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Author Topic: Starbucks
Foste
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I've visited some coffe shops, but never a Starbucks. I want to write a scene set in a Starbucks and I've only seen them in movies. The most important thing for me right now is to get the Starbucks 'brand' across. What kind of service, quality, smells and imagery do you associate with Starbucks. The smallest detail would help.
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KayTi
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White logo painted on the glass door. Strong smell of coffee (it's just always coffee smell to me.) Refrigeration units at the ordering desk hum. Plastic-wrapped sandwiches and fruit plates are supposed to look appealing, depending on the sbx, sometimes they look nauseating. The people who take your order and make your coffee are INCREDIBLY perky (is it all the free coffee? Actually, I'm 99% sure their interviewing process favors outgoing, gregarious individuals.) They are young and old - I used to write in a sbx four days a week and there were a group of 40 something moms who worked that shift, plus one young twenties woman who was the manager and greatly pregnant, and a young twenties guy that came in at 3 for the next shift. The one my DH frequents has a guy who looks retired but working again, trim white beard and cropped white hair.

There are chalkboards throughout with prices written on them in perky handwriting (on the shelves around the place, not the ordering board which I think is standard printed) -- traveler's mugs, $14.95, etc.

It's noisy. There's always music playing in the background, the whine of the milk steamer is loud, they smack the espresso caps that clip into the machines to either tamp down the beans or pop the used coffee mixture out. Clonk clonk. There's a tray of mottled brown bananas by the checkout desk, though not so far gone as to be disgusting, just not particularly fresh.

People gather at tables, some to talk, some solo with work projects spread out. My least favorite customer is the one who gets on what is clearly a business cell phone call and speaks at high volume about stupid topics (at least have it be about the affair the secretary is having with the boss if I'm going to have to listen to your end of the conversation!)

Does that help? You know they're so ubiquitous you can probably find one not far from where you live, can't you? Perhaps not. There's tons of images online if you want more...


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Natej11
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I've only been to Starbucks once, and it was definitely worth a story.

I'm one of those people who blends into the wallpaper, so I can go up and stand in front of a cashier and they won't say anything to me until I actually talk to them. This happens more often than you'd think.

So anyway I order a chai tea and go wait with my friends. They get their drinks in about a minute. Three other customers get served. Four. Five. I go up and ask what the holdup is, they seem surprised. Roughly ten customers later my chai tea arrives, and they try to give it to someone who ordered the same drink thirty seconds ago. I mean they literally call my name, I walk up to get it, and they're holding it out to the other guy. He ends up getting it, I tell them they called my name, they apologize, and two customers later I finally get my tea. My friends have already finished their drinks.

I'm not saying the service at Starbucks is universally bad, it was more a quirk of my own freakish ability to avoid notice.

[This message has been edited by Natej11 (edited August 26, 2011).]


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mythique890
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This may not be helpful, but there are a lot of Starbucks places inside Barnes & Noble stores. I don't drink it, but I love the way the smell of coffee blends with the smell of new books.
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genevive42
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The music in Starbucks varies by neighborhood. Some things you'll hear across the board, but the one nearest me certainly plays more R&B and Soul of the classic variety then the ones just a city over. My neighborhood is more ethnically diverse. The ones in the more homogenous (also lighter) neighborhoods tend to play more light jazz and softer things.

These are just my observations. They do seem to cater to the local demographic.


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A Yeatts
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Starbucks... the generic big box store of a coffee shop that desperately pretends to be your local on the corner cup of joe but is really milking you for every penny. Everything is for sale. Everything single inch of the store is targeted to selling you something... mugs, music, bags of coffee, candy, baked goods, cake pops, the whole image. Trying to be very green/free trade/environmentally friendly.

And you have to speak their language. You can't order a large mocha made with skim milk. It's a venti no fat no whip mocha. If you order like a normal person, you get the "look"... you are no longer hip enough to drink their product. Small = tall; Medium = grande; Large = venti; There's no fat, no whip, soy. There are plenty more SB vocab words that I don't know. I only know enough to order my one little mocha! If you order a plain coffee, make sure to ask them to leave room for cream. Half and half, skim milk, cocoa, cinnamon, and sugar are in dispensers on a bar area somewhere nearby. You can doctor your drink anyway you like. The powders are in glass shakers with metal lids like parmesan cheese at the pizzeria.

The pastries look good. Beautiful. Perfectly sliced. Different flavored scones, cake pops (red velvet, choc, and vanilla) with bright colored frosting and sprinkles; muffins, pound cake slices. But once you try them, they're heavy, too full of sugar and leave a greasy industrial baked good feel in your mouth.

And all the employees are perky. Very, very perky.

Hope that helps!!! If you need me to do some recon, I'm more than happy to hit the local SB's for a grande, no fat, soy latte with no sugar caramel.


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axeminister
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@Foste - that's an interesting question / dilemma.

@KayTi - wow. That's some cool detail. I felt like I was reading a story there and it was just facts.

@mythique - he said any detail is helpful.

@Genevive - What kind of music does the Compton Starbucks play?

I think that covers everyone's comments...

As for my own experience - I love the place. If you're going for any type of inward emotions, just walking through the doors could bring a sense of relief, or well being. No joke.

For years, Starbucks was only somewhere I went when I was on vacation. (There wasn't one within 100 miles of me) It became synonymous with the feeling of relaxation.

Some folks hit them every day. Some might be annoyed at having to wait for their morning Joe. These details might be something to consider to. The motivation of the character.

Axe


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Wordcaster
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You walk in and there are normally a lot of little round tables with 2 chairs for each one (sometimes groups of teens gather around a single table, leaving a bunch of tables without chairs. There is often a bookshelf filled with Starbucks memorabilia (coffee mugs, french presses, travel mugs, etc.) along one wall and opposite it is the checkout counter with expensive dessert bars and bottled drinks.

Music will be playing in the background -- sometimes jazz, sometimes bands that you didn't know were still around (like REM). No pop music. Whatever is playing is sold at the checkout counter in a pile of 7-8 cds.

My favorite drink is caramel machiatto (many of my friends like it too). I sometimes get coffee in the morning if I go there. It is bitter and strong compared to competitor blends (they roast their beans till they're practically burnt. It seems to attract different ethnicities, but I'm not sure which (Chaldean or Eastern European?) and also high school/college age.

Behind the counter, expect a twenty or thirty-something year old. Tattoos or the kind of earrings where you can see daylight in the middle would not be unusual. Service is great. They take your order and then you pick your drink up at the end of the counter (unless you just get a coffee, in which they hand it to you right then and there).

Smells like a normal coffee shop. Atmosphere is social, casual, relaxed. Individuals have laptops sometimes. Books or a newspaper wouldn't be uncommon for an individual either.

Hope that helps.


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LDWriter2
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I think you may have most of what you need. I just want to say that one of my characters works at a Starbucks. So far she doesn't spend a whole lot of time there but that could change in the next one... if there is another of course

I could probably add a few sounds.


And I think there was a short story I read, maybe in the First best of Jim Baens Universe anthology, about someone having a bit of a humorous adventure in a Starbucks drive thru. Oh yeah, my character in another novel likes to go through the drive thru. Not much sound or sight there though


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karriezai
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I've worked at three different Starbucks (one inside a Safeway) for a total of close to two years, so if you need any extra insight, I'd be happy to help. Looks like you have a lot already, though. As you can see, it really varies by location and by who's walking into a given location. For instance, it's true that at a lot of Starbucks the baristas have tattoos and gauged piercings, but the managers I worked with made me cover my tiny wrist tattoo and take out my industrial (on days they noticed them, that is) and didn't hire people with sleeves of tattoos etc.

Anyhoo, if you have any particular questions you think a former barista can answer, let me know.


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Foste
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Wow, what an abundance of information! Thanks, everyone. I'll be sure to incorporate those details. I finally understand the Starbucks atmosphere.

You rock!


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genevive42
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axe, I don't quite live in Compton (though it's not too far away), and it took Magic Johnson to get them to put a Starbucks in Gardena. I think Starbuck's would only go so far with bending the music. I'd bet that my local one is about as funky as they'll allow. But I also don't think there are any Starbucks in Compton.

And I realize you might have been joking with the question, but I thought I'd answer it anyway.


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micmcd
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I'm actually sort of amazed that you live in a part of the world where there is no Starbucks - they've gone on a mission to have one everywhere people might be interested in drinking coffee, though of course they are more dense in the US. They're all over Europe, China, Japan, Korea, etc. In fact, from the web site, they have locations in:
Argentina
Australia
Austria/Österreich
Brazil
Bulgaria
Canada
Chile
China
Czech Republic
France
Germany/Deutschland
Greece
Hong Kong
Hungary
Indonesia
Ireland
Japan
Malaysia
Mexico
Middle East
New Zealand
Peru
Philippines
Poland
Portugal
Romania
Russia
Singapore
South Korea
Spain/España
Switzerland/Schweiz
Taiwan
Thailand
Turkey/Turkiye
United Kingdom
United States

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micmcd
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Also, to answer your original question, they are quite generous with giving away free stuff. If they screw up your order, or you have to wait 5 minutes because the coffee you want is still brewing, or what you order just doesn't taste good, they'll give you a free drink.

They're also big on Apple product cross promotions - there are always free iTunes cards for songs of genres that they might play in the shop, a new one every week. They have an iPhone app that connects to your starbucks card, so you can just wave a bar code on your iPhone in front of a scanner and pay for your coffee. The new balance shows up on your phone.


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Foste
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@micmd
There's ONE McD in Bosnia. And it set up shop last year. This year one's opening in Banja Luka where I live and the locals are already complaining how they don't need 'that foreign cr*p' (I mean I ate their stuff as a kid in Germany... Get a grip people, it's ok fast food). It's a backwards mentality thing. I don't think we're a viable source of revenue for Starbucks though, because the way people consume coffee on the Balkans has its roots in our culture. The idea of 'coffee to go' is unheard of. If you want to have a Kaffeklatsch you call a friend and spend at least an hour on it.
And thanks for commenting!

[This message has been edited by Foste (edited August 27, 2011).]


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micmcd
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I just now looked at that list of "countries" and noticed that they (I copied it from the starbucks web site) listed "Middle East" as a country that they're in.

Starbucks actually doesn't try to be coffee to go - they want people to spend time there. I've seen Starbucks where they'll have local music night and have a guitarist in; they tend to have lots of comfortable chairs and places to hang out. Of course, the corner shop in NYC is aiming to get people in and out as quickly as possible. Where I live, I frequent one that is little more than a kiosk sheltered from the whether, but across the street (and yes, there is a Starbucks across the street from a Starbucks - that isn't all that uncommon), there is a proper store where people usually hang out with their laptops, sit with a sandwich from a nearby store, or just hang out. Starbucks isn't quite the In & Out mentality place that some American fast food chains have.


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Foste
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That's good to know!
As I see it they try to be very accomodating.

[This message has been edited by Foste (edited August 27, 2011).]


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Robert Nowall
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The speculation was that Starbucks wasn't going to stop opening new ones until there was one on every streetcorner on Earth...recent economic developments kinda put the kibosh on that, apparently. I've been in one or two for rolls or croissants, but never for coffee---I never drink coffee, don't like the taste.
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Wordcaster
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Sorry if this was mentioned.

Most new starbucks have a drive thru.


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anarresti
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I've noticed in our Starbucks that there are groups of regulars who meet there to conduct business. I see the same high school study groups, businesspeople interviewing prospects or planning for sales calls,Japanese lady coffee klatch, bible study, gamers, older couples sitting and reading but not talking to each other, etc. Week after week.
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KayTi
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Anarresti has a great point - there's always some "regulars" at each sbx. And some are just "regulars" in a category way (see my previous post about loud talker business cellular call taker!)

My husband gets sbx almost every day on his way to work, and they know his order and his preferences, so when he arrives at the window, they don't offer him the coffee sleeve (the corrugated brown paper cuff that slips over your paper coffee cup to keep you from getting burned) for example.

They have "frequent buyer" types of clubs you can join (they have changed over the years so I forget what this years' specifics are) - he gets regular "free drink on us" postcards in the mail, probably at least every 2 months, maybe once a month. The card works at EVERY starbucks he goes to (to be fair he only travels within the US these days) and they clearly know how much sbx he consumes, as I feel the postcards might increase in frequency with his consumption. His card acts like a debit card, in that there's a balance on the card. When he pays, the cost of the drink is deducted from his balance. He has it set up when the balance dips below a certain figure, say 20 bucks, it will "reload" and put twenty more bucks on the card (by way of a website, where he's entered other credit card information.)

He's not quite on a first-name basis with everyone, but they all know the "peppermint mocha no sleeve" guy. And they comment when he orders something different.

Good luck writing your scene! Hope we've helped!! Oh, another important point for your writing - the food appears to be brought in via refrigerated truck. They have some quick-cook ovens, like a microwave but different. McDonalds has these kinds of ovens, too. So they can head up your sandwich, but they can't make you a new sandwich without the arugula. And they're all fancy-like. As a vegetarian, I really like their mozarella cheese/tomato/basil sandwich heated up, and their egg salad. At the airports, the sbx food offerings are different, and I think they're different outside our area, but my main experience is local where I can almost always get my egg salad. Because the food is trucked in, when they run out, they're out - hence my point about my egg salad, if they have it. So in general there aren't the smells of cooking food the way there might be at some local corner coffeeshop that serves pastries or meat pies or what have you. But as another poster mentioned, because going to sbx used to be a treat for me as a time to write and have a coffee, I personally really like the smell of the place as I walk in. Makes me feel energized and relaxed at the same time just to smell the coffee. Something about having that dedicated time for myself, I think, more than anything else. However, most sbx are kind of chaotic places, kind of loud, so my personal preference these days is to go somewhere else, but so be it. And I don't like the taste of their coffee much - the coffees are generally too acidic, too bitter, so I get an "americano" which is espresso with hot water. Cause we're dorks here in the US. Every once in a while you'll see a european order an espresso and they'll get it in what looks to the rest of us like a little kids' dixie cup (dixie = a brand of short paper cups that were always marketed to kids and used at schools for lunchroom milks and things like that) Americans like their drinks BIG!

Good luck!!


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LDWriter2
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Even though this isn't my thread I could use some info;

karriezai, I have a question for you. Felt funny asking this at my favorite Starbucks but how does handing out the tips work? And is the rumor true about higher ups getting a cut of the tips?


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