Stories Post 2: The Café

Coffeeshops tend towards the monochromatic. One is immediately aware that he is in a coffeeshop, a café–a Starbucks, because the atmosphere in all of these places explicitly broadcasts its identity. Assemble a mass of grey-brown hues accompanied by a garishly indie soundtrack, dim lighting, and furniture composed either of wood or metal and voilà, welcome to Starbucks. 

There are people paid to decorate the stores. Supposing there isn’t already an available stock of paint in the aforementioned hues, furniture composed of the aforementioned materials and of music with which to occupy the space; it is difficult to imagine what the hired ‘designers’ do. Though, there is the question of art and its adorning the walls, of draperies and window coverings, and of specificity. While all the Starbucks are characteristically monochromatic, which particular shades of grey or brown or beige to paint the walls and in which to upholster the furniture are questions left to be answered by the hired ‘designers.’

There are people paid to select the music. Supposing there isn’t already an available playlist of indie-alternative or jazz, it is difficult to image what the hired dh’s do. Do the people come to Starbucks to listen to the music? Do they come to sit back in a wooden chair? A metal one? Do they even come to drink coffee? Perhaps they’ve come only because the place is familiar . . .

Monochrome is soft. Starbucks stores are meant to seem soft, they are meant to be welcoming, comforting. The aesthetic is not one of high-fashion haute couture, it is of homeliness and warmth. It is tactile, but it is not real. It is ‘designed’. It is formula. The sameness that spans from store to store does betray the company’s having strayed from its roots. There is a sense that things are “traditional,” that there is a degree of craft that goes into a visitor’s experience. The craft is lost through the food display cases, though the push-operated espresso machines. People watch, people look, they see the packaged food, they see the push-operated machines, they recognize that all the stores look the same–to some degree, though they keep coming.

Recognizability has surpassed the element of craft. It has surpassed the desire for a unique atmosphere–at least,pertaining to where one goes to get his morning coffee. This is neither good nor bad, it is just the way things are.


One thought on “Stories Post 2: The Café

  1. Hi Nathaniel.
    I thought this was an interesting take on the “social discomfort” idea. I was wondering where you were going to go with Starbucks, but the direction you took definitely makes sense. I can see how Starbucks generally tries to come off as a warm, inviting place that is simultaneously hip and suave. Like, it is trying to create a cool, comfortable atmosphere for people who are coming in for an escape via coffee, or for catching up with a friend, or even for conducting business. Its design appears to try to span all of those venues. However, it is strikingly commercial. Especially, as you point out, with its sameness across locations. We think we’re coming for that genuine, friendly-neighbor experience, but “the craft is lost” through the various operationalized aspects. So it brings to mind the question of what we’re really going to Starbucks for, right? Nice work! Your post definitely makes you think!


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