More than 20 years ago, 79-year-old Stella Liebeck ordered coffee at a McDonald’s drive-through in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She spilled the coffee, was badly burned, and one year later, sued McDonald’s. The jury awarded her $2.9 million but she eventually settled for about $500,000. Her story became a media sensation and fodder for talk-show hosts, late-night comedians, sitcom writers, and political pundits. The New York Times has a short piece and a video on how serving hot coffee has changed since then:
The point is, the world now caters to the coffee drinker. The idea of getting into a car without cup holders and lifting the lid off the cup in order to add milk and sugar and drink the coffee, as the facts of the case show Ms. Liebeck did that morning, seems strangely anachronistic.
Within the ensuing years, some genius invented a sculptured lid with a little sipping hole in the top, eliminating the need to open the cup and reducing the potential for spills. Sloshing grew less likely once the lip was raised above the cup rim.
Let’s not forget the evolution of the cup holder. Teams of car engineers continuously work to perfect their design for drivers in the front and those passengers two rows back.
In which you also learn about the zarf, that cupboard thingie that goes around the cup of coffee.
Beginning August 2013, the WiFi connectivity at your local American Starbucks is likely to become much faster. Google has just announced a major partnership with the coffee chain in this blog post:
Coffee shop + Internet—it’s a pairing that many of us have come to rely on. WiFi access makes work time, downtime, travel time and lots of in-between times more enjoyable and productive. That’s why we’re teaming up with Starbucks to bring faster, free WiFi connections to all 7,000 company-operated Starbucks stores in the United States over the next 18 months. When your local Starbucks WiFi network goes Google, you’ll be able to surf the web at speeds up to 10x faster than before. If you’re in a Google Fiber city, we’re hoping to get you a connection that’s up to 100x faster.
Google has long invested in helping the Internet grow stronger, including projects to make Internet access speedier, more affordable, and more widely available. The free Internet connection at Starbucks has become an important part of many communities over the years, such as in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, or for students without Internet at home who do their homework at Starbucks.
The ambitious project is going to unroll in every Starbucks in the United States! I guess I am going to have to switch over from Caribou to Starbucks as my preferred coffee shop… (Grudgingly so, I might add).
Here’s a thought: I’ve read multiple times that Starbucks has had problems with people mooching their WiFi for hours (sometimes not even buying a product while inside the store). Will this problem become exacerbated with the faster WiFi roll-out? My guess is yes.
This New York Times piece illuminates the struggles of Starbucks in Europe, particularly in France:
After eight years spent setting up 63 French Starbucks stores, the company has never turned a profit in France. And even in the parts of Europe where the company does make money, sales and profit growth lag far behind results in the Americas and Asia.
The reason Starbucks is struggling in Europe:
While a New Yorker might grab a coffee to go — carry-out orders are one of the company’s biggest money makers — French friends tend to sit when they sip. So Starbucks is having to invest huge amounts to give its stores in France additional seating space, along with other renovations.
On innovations Starbucks is undertaking in other European countries:
In London, an experiment is under way to take customers’ names with their orders and then address them by name when filling it. Participating patrons get a free coffee, but many others have lit up Twitter with complaints about bogus, American-style chumminess.
Other changes in the way baristas operate — they now keep milk within arms’ reach of the steamer, for instance — are meant to overcome the Continental curse of slow service.
The most visible innovations, though, involve “concept” stores designed to make a Starbucks feel more like a trendy neighborhood shop. Last month in Amsterdam, the company’s chief executive, Howard Schultz, cut the ribbon on a striking space with local woods and avant-garde architecture, including a stage for poetry readings.
My advice? If you go to Europe, head to the local coffee shops. Why pay for something that you can experience in the United States?