Starbucks Gains Another Perk in 2012: Alcoholic Drinks Are On the Way

Starbucks has revealed that several of their Chicago store locations will serve beer and wine after 2:00 pm — but you’ll have to wait until later this year to take advantage.

At first, I didn’t really have an opinion about this news, but that changed the more I thought about it. I enjoy going out for a drink with my girlfriends every now and again, but I have to admit I don’t love the “bar scene” all the time. Maybe it’s just the old lady inside, but they’re just too dark and the music is usually too loud to carry on a conversation.

Don’t get me wrong, if I want to drink and dance, then a bar is just dandy. However, if I want a glass of wine or a beer after work on a week night with a few friends, you won’t find me in a bar. I would prefer the calm scene of a coffee shop to chit-chat and relax after a long, hard day. Along with the comfortable atmosphere, coffee shop get-togethers allow people of any age to hang out together. So if you want to be with younger friends or family and have a beer while you’re there, then it’s not a problem.

Some Starbucks stores have been serving alcoholic drinks in select West coast locations since mid-2009, and so far they have received a lot of positive feedback for it. Not all locations will serve alcoholic drinks (at least, not at first) and the announcement applies only to select high-traffic locations. Some new stores will be built and some existing stores are going to be renovated.

Starbucks plans to serve wine and beer at select Chicago locations in 2012.

“I’ll take a large coffee, a glass of chardonnay, and a bottle of domestic, please!”

The idea to serve beer and wine started when Starbucks’ customers asked for the option to have a cup of coffee or a glass of wine in the evenings. It’s so refreshing to know Starbucks is actually listening to what their customers want and that they’re taking action.

The evening traffic that alcoholic drinks will bring in is another perk for the coffee chain. Some people just don’t like coffee or only drink it in the morning for the jolt of caffeine. Starbucks is smart to cash in on the potential profits from the people who want the coffee house atmosphere at night, but don’t necessarily want the coffee. And along with the new beverages, Starbucks will have small plate options to accompany the beer and wine, like almonds, high-quality cured meats, and bread with olive oil.

Since Starbucks is a gourmet coffee house with their own blend of coffee beans, it makes me wonder what type of beer and wine they would sell. Because it’s a new idea for them and it’s a bit of a gamble, I think it would be best if they sold high-quality beer and wine that people already know. I don’t think it should be like a traditional bar with every type of beer known to man, but they may benefit from carrying a few exotic flavors and brands you can’t just pick up anywhere. The wine selection should be small, too. They should have a variety of reds and whites — some sweet and some dry — but just enough to cover the basic taste palates. Eventually, maybe they could manufacture their own brand of beer and wine…but for now, they’d probably be better off using already-established brands.

I think that alcoholic drinks at Starbucks is a great idea with lots of potential for business expansion, and I think people will respond positively to it. As long as they stay true to their coffee roots and keep the same business principles, they can only move up. Right?

How do you think Starbucks will do with their new beverages in the evenings? Do you think Chicago will respond well to the new idea or will it flop? Would you prefer the atmosphere of a coffee house while enjoying a glass of wine or beer with friends? Let us know in the comments below!

Image credit to Travelin’ Librarian.


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  1. Eric

    Have to admit I’m much more alright with Starbucks holding a liquor license, as opposed to White Castle. I think you’ve got the right angle for them. If they really want to distinguish themselves, they can’t be serving-up Yellow Tail and PBR. It’d be a great opportunity for the company to build relationships with wineries and microbreweries specific/local to the regions their stores are in, and offer something unique that can’t be found at every dime-a-dozen bar around town.

    I don’t think the idea will be an outright failure, but the only problem I can foresee would be the price point of the beverages they’d serve. Local bars are usually pretty on top of daily specials and keeping the prices low to keep the patrons coming in, and coming back. The novelty of this alone will sell, initially, but over time, if they can’t make their prices competitive, it may likely fail.

    Marketing, too, will need some work. Without the sports bar atmosphere, or TVs, etc etc…getting the male demographic in will be a problem for them. I don’t think I could ever see a guy asking his buddies, “Hey, guys, let’s grab a beer at Starbucks!”

    It’s like being a political candidate: you can’t be everything to every person. I admire their ambition, but sometimes I think they’d be better-served by sticking to what they do best: coffee.

  2. Alex Brodsky

    I understand the idea behind Starbucks serving beer and wine, and I don’t fully disagree with it. However, there are aspects to the plan that may cause this idea to be less effective than planned.

    The first thing that came to mind was my trip to Target on New Years Eve. Me and my two friends went to pick up alcohol, and each time we were rang up, our 17 year old (I’m guessing) clerk had to call a manager up to check our IDs and determine if we were actually 21.

    Many baristas are high school students working their first job or younger college students trying to make some extra cash. Will this change Starbucks’ hiring age to only people 21+? Or will these kids be forced to call up a manager to check IDs? It would be a shame for kids to lose Starbucks as an opportunity for employment, but it would also back lines up having to call a manager every time somebody wants a Pinot. One rule of thumb Starbucks employees have always worked by: don’t do ANYTHING to p*$$ off people in need of their daily coffee.

    • Jen

      Good point Alex, I would assume they need to have people over 21 to work in the stores that carry alcohol. But not all Starbucks will serve alcoholic drinks, so I think there will be plenty of opportunities for the high school students to work at Starbucks if their hearts desire. 🙂

      • Amanda

        As far as I’ve heard, for bars and restaurants anyway, anyone over 18 can serve alcohol. But maybe they could do like Portillo’s and have an alcohol window/counter area to keep it separate from the coffee. Then someone of age could just man that section. Just a thought.

  3. Jen

    I totally agree with you about having exclusive unique spirits from local wineries and microbreweries. That, I think, would appeal to a lot of people. And you’re right about the novelty wearing off after time, I think they would have to be really competitive to pull it off, but I think it will work out for them.

    The guys looking for a place to watch the game won’t want to go to Starbucks, you are correct about that. But it’s supposed to be a different type of atmosphere. It’s still a coffee shop, it’s not turning into a sports bar. I think that’s what some people, like myself, can appreciate.

    Starbucks won’t ever stop serving coffee, that is who they are. They are just trying to improve and expand their market. You have to admire them for wanting to better their business. But if the alcohol fails, they’ll still be a very successful coffee house. 🙂

  4. Mandy Kilinskis

    Jen, you made such a great point about wanting to grab a drink with friends without always heading out to the bar. I spend a lot of time hanging out at Starbucks with my friends, and I could definitely see myself hanging out and drinking a glass of wine.

    Like Eric, I think it would be really cool if Starbucks partnered up with local microbreweries and wineries to spread some local love. But regardless, it probably doesn’t matter what they serve, the initial novelty will bring people in. I’m interested to see how it all plays out and I’ll definitely be going once they introduce the alcohol selection to their menu!

    • Jen

      Me too, QLP Blog Squad field trip!

      • Eric

        Right on, Mandy. Looking back and reading it, I might’ve been a little harsh on Starbucks. Serving alcohol can be an opportunity for enormous success or dismal failure, and most of that comes down to how they offer it, and what makes them different from the pub, martini bar, etc.

        Having a place like this to go to, instead of a crowded ‘n rowdy bar, would be a nice alternative. Welcome, even. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to catch up with friends and have had to shout over the house band that’s way too excited they get to crank their amps to “10.”

        They’ll figure it out. I’m sure their marketing department can throw ideas at this concept all day without tiring out.

        Long story short, cool post, Jen. Sparked a lot of conversation!

  5. Amanda

    I also think that this idea will catch on fast. Coffee shops are great places to catch up with a friend–and I think including beer/wine in them will bring in more people and give more options. I think there are lots of people that would rather have a glass of wine in a coffee shop on a Wednesday night than in a bar. Easier to talk and hear, cleaner and nicer atmosphere, etc. A very cool idea for a more chill vibe. =)

  6. Jill Tooley

    Let’s go have a drink together when it finally happens in Chi-town! 🙂

  7. amy

    I’m totally with you on sometimes just wanting to go somewhere quiet and have a drink with friends. Going to a restaurant is fine, but if I don’t want to order food I feel bad for the waiter/ess having to be there and just be my drink runner. But going to a bar is sometimes even worse when you haven’t seen the person in a while and then you’re constantly, “what? what? WHAT?!?!?!” over the loud music. Ugh, so frustrating!

    I’m all on board with this! Way to go Starbucks!!

  8. Candice J.

    I think this would be a welcome change. I will admit i’m not a coffee drinker at all but i do enjoy an alcoholic beverage from time to time. As a young woman, I try to date when possible. The minute someone throws out the idea to go to a bar for drinks I am immediately turned off. Bars are impersonal, crowded, people are obnoxiously drunk and rude, and it’s just not a welcome atmosphere to invite conversation. Plus i don’t want to leave smelling like alcohol, smoke, or puke. But say, if someone suggested Starbucks it would be a welcome change. I think it will see a surge of couples/dates. It allows the age-old “go out for drinks” date in a clean, subdued atmosphere that a restaurant or lounge provides you without the obnoxiousness that bars give you. Also it allows you the convenience of not having to wait for a certain bar/lounge to open just to go out for drinks. Plus you can still have food/snacks. It will be interesting to see what target market they are actually looking for and which one will end up working.

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