Starbucks is an all-American institution, fueling the work lives of millions of Americans with triple shots of espresso, and helping unemployed Americans get work, through their recent "Create Jobs for USA" campaign. But Starbucks has decided to take its next cue from across the Atlantic. The world's largest coffee chain will be selling beer and wine at as many as 25 of its U.S. locations by the end of the year, reports The Washington Post.
Many of Starbucks' often underage baristas are about to become bartenders of sorts. The alcohol experiment has already begun at six West Coast outlets. In California, kids aged 18 to 21 are allowed to serve alcoholic beverages, as long as it's an "incidental part of their overall duties." But states differ widely on this point. In Utah, for example, it's illegal to sell, transport, or even handle alcohol if you're under 21.
Many U.S. chains peddle alcohol at their European outlets; you can buy beer with your Big Macs at McDonald's in Germany, and wine with your french fries in France. But few coffee or fast-food chains sell beer and wine on American soil, although White Castle started testing wine and beer at an outlet in Lafayette, Ind., in December.
This isn't the first time Starbucks has embraced European culture, although it's always added its own American twist. Its 10,700 U.S. cafes sell scones, a British delicacy, but makes them the size of your head. And they borrow Italian words, like "Venti," but use them to describe coffee-sugar concoctions the size of your forearm.
But Starbucks' success is also based on the principle of coffee-to-go, a practice that many European capitals have adopted only recently. The idea that coffee is a speedy pick-me-up is anathema to many of these city's long and rich cafe cultures.
By selling wine and beer, Starbucks is asking its customers to hang around for a while, especially during the coffee chain's slow periods -- those evening hours when most people aren't injecting their veins with 500 milligrams of caffeine.
Of course, there's always the risk that Starbucks will alienate some of their customers with the new policy, especially families with young children. It also risks alienating neighborhood drinking holes. Over the last few years, Starbucks has made few friends in the independent coffee shop community. When a Starbucks landed on their block, cafes braced for annihilation. With Starbucks' latest announcement, it seems that even local bars aren't safe. Well, they probably are, as long as Starbucks doesn't start serving whiskey shots sometime soon.
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