Overall Score: C
Food: Did not try any small plates
Vegetarian options?: B
Recommended?: No (at least not at my store)
Did you hear Starbucks is selling beer and wine? Not every store has ventured into the alcohol market, but some have.
Starbucks rolled out its Evenings feature to offer an alternative gathering environment to loud bars and restaurants. They researched and found that many people would like to grab a drink with friends at friendlier and quieter places. Rather than meeting at a noisy bar, they can now meet up at their favorite neighborhood cafe for drinks and small plates.
Not long ago, I realized that the Starbucks nearest my house was featuring Evenings and I wanted to try them out.
When we arrived, I was a bit disappointed in their menu selection. They offer 8 small plates, one sparkling wine, four white wines, five red wines, and various craft beer. For each wine variety they offer, they only offer one kind to drink. There’s one Sauvignon Blanc, one Chardonnay, one Malbec, and one Pinot Noir, with the exception of two red blends that they were serving. Okay, so this is Starbucks after all. I can’t expect a lot of different wines, but at least they’re wines that are unique and unknown, right? Nope.
I can’t speak about the whites since I don’t know as much about white wines, but with the red wines they were serving, I have seen 4 of the 6 in grocery stores and retailers like Target and Walmart. I thought perhaps they were going to serve unique wines from California vineyards – not wines I can get from the store next door.
When we looked at the menu for the small plates, I was pleased to see that half of the eight plates were vegetarian. However, none of them appealed to me. Since I’m not a fan of artichokes or goat cheese, I was down to two options- a truffle mac and cheese or truffle popcorn. I guess if you don’t like truffle oil here you’re out of luck. Fortunately, I like truffle oil but mac and cheese did not sound like a small snack to me and I wasn’t sure I would like the truffle popcorn. We would have loved a cheese and cracker option, but all they had was some prepackaged cheese and nuts refrigerated in a plastic case. In any case, we skipped the small plates and decided on a wine.
When placing our order, the cashier seemed rather confused and needed a bit of extra time to ring up our order. He appeared to be very unfamiliar with how to input our selections into the register. Once we paid, we had to wait longer than usual to be served because a manager had to help the cashier with finding the wines, pouring, and presentation. It seemed that the employees did not have much training before launching Starbucks Evenings, at least at our store.
When our wine arrived, it was served in stemless glassware and delivered to our table. There was a small ramekin that fit perfectly inside the wine glass and was filled with some kind of seed. We didn’t get any information on what these seeds were, but they appeared to be seasoned and toasted. I later found out they were pepitas seeds, or the edible seeds of a pumpkin or squash. (It would have been nice to know that when they were placed in front of us.) The seeds were tasty and lightly salted, but an interesting snack with the wine.
Judging the wine, there was nothing that really impressed us about our selections. It didn’t help that our overall experience was lacking. Our Starbucks is small and there was not much seating available. There were also no couches or comfortable chairs to sit in. Obviously, bars aren’t comfortable either, but at least they usually have some booths to sit in. Our Starbucks should have dimmed the lights down too, created a cozier atmosphere instead of the usual full-lighting that they use all day in the store. Put on some smooth jazz and create a more relaxed space where people want to stay longer than 20 minutes.
I think Starbucks has a good idea with its Evenings program, but it has a long way to go to master its implementation. Baristas can go on and on about coffee, but educating them on wine is a completely different story. I also think Starbucks should find small family run wineries (like they do with coffee growers) and contract with them, showcasing a unique wine, with detailed tasting notes (perhaps on a unique coaster), that can’t be found in a local grocery store. Sell a wine or craft beer that people will love and crave, but can only get at Starbucks. That’s why people go to Starbucks for coffee, so why not apply that same principle for wine and beer?
With our 2 glasses of wine costing me $18, I was left discontented, feeling like I was mislead about the Starbucks Evenings program. I wasn’t impressed with what they offered or how it was presented. It’s a shame because I really wanted our Starbucks to be a nice place for my husband and I to get away for an hour or so on the weekends and grab a drink. I just think Starbucks may have tried to take on too much, especially in an area they have no expertise. Perhaps they should leave the Evenings option only for nicer and larger stores in urban areas. Needless to say, I don’t see this program working unless the company decides to spend more time training staff and improving the menu selections.
As for me, I’ll settle on a nice restaurant or bar the next time I’m looking for distinctive alcohol in a comfortable setting.