a cozy atmosphere so that most customers feel a place of belonging and familiarity. From a consumer’s perspective, however, many locations do not appear as a make-friends-with-strangers type of place, especially with the growing iGeneration. Most of them are filled with college students or high school screenagers eyeballing their laptop screens, eyes aglow and glued to nothing but the loneliness of schoolwork and the isolation within their noise cancelling headphones.
Meanwhile, these students don’t notice the frazzled mother pulling her toddler’s arm through line to keep him from tripping over his iPad while ordering a multicolored unicorn cake pop. For herself, she orders espresso for today’s caffeinated self-care and time away from an overbearing husband.
The overworked cashier runs back and forth between placing orders on a screen and placing egg bites and bagels and breakfast sandwiches in a toaster oven, nearly burning her calloused fingertips transferring the once refrigerated carb into a white and green paper to-go envelope. The food then travels down a line to the last piece of the puzzle—a green apron clad employee with dark under eye bags and a 4 a.m. wakeup alarm. His hands meet those of a bleach blonde sorority girl, whose pearly whites smile brightly at the warm buttery croissant in her manicured hands, the one the famished employee with green envious eyes and apron stares at as he realizes he hasn’t sat down for five hours. He continues staring at her sashaying ponytail that greets the exit sign, also envious of her freedom while his black non-slip shoes remain glued behind the counter.
Another girl orders a Grande hot skinny chai latte soon after walking her curled brunette locks to a table to loudly gossip with her friend for the next hour. They discuss the wedding rehearsal dinner from hell, ex-boyfriends, how her newest fix is too short, how to ‘cherish life’s moments,’ and how horrible her Tuesday schedule is, complete with class until 6:30 and staff meetings until 8, making sure everyone knows how busy her week is—busy enough to sit in Starbucks for an hour assuring the general population that she is, in fact, busy.
They don’t notice the wrinkly, wiry white haired old man sitting the next table over staring at them converse, the same way he does every day, sitting and staring at young college-aged women who wish to be nothing but not perceived by people like him. It’s his 10-to-5-day job, prowling up the wooden stairs in crisp khaki slacks, a worn pale-yellow polo, overgrown eyebrows, and a gray satchel that’s casually slung over his lanky build. Somehow, Loyal Customer No. 25,000,001 can skip the half hour coffee line, receiving his plain black coffee in seconds, only to take the extra time considering which seat shall be his perch for the day. He frequents a Starbucks solely superfluous with sorority girls—the one that young women escape to safely avoid men like him—always disguised by a journal, pen, chilling stare. Sometimes he’ll switch to the location across campus if he’s feeling a change of journal characters. And other times, the characters stare back until he feels weak and exposed, glancing to the floor.
By the end of the week, 60 million more people will have been wined coffeed and dined, not noticing the struggling mother and her sticky child, the overworked barista, the nosey old man, or the busy (being watched) college girls. What they do notice is nothing but a daily routine—the coffee beverage in their hand, the endorphins sent by their tongue, and the caffeine pulsing through their veins.