Posted September 14, 2023 by Raj Shroff

Rich, an old friend of mine, was in town, and we decided to do the classic meet-for-coffee thing.
By default if nothing else, we chose a Starbucks that was easy enough to get to here in
suburban Columbus.

Maybe because I was running behind – or maybe because I can be old school – I didn’t order my
drink ahead of time. I just walked up to the counter, exchanged pleasantries with the barista,
and ordered my hot drink. Then Rich walked in and ordered, and the two of us started talking.
We got caught up in conversation. And before we realized it, 10 minutes had passed.

I started to get at least curious about – if not mildly annoyed by – the fact that while we were
waiting there right in front of three baristas, we still didn’t have drinks.

The baristas weren’t doing anything wrong. In fact, the rate at which they were making frappe
after cappuccino after latte was impressive. The issue was that one of them was taking care of
digital orders that might have been placed before ours, while the other two were handling the
orders flowing in from the massive line at the drive thru.

No one was focused on us customers inside the Starbucks.

Then I looked around. We were about the only people in the Starbucks. And there was no line.
Just people popping in to grab their order-ahead beverage and get on with their day.

Starbucks has changed. Is this change good or bad? Is Starbucks still a third space for aspiring
writers, freelance designers, potential collaborators, and old friends?

Have today’s customers fallen in love with the protocols retailers and restaurants were forced
to implement during covid? Are Americans too in love with their cars to get out of them? Have
Zoom and Teams replaced meeting for coffee?

If Starbucks stops providing the Starbucks experience, is it still Starbucks?
Can the baristas keep up that frantic, machine-like pace? Do customers care if their morning
beverage no longer comes with human interaction?

Where do people go if they miss the personal touch? Will a competitor displace Starbucks?
Starbucks appears to be selling just as much coffee as ever. Should they be worried?

These aren’t rhetorical questions. I’m really looking for answers and your opinions. (It’s also
possible I’m just hoping for confirmation that I haven’t become that guy longing for the
good old days.)