Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Sociology of Fast Food: Starbucks

My mother loves flavored coffee. Naturally, she loves Starbucks. She often goes there to relax. She’ll bring a book and sit and read for an hour while drinking her coffee. I observed that this is a common practice at Starbucks. My partner Rachel Steiner and I went to Starbucks to observe the kind of people who go there, the way they interact with the employees, and what they do once they get their drinks.

Since I’m not a coffee person, I decided to buy a cup of hot chocolate. The servers didn’t think it strange that I was not buying coffee. They kindly asked me what I wanted. After they had charged me, they gave me my receipt and told me I had been randomly chosen to take a survey. If I took the survey, Starbucks would enter me in a drawing for prizes.

“Give us a good rating,” the woman at the counter teased.

“20 out of 10,” I replied.

“Come back and tell us if you win. We like to know when our customers win.”

There were two women taking orders. One of them was middle-aged and the other looked like she was in her twenties.

“What’s your name?” the older of the two asked. She needed to put my name on my cup.

“Oh, that’s a pretty name,” she replied.

Once Rachel and I got our drinks, we sat down in a corner near two men. The men were dressed professionally and were talking about business. It looked like they were having a business meeting or were two co-workers talking about work.

“It’s one of those deals… business managing. I’ll let him know,” one of the men said.

“I try to do what’s best for my clients,” the other man said.

“I emailed him the quote and am trying to meet with him, but he’s so darn busy he can’t fit me in right now.”

The younger woman who had served me and Rachel began to sweep the floor. I saw her coming near me and moved my feet to give her more room.

“Sorry about that,” she said as if it were a great trouble for me to move my feet.

The two female servers were very nice and interacted with customers, but the man who made the drinks did not talk much. Some customers were regulars and knew the two servers. One gentleman came in and the servers talked to him as if they had always known each other. Male customers often came in talking on the phone or otherwise task-oriented. They came in, bought their drink, and left. Many women also came and went but chatted with the employees more. Some students also came in to hang out and study.

Some customers sat quietly, drinking their coffee. Others talked with friends. Many just came, bought a drink, and left. A few people looked at the knick-knacks for sale. As I sat, listening to the relaxing jazz music that played and observing customers coming and going, I wanted to fall asleep. The environment was a comfortable one.


Annie said...

One pays high dollar for the coffee experience there, even if it's hot chocolate in the cup. I have often speculated that the people who purposely go to Starbucks to sit and drink a coffee are lonely people. They want to have a reason to sit and feel a part of a group. And then there are those who decide it's a better environment to conduct business than the sterile office one.

bonnie said...

great post! I like your theme: the sociology of fast food. It's a great opportunity to observe people. I believe you've captured the experience.

Outhouse Capital of Canada said...

I went in a Starbucks once and left after seeing the prices.