Not wanting to jump into the fray too soon – rest assured, gentle reader, I was watching the news on Tuesday afternoon, waiting for an announcement to see what would happen – I’ve had a chance to think about the Australian Starbucks closures a little more, and thought it was about time to comment.
Whether you’re a fan of the chain or not, it’s always sad to see a business closing, and people losing their jobs. Is it because they’re just not making good enough coffee that they’ve needed to close? Or is it more about dropping the ball on simple things like friendly customer service?
One barista I was talking to about this suggested that the problem with Starbucks is that they have taken the human element out of the equation: the coffee is made by someone pressing a button on a machine, which is going to give a consistently good, but not great, coffee. He freely conceded, though, that Starbucks is great at branding, and at providing a consistent look and atmosphere in their stores.
For me, the chief shortcoming with Starbucks was the quality of their product. Sure, at an airport farewell at 6am, when it was the only place open, I tried it, and was pleasantly surprised by a passable decaf latte, but in general, their espresso just lacks the guidance of a top-shelf barista, and I’d rather put my coffee dollars to encourage people to be better at their craft.
Further, the homogeneity of their stores was not something I particularly enjoyed. Part of the joy of a good cafe is that it has some visual element that distinguishes it from all the other cafes. Once something becomes big enough to start franchising, the priorities change: it’s less like visiting someone in their home, and more like eating together in a fast-food place.
Lastly, the closure of stores from such a big chain does not bode well for the cafe industry in general. With money ending up devoted to rising fuel and grocery prices, it seems there just isn’t as much money left to spend at cafes as there was. Sad times indeed.