Starbucks Wants to Get You Drunk

A blog about business and economics.
March 20 2014 1:44 PM

Starbucks Wants to Get You Drunk

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Meet Jimmy, your new bartender.

Photo by Stuart Wilson/Getty Images

So pretty soon you’re going to be able to get tipsy at Starbucks, no flask necessary. The coffee chain announced that it will begin serving beer and wine along with upscale bites like bacon-wrapped dates during the evening at thousands of locations, according to Bloomberg. The chain currently sells booze at 40 stores. It expects the rollout to take several years.

“We’ve tested it long enough in enough markets—this is a program that works,” Chief Operating Officer Troy Alstead told the wire service.* “As we bring the evening program to stores, there’s a meaningful increase in sales during that time of the day.”

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For a while now, Starbucks has been moving away from its identity as coffee purveyor toward becoming an all-purpose stop for stuff upper-middle-class people like. Think white-collar McDonald’s. They’ve branched out into tea (now with an Oprah-endorsed chai blend), bought a bakery for $100 million, and of course sell sandwiches, among other snacks.

In the end, though, this move seems to be mostly about luring customers at night. In 2010, when Starbucks first began experimenting with alcohol sales at a Seattle location, USA Today reported that the company’s coffee shops made more than 70 percent of their sales before 2 p.m. Even if a store closes around 5, that’s lots and lots of dead time for real estate. Starbucks makes its money selling one addictive beverage. If it’s going to fill those hours, it might as well branch out to another.

*Correction, March 20, 2014: This post originally misspelled the last name of Starbucks COO Troy Alstead.

Jordan Weissmann is Slate's senior business and economics correspondent.

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