Seattle-based coffee giant Starbucks has just opened its first ever European drive-through coffee shop, as it looks to find some way of resurrecting its flagging fortunes – and it’s chosen Cardiff to pilot the new format. According to its wonderfully-named UK store development director Henry Trickey, the vibrant waterfront area of the Welsh capital (albeit in the middle of a retail park) is the perfect place to test the concept – much to the delight of frappucino fans in the vicinity.
However, it’s presumably hoping that Cardiff is just the beginning. Drive-throughs are big news in the US, where Starbucks has over 2000 outlets – and it clearly thinks that we Europeans are ready to abandon our café culture (insofar as we have one on this side of the Channel) and start taking our vanilla lattes on the run. And they’re planning to use an identical model – eight ‘partners’ from the Cardiff store have already been over to the US to see how things are done there.
Keen though we always are to champion innovation in customer service, we spot a few potential issues here. For one thing, it’s not very easy drinking a cinnamon mocha when you’re belting along the motorway at 70mph. OK, so you might have a drinks holder – but there are still bound to be some painful lap spillages. Road safety campaigners won’t be too pleased.
Furthermore, what's the point in CEO Howard Schultz spending millions trying to make Starbucks a more pleasant environment - re-installing proper coffee machines, signing up Joni Mitchell, introducing Wi-fi etc - when at the same time he's encouraging us not to even bother going into the stores? We can understand why people might not want to eat in fast food joints, but isn't the coffee shop environment meant to be part of the experience?
And finally, we can’t help wondering if Starbucks may have got the timing slightly awry. After all, we all know that the cost of commodities like dairy and coffee beans have been soaring in recent months. And we also know that the cost of petrol has been going through the roof since the start of the year. So isn’t a drive-through coffee chain just a combination of two of our most expensive hobbies? Bit optimistic in the midst of a consumer spending slowdown...