The Starbucks Effect on our perspective

I’ve been carrying on a discussion with a friend for the past couple of weeks about the vast difference in expectations of customer service and responsiveness between Europe and the U.S. Many of these differences are illustrated in this recent essay from Fast Company detailing the syndrome, called the Starbucks Effect.

It seems that as the U.S. influence of always-on, drive-through, cash-n-carry, super-size, express line commerce is spreading around the world. Whereas we can today cruise through the drive-up window at the closest Starbucks and wheel out 90 seconds later with a double tall extra hot whatever, in Europe the process of ordering a coffee is much different. If you ask for coffee, first of all, there aren’t any drive-up windows (you just can’t drive and sip when you’re careening 100 kmh through crowded streets). You can, however, expect to be ushered to a table, where a waiter will leisurely take your order and eventually bring you a small demi-tasse of black java. If you want a refill, you’ll need to flag him down. No need to hurry, it’s expected that you’ll take an hour to sip your brew and peacefully reflect on the morning, or the sunshine, or your place in the world.

But as our customer service expectations in the U.S. are continually elevated by Starbucks’ militaristic consistency and fanatic lifestyle-branding of the neighborhood coffee-stop, so too rise consumers’ expectations in the countries into which Starbucks empire expands. As Starbucks’ name for quality and consistency become known in other countries, I can’t help thinking many contrasts will present themselves. I don’t pretend to think Starbucks will win hearts and minds instantly.

But even while traditionalists of Europe scoff at the green siren’s efforts, there’s no debating that eventually the old-world paragons of service like Bewley’s Tea & Coffee of Dublin, or your favorite cafes in Paris and Rome may eventually be compared, literally side-by-side, with the bright-eyed smile of a green-aproned Starbucks “partner” who’s offering you a fresh doppio with methodical precision and a sense of urgency imported directly from Seattle. Always open, always fast, always consistent.

That will be an interesting day. I don’t know that our system has all the answers. I love the fast service and immediate satisfaction of the U.S. quick-serve model. But I wonder if what I need more is an actual coffee break and a few moments of that European contentment, instead of spinning out of Starbucks with my latte in 90 seconds like a kid at the fair exiting the tilt-a-whirl.


2 responses to “

  1. Ok, I’ll admit that I didn’t know it was your blog until I got to the end of the article.

    I was thinking to myself, “this guy’s really got it right, he must have been trailing Isaac and I throughout Europe”. Come to find out, he was Isaac in Europe.

    The secret that you and I both know, that most people are just catching onto is that ultimately, service is all that matters. Everything else is just filler.

    You write well, maybe you should do this for a living.

  2. Adriel & Christina Henderson

    Well put, we could get so much more of the important things in life done if we actually sit down for a few minutes of quiet contemplation with a cup of coffee and just let our minds wander and process all the input we have been receiving. Instead we leave our mind to process everything during our sleep which in turn makes us less productive the next day because we haven’t slept well.

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