Starbucks — the Seattle concern that started with one location just roasting coffee beans and not selling coffee per se — took the idea of socializing over coffee to a whole new level.
Today the firm’s name fits in nicely given Herman Melville’s novel Moby Dick featuring a chief mate character dubbed Starbuck inspired the company’s name. There are now almost 30,000 Starbucks locations globally with 291,000 employees, and $24.7 billion in annual sales.
That growth has as much to do with how Starbucks was able to take coffee as a social drink to the point many spend more per cup to drink than those that share drinks at a bar as it does the specialty coffee.
The perfect blend of coffee and socializing can be found in many Starbucks locations where they want patrons to linger whether it is to socialize or catch up solo on studies/work or reading in the “social” presence of others in a cozy, trendy and fairly intimate cafe style setting.
That is why it might be wise to take a cue from Starbucks given the world changed on Thursday when the plugs were being pulled nonstop on large gatherings as well as efforts that were announced to limit social interaction in a bid to try to make sure the latest scourge of civilization dubbed COVID-19 that most of us reference as the more Jurassic Park sounding “coronavirus” name hits the nation more like a gentle wave instead of a full-blown tsunami.
The firm sent its loyal customers an advisory via social media letting them know of how they were preparing to deal with issues as the pandemic unfolds.
Since it serves no purpose to their bottom line to scare the hell out of customers, Starbucks opted not to use wording akin to a double shot of espresso but rather one that conjures up the image of curling up with a cup of warm milk before nodding off to dreamland.
Starbucks told of its plans to enhance operations to improve “social distancing”.
If someone uttered those two words together in that fashion to you just a week or so ago you’d looked at them as if they were talking in tongues while strung out burning incense.
Of course it is a reference to the act of increasing your distance between others to reduce the chances of spreading the coronavirus or any other virus for that matter. The more direct and clinical way to say it is stay six feet away from other people.
That, of course, is if the health officials you are taking advice from are in Sacramento and not Albany. Enhanced social distancing in New York City these days is a meter that is not nearly as far apart as six feet.
Starbucks wants to comply with the rules of the new reality. Patrons are being told — depending upon local health situations — some stores may discourage walk-in traffic by having you place orders via their app and then you picking up your coffee, paying through the nose by using Uber Eats to deliver your java, or going with a drive-thru only scenario. There was a vague inference to altering “social distancing” inside stores in general but to get six foot spacing between chairs or seats at most Starbucks designed to have you linger or people watch would work as well as a Donald Trump-Bernie Sanders presidential ticket. You have two competing dynamics that simply don’t mix.
But that is the new reality as least through March 31 and more than likely until April 15 or longer.
There is more than one tightrope that firms like Starbucks are walking.
First, and most important, is making sure their workers and customers steer clear of the coronavirus if that is at all possible.
Making money is why Starbucks is in business. But in the bigger picture the management of most firms trying to navigate a Rubik’s Cube inspired maze of doing business in a world where supply chains, health issues and simply interacting with people are being thrown multiple new curve balls almost on an hourly basis understand the impacts of employees not working.
It simply isn't those struggling on minimum wage or close to it or most of us that are a paycheck or two away from financial disaster. It’s the understanding the wheels come off of everything including Starbucks if people stop spending money or slow down to such a degree that the domino effect just doesn’t take out workers but entire companies.
Henry Ford — a capitalist if there ever was one — ultimately knew his shot at greater wealth required paying assembly line workers a decent enough wage that they could afford to buy the Model T cars they were putting together.
Keeping the doors open in any fashion they can does help companies that may not have huge cash reserves but it also helps buoy consumer spending.
In what now may start looking like the good old days, the Great Recession triggered by the housing collapse fueled by liar loans was made worse by those who had no realistic prospect of losing their job and had the means to not cut back on their consumer spending pulled back out of fear. In doing so it sent firms teetering toward the abyss and pushed many households into a downward spiral as employment dried up.
Starbucks also this week showed that when push comes to shove politically correct agendas take a back seat to common sense.
Starbucks for the time being has stopped allowing the use of personal cups and “use here” cups. That has prompted a backlash of sorts in the Internet echo chamber from hardcore environmental zealots but it is hardly registering — to paraphrase the late Ann Landers — as most of us have wakened up and smelled the coffee.
Whether what is now taking place is an overreaction, a measured approach, or woefully inadequate only time will tell.
Getting sick and death are inevitable but that doesn’t mean you throw caution to the wind.
One hopes this experience that is based partially perhaps on wanting to reduce our exposure but more so for those who are more vulnerable among us will sober us all up to be a bit more reasonable in our actions.
Our control over the spread of the current pandemic for the time being may be limited but other maladies that cause large scale death and suffering such as texting while driving isn’t.
Life is precious even if it isn’t our own.
If we are willing to act out of an abundance of caution and concern to reduce potential body count from coronavirus that the odds are will likely be people we don’t know, we might just find it in ourselves to extend the same approach toward behavior that we already knows kills in much greater numbers on a weekly basis than the coronavirus has so far worldwide.