Don’t serve alcohol at Starbucks


The Washington Post

Recently Starbucks announced it would expand its offerings and start selling alcoholic drinks in the evening in thousands of its stores. The move was touted by chief executive Howard Schultz as a strategy for the company to grow profits by increasing the average sale per customer.

Schultz’s shareholders, no doubt, exchanged a mental fist-bump. But the celebration may be short-lived once they realize that they are in danger of turning away a key coffee-consuming segment: more than 23 million Americans living in recovery from substance-use disorders.

Starbucks spokeswoman Lisa Passe called it “a natural progression for Starbucks as we seek to create a new occasion for customers to gather, relax and connect with each other in the evenings.” What Passe did not mention was why a lot of customers already gather, relax and connect at Starbucks — helping to make it the largest coffee chain in the world.

Every day, people in recovery meet up in Starbucks cafes to support one another, to talk to their 12-step sponsors and, most of all, to be welcomed in one of the few lively, popular, alcohol-free gathering places in their community.

Starbucks should pay special attention to them.

One of the most useful concepts in business is the Pareto principle, or what is commonly known as the 80/20 rule. This widely adopted marketing principle — that 20 percent of input causes 80 percent of the result — suggests that 80 percent of all coffee consumed at Starbucks is derived from just 20 percent of their consumer base.

And who might be part of that base? The October 2008 issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research found that 88.5 percent of those studied who were in recovery from alcoholism drank coffee. Thirty-three percent of those coffee drinkers drank more than four cups a day.

That means millions of recovering people drink coffee, and a third of them drink a lot of it.

If you closed your eyes and pictured a 12-step meeting room, you’d probably picture a coffee urn and plastic foam cups stacked next to it. And you’d be right. After a typical meeting, you’d see groups of people leaving together to head for the local Starbucks.

In the short run, Schultz may be adding a new set of customers who bring in a $20-plus sale once a week. But if the evening culture of the cafes turns into a hybrid bar scene, Starbucks will be at serious risk of forcing out a devoted set of high-volume existing customers. Many of them may already spend more than $20 a day on alcohol-free beverages.

If Starbucks executives studied this market demographic, perhaps they would think twice about this move. They don’t have to be driven by the spirit of supporting people’s journey of recovery from addiction.

They could do it just for their shareholders.

Greg Williams has been in recovery from alcohol and drug use for more than 12 years. He wrote and produced the documentary “The Anonymous People,” about long-term recovery.

The Washington Post

Read more Other Views stories from the Miami Herald

  • In My Opinion

    Pitts: Don’t look for the ‘perfect’ victim

    You’ve probably never heard of Claudette Colvin. And yet, had history twisted in a slightly different direction, she might loom as large in American memory as Rosa Parks does now while Parks herself would be a little-remembered seamstress.



    Read to children, change a life

    After reading to my students, we’d walk around the library and I’d tell them: ‘Look at all of these books; soon you’ll be able to read every single one. And if you can read every book here, you can learn anything you ever want to learn. And that’s what we are going to do together,’” said Alvin Blake, the former vice mayor for the City of North Bay Village.



    We must do more to make our correctional facilities safer

    The death of Darren Rainey has heightened our awareness that we must do more to make our facilities safer. That’s why last week we announced system-wide reforms that focus on the mental-health needs of the inmates in our facilities, operating in a more transparent manner, increasing accountability and partnering with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to streamline investigations.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category