In the interest of full disclosure:
- I do “like” Starbucks coffee, and
- I own Starbucks stock.
After a recent trip to the Czech Republic and Germany, I was finally able to see and review how the Starbucks brand is performing in other countries and compare it with my US experience. While I have experienced the brand all across the US through my travels, I had previously largely skipped the Starbucks experience while in Europe – for good reason, as most EU countries have great coffee shops.
Ask anyone who knows me, and they will tell you that I am a diehard espresso drinker. I appreciate coffee without the fluff (or milk), so for me, a coffee establishment must have good-tasting coffee that stands on its own. I “enjoy” Starbucks espresso, but to me, it isn’t the best. However, it is always “consistent.”
Now that I’ve seen the Starbucks brand “in action” in several states and countries, I feel like I’m finally ready to give it a fair review.
When in Prague, CZ for a week, we visited several cafés and coffee shops, where we turned up our noses at Starbucks because Europe has great coffee… right?! After our fourth “espresso” at a fourth café, where apparently ordering an espresso means pulling a full cup of coffee through an espresso machine (flavor optional), we had to stop. So, the next morning after breakfast, we hoofed it down to the closest Starbucks for a “real espresso.” The Starbucks closest to our hotel was at the Palladium Shopping Mall. Down into the basement level we go, and there is the Starbucks, prominently located between the forked shopping path. We go to the counter and order two double espressos; around 5 dollars later, we have two perfectly poured doubles. Not to mention, we received them in real pre-warmed ceramic cups. Two minutes later, we are perfectly caffeinated and ready to start the day.
There were a few other well-placed Starbucks in Prague that we experienced on our trip, and one other in München (Munich, DE).
- Locations all “felt” like a U.S. Starbucks, including: Presentation of menu board, color schemes, seating, signage, staff uniforms, friendliness of staff, line flow, etc.
- In the U.S., I’ve never been asked if I plan on staying to drink my coffee – AKA we will give you a real cup, not a paper cup that we will be adding to the landfill – but the sit down option is standard in Europe. I wish I could get a ceramic cup everywhere; it takes me 30 seconds to consume an espresso, which is an incredibly short usage span for a cup.
- All of the Czech and German Starbucks were highlighting their Ethiopian coffee – the espresso was good none the less.
- While I’ve seen some Starbucks in the U.S. in which people sit around and drink their coffee, in Prague the cafés were hubs for meetings and long conversations— finding an open seat was rare.
- Hands down, I’m betting the staffers at EU Starbucks speak a minimum of three languages – I know the team at the Palladium could speak English, Spanish, German and Czech with complete confidence. I even ordered in Italian, and they rolled with that as well, thanking me in Italian.
Other Notable Characteristics:
- No Drive-thru – all traffic was pedestrian only
- Bathroom access – All of the Euro Starbucks were in high-traffic areas, and probably have had loads of people “stopping by” to use the facilities. To fix that, they simply put codes on the outer bathroom door, and sometimes on the stalls, as well. If you have the four digit code, you are free to use the bathroom. I don’t even have to ask the barista for the bathroom code – it is automatically printed on the receipt. Problem solved.
- Apple PIE – No kidding, the apple pie in the Prague Starbucks would make any apple pie-lover salivate. It had an inch or two of almost pure apples – not apples and a load of glycemic explosion syrup – just layers of apples.
All in all – I’d say I like the Euro Starbucks better!
Ultimately, Starbucks understands the value and importance of their branding, and they guard it closely, no matter where in the world you may happen upon one of their stores. As a world traveler, I can count on their consistency no matter where I go, and like McDonald’s, you know what to expect from their interior layout and design. This company continues to innovate and improve on their delivery and products without deviating from who they are. Starbucks does brand consistency RIGHT!