Think your local independent coffee shop will treat you better than the corporate coffee overlords at Starbucks? Think again.
According to a study of Boston coffee shops conducted by anthropologists at the West Virginia University, Starbucks offered a better social environment than competing independent coffee shops in the area and came out on top in other categories as well.
(MORE: Starbucks: A Model of Success)
The researchers, hoping to compare the sociability of chain and non-chain coffee establishments, conducted their investigation by visiting three different Starbucks locations and three independent coffee houses and documenting each store’s performance in five different categories: patrons’ and employees’ levels of sociability, seating characteristics, whether customers were there for work or relaxation, amenities, and atmosphere.
The anthropologists found that Starbucks baristas were significantly more social and friendly to customers than their indie counterparts. According to the study:
An unexpected trend emerged: baristas and staff at independent cafés were not as friendly as those at Starbucks. For example, during two of the observations at the Central Square Starbucks, baristas greeted patrons by name. They also knew regulars’ orders and chatted about current events and shared experiences while preparing food and beverages. Observations also detail how baristas treated customers who were undecided about what to order. The Starbucks baristas would help customers by explaining the many options available and even offering suggestions.
The same could not be said about the independent shops. One store ordered customers to leave after 30 minutes, and even posted signs alerting patrons to a half-hour “loitering limit.” Additionally, baristas at non-chain locations were not quite as understanding as Starbucks’ employees. “In contrast, the baristas at the independently-owned coffee houses were more aloof and would just wait or sometimes stare at a customer, offering minimal assistance,” observed the researchers.
Starbucks also came out on top or tied in most of the study’s other categories, but fans of mom and pop shops can take heart in the fact that independent stores easily won the atmosphere category, with researchers noting how “independent coffee houses offered local flavor that Starbucks does not.”
And even though the researchers were apparently surprised by the results, it’s unlikely the general population will be similarly shocked. Encountering a holier-than-thou coffee connoisseur at your local coffee stop is almost part of its indie charm. At the end of the day, it’s the coffee that matters, but it’s interesting that Starbucks has changed its image from hip place to grab a cub to a welcome respite from coffee elitism.