Starbucks: Going Beyond Their Coffee

By: Catherine Cohen

Starbucks has 16,850 shops in 40 countries, and revenues of $10.7 billion. There is no doubt that this is one of the world’s top coffee shops (Business Insider). Starbucks was founded in 1971, and started off as a small coffee shop in Seattle, Washington. Since then, they have became a multibillion-dollar company. With over 87,000 possible drink combinations, how couldn’t they? Besides their coffee though, they like to keep a relaxed comforting atmosphere, have places for people to do work and provide free Wi-Fi in stores. They also have their employees keep up with the latest controversial issues.

The CEO of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, likes to keep his company up-to-date and involved in controversial debates. More recently, he decided to start the campaign, “Race Together,” to stir up conversations between baristas and their customers about race and recent racial issues, like the shooting of Michael Brown. With 4,700 stores in the U.S., getting his message across America would not be that hard. Baristas were encouraged to write “Race Together” and/or put stickers on the sides of coffee cups. They published full-paged ads of this campaign in the New York Times and in USA Today. More recently, their campaign has been criticized for “being naïve and even using racial tensions to boost its bottom line” (New York Times). At their annual meeting, Schultz said “he didn’t think Starbucks would solve the country’s “centuries old problems of racism” but that he thinks it can make a difference” (New York Times).

I believe that this will not work, and that it is too risky to have baristas – who are serving you coffee – start conversations about race. People go to coffee shops to grab a quick coffee before work; nobody is staying, hanging around to talk about controversial issues when their bus leaves in 2 minutes. I feel like people will feel uncomfortable or caught off guard. Starbucks wants to keep its image up as being, not only a coffee shop, but also a place to be able to unwind. I can see how having their employees keep up with controversial topics can build a better customer-employee relationship, but some topics may rub people the wrong way. Sticking to “great weather we are having” will do just fine.

In conclusion, this campaign did not last too long before it got criticized. Starbucks came out with this only last month, and already coming out with a “let us explain.” Having good customer-employee relationships is crucial for a chain coffee shop like Starbucks because of local competition, but talking about topics that could make a lot of people uncomfortable is not the way to go.

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32 thoughts on “Starbucks: Going Beyond Their Coffee

  1. Ryan MacLeod April 9, 2015 / 12:45 pm

    I agree that this “Race Together” idea may not be the best one Starbucks has had. It has the potential to cause consumers to feel very uncomfortable or uneasy entering into a Starbucks when all they are looking for is a coffee, not a race debate. We see in today’s world with so many platforms for individuals to express their opinions on issues like race that some posts are respectful and considerate while others are just derogatory and racist. I wouldn’t really care to have Starbucks employee give me their two cents on any world issue at 6 a.m. when all I want is some caffeine. If I was a Starbucks coffee drinker I would most likely head to Dunkins for my morning coffee.

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  2. Chris Lantagne April 9, 2015 / 1:35 pm

    I think this is going a little too far. I believe the CEO has already admitted that he made a mistake with this. Honestly, businesses should just stick with doing what they do. Race, religion and politics are always three topics that should never really be discussed in most environments. It usually gets on my nerves when big businesses or celebrities start talking about off topics. Bono (U2) and Morrissey (The Smiths) are musicians who are known to be big speakers about AIDS in Africa and not eating meat respectively. Heck, Morrissey made an album called “Meat Is Murder”. Starbucks should worry about making coffee and musicians should worry about making music. It is very easy to turn someone off when topics like this are discussed.

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  3. Emma Tkachuk April 9, 2015 / 1:44 pm

    I think Starbucks went a little overboard with doing this. I believe they just did this to continue to stay relevant and to just get a little more attention. For me I prefer Starbucks over Dunkin Donuts, but if I was asked a question about race from my barista I would definitely feel uncomfortable and probably wouldn’t go back if I knew it would happen again. I think with this promotion of “Race Together” it not only makes the customer a little uneasy, but I also think it would make the barista uncomfortable too if they had to bring it up. I agree that getting in a debate while I’m just trying to get a drink is not something a lot of people would be interested. I think Starbucks should just continue making their coffee and other drinks rather than trying to spark up debate while people are just trying to grab a drink or relax during their break time.

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  4. Skye Stewart April 9, 2015 / 2:12 pm

    I agree with the fact that this “Race Together” campaign was a little too much, but it definitely was not a bad thing and not everyone sees that. A lot of people assume that this campaign would stir too much up, but the whole point of it is to make a small difference. This campaign definitely caught people’s attention and that itself is better for Starbucks as a company because they are getting brand recognition. People put the campaign together with Starbucks stores and then they begin talking about the brand with others, online, and elsewhere. I think the campaign did what it was meant to do all while keeping together Starbucks mission and determination to create customer-employee relationships.

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  5. John Vallerand April 9, 2015 / 2:13 pm

    I myself am a fan of the Starbucks brand. I like the way their coffee taste and the atmosphere they provide for the customers. Their strategy I would agree is on point as far as offering things like free Wi-Fi for business people to get work done while on break. When I say this I speak from experience, seeing how on numerous occasions I have gone into Starbucks myself and have seen multiple people working on their computers. Their plan to have the baristas talking about social issues like race is not important in my eyes. I believe that more people use Starbucks environment as a peaceful relaxing place to complete work and enjoy coffee, not to spark up conversations retaining to current social issues.

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  6. David Cravotta April 9, 2015 / 2:16 pm

    Starbucks doing this gets a little too personal. Race is such a touchy subject for most people and it is hard to get a widespread common opinion from your customers. Some may look at a race sticker that says “Race Together.” If you are one who dislikes racism as most of us do, you won’t mind the sticker. On the other hand, if there is someone reading that who is a racist it may create a negative effect. There are both types of people out there. Starbucks is typically one of those places where you are on the run or starting your day. A conversation about race does not not seem appealing to get into in either situation. I’m a Dunkin Donuts coffee type of guy anyways, so at least when I grab a coffee I’m not questioned about race. I take my order and I’m on my way.

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  7. Kyley Murphy April 9, 2015 / 4:39 pm

    Along with everyone else, I do not believe that the “Race Together” campaign was a smart strategy for Starbucks. I know most times when I get my coffee, I just want to get the coffee and get out; the last thing I want to do is sit around and talk to a random stranger about the racism. When this campaign was happening, a coworker of mine got to work and showed me his cup, believing that it was supposed to represent coming together for the Boston Marathon, not having a discussion about race. For this to have been affective, I think they should have had a different strategy. Maybe just have the baristas start conversations with people that actually want to talk to them, instead of just putting it on everyone’s cup. I don’t think it really hurt their sales, but was just a bad move by the CEO.

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  8. Yafen Liu April 9, 2015 / 5:01 pm

    I think the campaign “Race Together” is not a good strategy. Maybe Starbucks was well intentioned, but things went out of control at the end. There are many ways for managers to build good customer-employee relationship, however, it is always wise to avoid topics relate to race or politics. As a place for relaxing or taking a break, what Starbucks needs to focus is their quality of products and service. Serious topics that would make people feel uncomfortable and nervous should not show up in a coffee shop. To avoid talking about these topics, consumers will choose other coffee shops or other places to buy a cup of coffee or take a break. This campaign will only lead to the loss of consumers.

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  9. Julia Collins April 9, 2015 / 5:58 pm

    I do not agree with Starbucks campaign to start a race issues talk in their locations around the United States. When I walk into a Starbucks, I tend to feel a slight amount of anxiety because it is super busy and the menu is different than most coffee shops. I want to walk in, order my coffee, and leave. A lot of the time people go in and order coffee and do their own personal work, so starting a conversation about race with a busy barista is very inconvenient for both parties. The talk about race is always a hard conversation for many to have, and I often one not had in public based on peoples opinions. Although I understand Starbucks wanting to voice their opinion and take a stand to help end world conflicts, I believe that having the race talk in a coffee shop is unrealistic and uncomfortable.

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  10. Kevin McAtamney April 9, 2015 / 6:42 pm

    I thought the media outlets and the public overreacted quite a bit to this whole “Race Together” campaign. Starbucks had good intentions behind their actions but unfortunately society misconstrued the point the company was trying to make. Regardless of this so called “mistake”, Starbucks has been making innovative decisions when it comes the education aspect of their employees. Most recently stating that if you do not hold a Bachelor’s degree, they will pay for the rest of your schooling! Of course that comes with fine print but this is the first company I have seen make huge progressive steps toward free college for their employees. Yes, they may have slipped up with the anti-segregation campaign but have completely redeemed themselves when it comes to the benefits of their employees.

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  11. Domenica Fuller April 10, 2015 / 9:36 pm

    While I can see what Starbucks is trying to do by trying to do its part to try to “fix” some recent problems our country has been facing; it does not seem to be something that customers would want to participate in. It is nice to have small talk with a barista, talking about the weather or how busy it has been that day, but race is right up there with religion on the list of topics you do not talk about with strangers and even sometimes with people you know. I have been to Starbucks recently and I was not asked about race, but I would have been really uncomfortable if I had been. This subject is something that needs to be addressed and I can see how Starbucks doing what they can to start the the conversation; when I am getting my tea before work one day is not the time.

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  12. Kaitlyn Magnano April 13, 2015 / 4:49 pm

    I agree with Catherine that having this type of conversation with customers is not the best idea. Though Starbucks is trying to stay up to date with controversial debate and interacting with there customers, I don’t feel that people are going to be very comfortable giving out their opinions on how they feel about racism. A simple “Beautiful weather we are having today” or “Did you watch that crazy game last night?” would be just fine. People are not trying to spend hours in there having full on conversation with the barista, especially if they are in a rush. I think that bringing up racial topics could get uncomfortable and hostile very fast.

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  13. Andrew Gerry April 14, 2015 / 3:01 pm

    This is definitely a case of right message, wrong atmosphere. If Starbucks wants to support this conversation, they should sponsor different events or partner with groups. Something such as the options mentioned would be far more impacting than this current method.

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  14. Sam Ventresca April 15, 2015 / 1:23 am

    The “Race Together” campaign was a terrible idea for Starbucks. Coffee and social issues don’t go well together, just like politics at the dinner table don’t go well together. I know when I get a coffee I don’t want to talk to any employee about race issues in america. I agree with the New York Times when they say this campaign is just for creating a buzz around Starbucks to increase profit. I’m pretty sure almost everyone in America is aware of the recent racial issues, and I know I don’t want to be reminded by it from an over priced coffee. I am not surprised this campaign failed.

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  15. Joe Wathen April 21, 2015 / 3:57 pm

    I agree with Andrew right message wrong place. I believe that this was more of a publicity stunt to get more people to buy Starbucks. But honestly, it wasn’t a big waste of time, it showed that they were willing to go outside their comfort zone and try something new.

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  16. Sasha Letourneau April 21, 2015 / 5:30 pm

    I think it is risky for the company to be pulling in these issues in to their company. I agree with Joe and Andrew. It is a good message, its just not the right place for it. People that love the brand could not agree with the message the company is putting out there and then decide they don’t like the company and the company could lose business. But yet again it does show that the company cares about problems going on in the outside world and that they are trying to make a difference.

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  17. Yuxuan Wang April 24, 2015 / 2:01 am

    Obviously, it is not a good idea from the result. But we know, for some global brands such as Starbucks, maybe the high quality products and service are not all of they want to provide. Maybe they want to focus on social responsibility more, but they do not get a good result. Or we can say there is something wrong with the idea’s implantation process. All in all, I think what the Starbucks did is a nice try, because progress always goes with try. Perhaps we can solve this problem in one day, and I think Starbucks are contributed. So, people should support this kind of project.

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  18. Briana Lynch April 25, 2015 / 3:33 am

    While I can imagine customers would feel uncomfortable and caught off guard when their barista strikes up a conversation about race, I imagine it must be even more awkward for the employees. Just imagine being some 17 year old part-time employee and being told you have to make an effort to talk to customers about a political issue. From my experience in customer service, I know that simply making small talk can sometimes be difficult and awkward on either end, customer and employee. While I understand Starbucks believes this would make them seem progressive while also creating a stronger relationship with their customers, the whole idea is disingenuous. I am willing to bet the majority of both employees and customers are not interested in talking about controversial issues in Starbucks. The employees simply want to do their jobs while customers want to drink their coffee. Starbucks ought to stick to what they do best.

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  19. Kendra Van Pelt April 27, 2015 / 1:55 pm

    I understand what the CEO was trying to accomplish, but unfortunately, I think he was trying to create an atmosphere that is just not achievable in most Starbucks now a days. In a small, local coffee shop, where customers come to realize and unwind, and the store is overall a little less commercialized, I think conversations like race could be successful. However, many Starbucks have become rushed and crowded. Baristas are commonly visibly stressed and obviously rushed. It is no the time or place to have a conversation. However, I appreciate the sticker idea, and I think that is something Starbucks could run with. If the CEO tries again to strike up conversation, maybe he should focus less on the in store conversation, and more on the outside world. Starbucks could this idea again, but instead focus completely on stickers. Every once in a while, Starbucks nation wide could stick a sticker onto everyone’s coffees regarding some issue, some debate. Include a hashtag and then continue the conversation outside of the shop. In this way, Starbucks is still sparking conversation, it’s just not within the rushed store. I personally really respect Schultz for trying to force what may often be consider awkward, uncomfortable and impolite conversation. For these problems to be moved forward, people need to be willing to talk about them. Starbucks has the resources and the power to get the message out, and I respect Schultz for risking (although obviously not harming the company) Starbucks image in order to spread awareness and spark conversation.

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  20. Keelyn Crowe April 27, 2015 / 8:23 pm

    I agree with you Catherine I think the company had a good idea but it just didn’t work out like it should of. I get the CEO wanting to deal with current issues by having the customers ask questions about current issues or by putting it on the side of cups but in the end it only brings more problems than solutions. I think rather than Starbucks talk about things like race talk about happy things and writing inspirational things that everyone can relate to. Bringing up things like race and having a specific opinion could turn off regular loyal customers and make them go somewhere else. In the end I think it does more bad than good,

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  21. Ryan Etter April 27, 2015 / 9:10 pm

    I think that this was a publicity stunt that went awry. They got the message out there just not in the right fashion. This move by the CEO made more bad vibes than good, although bad publicity is still publicity they say.

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  22. Billy Muldoon April 27, 2015 / 9:17 pm

    I personally feel as though this is not a good idea for Starbucks. I agree with others when they say that the only thing I want to be doing when we go to Starbucks is to walk in, get my coffee, and get out. I personally would not prefer to stay and voice my opinion on such a touchy subject in our society. I respect the company for trying to make a statement in the racism movement, and that they were willing to go out of their comfort zone to make a change.

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  23. Meghan Saldutti April 28, 2015 / 12:58 am

    Coffee shops should be solely for the purpose of drinking coffee not to have customers and baristas talk about racial issues that are going on in our country. It is a good think this campaign did not last long at Starbucks because I feel as if it would have backfired even more and sent the wrong message to customers thus possibly causing a drop in sales.

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  24. Andrew Arcidi April 28, 2015 / 1:00 am

    I think Starbucks should stick to serving coffee rather than getting itself involved in this mess. I don’t think consumers are walking into Starbucks to have a debate on racial issues with the workers. It may have been started with good intentions, but I think it is best dropped.

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  25. Patrick Barrett April 28, 2015 / 1:05 am

    I would have to agree in that the campaign goes a little to far. Sure all companies have the right to market the way that they feel fit. Yet for people who come in to Starbucks to just get coffee? If this was a small and local coffee shop who ran this I think it could possibly be somewhat successful yet to make it a nation wide campaign at a chain type of spot makes it hard. I think to do it on a large scale like a Starbucks the idea would work. The focus on racial canversations wouldn’t be the best place to start though and they would need to stick to more cookie cutter topics.

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  26. Patrick Breslin April 28, 2015 / 5:44 am

    I like the idea that employees are expected to keep up with controversial issues, although I don’t believe they should conversate with customers about issues so controversial, such as racism. A coffee shop is known for being a place that you can read the newspaper and talk about world issues ever since decades ago. I feel that some controversial issues such as racism shouldn’t be discussed between customers and employees because disagreements on these issues can greatly hurt reputation as well as sales. Less controversial issues could build great customer /Employee relations.

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  27. mcdonaldb2013 April 28, 2015 / 1:48 pm

    I get that this may not have been the best way of going about opening up race conversations but you cant blame a company for tryingg. Everything is so cliche these days and I appreciate the bold move by Starbucks to get the conversation going, I just don’t know if it was done in the right manner. I do think though going through a coffee company to start hard discussions isnt a bad idea. Getting coffee used to be a social thing where you sat down and talked to people, now its just something you grab and go without even looking at the person next to you in line. Maybe slowing down and talking about these issues in a casual setting is just what we need.

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  28. Jimmy Clark April 28, 2015 / 11:15 pm

    Going into Starbucks to participate in a race conversation is not something that most people would expect or actually like to say the least. Race conversations are just way too controversial and it could cause some of their customers to become offended. Coffee shops are seen to be a relaxing and peaceful environment, and going with this move is not only take that away, but it’s also gonna make people become more hostile. Using less controversial issues could be a good pitch as far as sales opportunity, but I would try sticking to something that doesn’t put their company in danger.

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  29. Ryan Zdanwich April 29, 2015 / 1:37 am

    I think that Starbucks definitely has a really interesting approach on promoting their business, but to me it only serves as a bold marketing stunt to gain awareness and publicity. They have the right idea involving people into issues that relate to the present day, however that may even stir up anger considering it is a strong subject to certain people.

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  30. John Parrish April 29, 2015 / 6:10 pm

    It seems that Starbucks had the right idea in mind that they wanna dissolve race issues, but with the poor execution made it come off somewhat negative. I don’t usually go to Starbucks, but when I go to get coffee I’m usually in and out. I know Starbucks wants to be that coffee lounge where people hangout during their free time, but it seem that they are just another big coffee chain where people go to get their fix and get back to work. The topic is fairly controversial especially now, so I think this was a case of poor marketing.

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  31. Eva Trinidad May 8, 2015 / 2:23 am

    I also think that Starbucks should only focus on making and selling their products only. Advertising this type of topic will only get the customers mad; Starbucks needs to take into account that not everyone has the same opinion about different issues in the world and advertising one specifically could just bring problems to the company. Starbucks should maintain their focus on their business mission and not go out of it.

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  32. Alicia April 7, 2016 / 8:11 pm

    Racism is a sensitive subject, no matter where somebody is. I understand Starbucks as a place for people to grab a coffee, or breakfast before work and as a place for people to relax while catching up on “me time”. I also understand the Starbuck’s CEO wanting to help make a difference in the world. Something as small as writing something on a cup of coffee or putting sticker on it, does not seem like a big deal. However, actually trying to start up a conversation with a customer on a topic like racism might not be the best way to initiate making a change. You never know how that person thinks of racism and if something ever happened in a store location because of it, it turn into a much bigger issue.

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