Putting the ‘Bar’ in Barista: Pricey Lattes, Capuccinos and Macchiatos … With a Beer Chaser?

With a serving concept originally generated about four years ago, and then intensively beta-tested, Starbucks has begun rolling out its new drink and munchies menu, serving beer, wine and its version of bar food to thousands of locations. The new wrinkle, called “Starbucks Evenings,” has been thoroughly designed and cascaded into key markets; and alcoholic beverages will be served only in locations where demand is expected to be—high.

With a serving concept originally generated about four years ago, and then intensively beta-tested, Starbucks has begun rolling out its new drink and munchies menu, serving beer, wine and its version of bar food to thousands of locations. The new wrinkle, called “Starbucks Evenings,” has been thoroughly designed and cascaded into key markets; and alcoholic beverages will be served only in locations where demand is expected to be—high.

Starbucks has reached 40, a mature middle age; and the chain has been actively seeking to rebuild and evolve its brand, and make its locations more a part of the neighborhood. The chain has tried “line extensions” in the past (Starbucks ice cream was a total disaster), but Starbucks Evenings is serious and strategic. The updated stores will have new, more muted colors in their interior design that are definitely a departure from what customers have come to expect—at a refurbishment cost that begins at $25,000 and can reach six figures. From many perspectives, this is a huge gamble for the worldwide chain.

Everyone understands the potential negatives: a compromising of Starbucks’ high-end coffee house image, and the business downside this can bring. Baristas need to be trained in how to sell alcoholic beverages, and may also need to be trained in how to deal with “overserved” customers. Finally, the company has to address how to accommodate the minors who frequent their locations in large numbers. After all, drinking coffee and tea is legal irrespective of age; and there may be challenges in setting up spaces for underage customers, for those adults who don’t want to be around alcohol, and for those customers who are only in Starbucks for beer and wine. Starbucks is convinced that won’t happen, in part because other chains—Chipotle Mexican Grill and Red Robin Gourmet Burgers (though a family restaurant, it’s offering dessert/alcohol combinations, such as a Mango Moscato Wine Shake)—have been doing this for some time.

On the (calculated) plus side, the company’s approach represents an opportunity to attract customers who would like to have an alcoholic beverage in a safe, calm and pleasant atmosphere and who will pay a premium for the privilege. Some of these may be new customers, who could return during the day to enjoy Starbucks’ traditional food and beverage fare. Also, the evening food and drink menu will be served at locations near public transportation, generating high levels of foot traffic.

At the end of the day (pardon the pun), it’s all about the customer experience. Starbucks believes selling alcoholic beverages is a natural progression for the company. As stated by its spokespeople, Starbucks is all about occasions for customers to gather, relax and interact with one another. And this is particularly true in the evenings, after work and after dinner, which is usually the busiest time for coffee shops and bars.

Most observers and analysts think Starbucks will succeed. As one local daytime patron, who has now included evenings in his Starbucks visits, noted: “It’s not just the wine, it’s the unwind. The atmosphere here is all part of the experience.”

A tip of the hat, a tip of the cup and a tip of the glass to Starbucks.

Wine Bottles Belly Up to the Barcode

From the just when you thought you heard it all before files, I learned this week that a popular brand of Chardonnay will display QR codes on its tags.

From the just-when-you-thought-you-heard-it-all-before files, I learned this week that a popular brand of Chardonnay will display QR codes on its tags.

Yes, wine bottles with QR codes.

According to a press release I received from Kendall-Jackson Family Wines, its Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay will display tags on its bottles that feature a QR code, or a 2-D barcode that connects digital information with the real world.

Currently, users of smartphones equipped with QR readers can scan the QR code on the tag and view a video of Kendall-Jackson’s Executive Chef Justin Wangler explaining how to pair the wine with food. Going forward, users will be able to gather wine information, recipes and shopping lists when they view the code on the tag.

The idea? To help Kendall-Jackson connect with consumers, helping them make choosing a wine educational, fun and easy.

“QR codes make it possible for smartphone users to request and quickly receive mobile-optimized content — video, audio, pictures and information about our wines,” said Adam Beaugh, director of social media for Kendall-Jackson Family Wines in the company’s press release.

As I think about it, this is a pretty good use of QR codes. Maybe I’ll go and pick up a bottle now …