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Starbucks Now Serves Alcohol, But Students Still See a Coffee Shop

Starbucks Logo

“Artichoke and goat cheese flatbread,” announces a barista as I grab my plate and make my way over to a spot near the bar, making sure I don’t bump into the businesswomen walking two glasses of sparking rosé to a newly vacant table. As soon as I sit, I notice a student ordering the same food item as me with a glass of prosecco. I wonder if that is a good combination, but my thoughts are quickly interrupted when a barista announces, “Chicken skewers,” and hands over plates to two girls wearing DePaul sweatshirts.

Looks like students might consider Starbucks their new favorite go-to place now that 11 across the U.S. have added adult beverages and an expanded hot food selection to the menu, including the Chicago location I patronized.

Since most customers pick up their cup of Joe in the morning, Starbucks decided to start serving alcoholic beverages and food at the shops later in the day to draw in customers who are looking for an afternoon pick-me-up or to unwind after a full day in the office.

Savory snacks along with beer and wine have received the nod of approval at specific Chicagoland locations: the Starbucks at Burr Ridge Village Center was the first to add “Starbucks Evenings” to its menu. Then a Schaumburg location at Streets of Woodfield, and most recently two city locations: one on Diversey Parkway and Sheffield Avenue, the other at 200 S. Michigan Avenue.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Starbucks said their locations in the Pacific Northwest that have been selling adult beverages and food have experienced great success.  Specifically, Nation’s Restaurant News reported in December that Starbucks stores that have been testing the new menu have shown a substantial increase in sales after 4 p.m.

Due to the increase in sales while testing the menu, future “Starbucks Evenings” locations will no longer need to test the menu.

“As a gold card member I’m in there a lot,” said Meghan Taylor, 21, a public relations and marketing major at Loyola. “I think the idea to add alcohol is a smart idea from a marketing and sales stand point because they are trying to get customers later in the night, and by offering wines and small appetizer dishes they can attract more book clubs, businesses for meetings and friends who want a decent glass of wine at a local place without a high price tag of local bars filled with loud customers.”

Even though these additions have a restaurant-like status, Starbucks will still provide a coffee shop-like experience and will not offer complete restaurant service, such as reservations and table service.

Menu items are specific to the location. The Portland, California and Chicago menus are each different from one another.

Some of the food items on the Chicago menu include crudités and smoky chipotle hummus dip, appetizers of bacon-wrapped dates with balsamic glaze and small plates of truffle macaroni and cheese. Besides the coffee-related products, drinks include sparking, white and red wines, and a barista-specific beer selection. According to the menu, all items can be enjoyed after 4 p.m. but the food can be ordered as early as 2 p.m. at specific locations.

By the end of this year, three more Starbucks in the Chicago area will serve alcohol and food, though the exact locations have yet to be released.

“I don’t think I would like Loyola’s Starbucks to serve wine, but I think the one on Michigan Avenue is perfect for it, “ Taylor said. “It all depends on their ideal neighborhood customer and really knowing who they are and what they want.”

Plenty of Loyola students spend countless hours at Starbucks locations near the Lake Shore and Water Tower campuses. Some go to the coffee giant for a warm drink and a good read, for the peaceful atmosphere and access to a wake-up call while hitting the books, and for the ability to have a good conversation with friends over nonalcoholic beverages.

Not all students are worried the menu expansion will change their Starbucks experience.

“I just like their coffee. As long as they aren’t replacing their usual orders I’ll still buy from them,” said Olivia Tarleton, 19, an international studies major at Loyola. “I don’t really go there now though because of their price.”

“If I wanted to go out for a drink, I probably wouldn’t want to go to Starbucks, “ said Holly West, 19, a communication studies major at Loyola. “I realize that they are selling antipasto and wine and they aren’t trying to turn into a ‘bar’ atmosphere per-se, but Starbucks is for coffee…in general.

“I’m no longer underage but to be honest, the biggest draw for me is the unique atmosphere and my love of coffee and pastries,” said Kristin Hoffman, 21, a physics major at Loyola. I would never go to Starbucks with friends for dinner and drinks…it’s a coffee shop.”

The coffee shop doesn’t see a reason for a change in views about Starbucks either.

“We will still be your neighborhood gathering place with an inviting atmosphere for people of all ages,” the Starbucks Evenings site says. “After 4 p.m., you’ll experience a more mellow, less hurried atmosphere perfect for winding down and having casual conversations.”

Of the 20 Loyola students who replied to my Facebook poll that asked what they thought about the Starbucks Evenings menu, 10 said they loved it, seven thought it was a good idea, and three said they didn’t care for it.

Starbucks did not return multiple phone calls I made requesting comment on the menu changes. An employee at the Sheffield and Diversey location declined to speak about implementation of the new menu.

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The Hub Bub is a collection of articles, videos, audio, photo slideshows, interactive maps and other media produced by students enrolled in journalism courses at Loyola University Chicago's School of Communication. For more about the School of Communication, our award winning faculty, and our state of the art facilities located in the heart of Chicago, visit our website.