It’s official. Starting this week, you can live out your entire day inside three Starbucks locations in the DFW area. In what used to be a place to grab a hyper-roasted coffee and bagel in the morning, and a quick pit stop for an afternoon jolt, Starbucks is now offering booze and a fatty menu to help you wind down before you turn in at the end of the day. Welcome to Starbucks Evenings: cabernet and bread crumb-crusted mac and cheese anyone?
The new menu isn’t exactly new. Starbucks has been testing the concept in its Seattle stores since 2010 and slowly rolling it out to other locations. GuideLive reports Southlake, McKinney, Carrollton, Flower Mound, Lewisville, Coppell, Mansfield, Highland Park, Murphy, Plano and Irving have applied for alcohol permits, indicating they will likely participate in the Evenings movement soon. Currently, The Shops at Park Lane; Lemmon and Inwood; and a Fort Worth location stand at the ready to get you sauced.
Diversifying menu options is counter to trends in a fast-casual industry that’s seeing widespread changes in customer's tastes and preferences. Right now the chains seeing the most success offer a narrow menu and a great product. Chipotle, with its simple menu of tacos, burritos and guacamole, is an obvious example. Five Guys, In-N-Out Burger and Shake Shack are killing it with streamlined burger menus, too. The strategy is working so well that corporate giant McDonald's has made an attempt at streamlining its menus, but the move looks more like flailing than innovation, and the food still sucks.
Starbucks, meanwhile, hasn’t exactly impressed with their daytime offering of prepackaged baked goods and sandwiches, and the new menu appears to offer more of the same. Starbucks locations don’t have kitchens, so the mac and cheese, flatbreads and meatball plates will arrive packaged to be reheated when you place your order. Truffle popcorn will be popped somewhere else, sealed in a plastic bag and perched on a shelf until you signal your desire. The alcohol offered (presumably an attempt to make this new food taste good) isn’t much better. The wine list reads like the shelves at Kroger, and the beer that’s referred to as "craft" scrapes the bottom of the beer barrels of Dallas' local craft beer scene.
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Starbucks Evenings seems an obvious play for a company that’s already seen incredible growth. Locations are already on every street corner, in airports and grocery stores, and frappuccinos couldn’t possibly get any larger. One of the few remaining ways to continue to increase sales is to keep existing customers in stores longer. Still, you have to wonder what the new menus will do to the identity of the Seattle-based caffeine pusher. Is Starbucks still a coffee shop? Or is it on its way to becoming a fast-casual, kitchenless bistro with an affection for TGI Friday’s menu rip-offs (see: spinach and artichoke dip) and a hope that existing customers will part with a few more dollars?