Would you go to Starbucks for a beer? For wine? For sopressata? These are the questions you’ll have to wrestle with soon, as the Tribune reports that Starbucks is opening or reworking 7 locations with a different approach including “savory, high-quality, small plate options like cured meats over the standard pastry case fare, and beer and wine in addition to the usual coffee and tea. Starbucks has also been experimenting with live entertainment, including music, poetry readings or theater, depending on the neighborhood.” These aren’t the first Starbucks outlets of their kind— there are a few in Seattle and Portland— but it definitely is the biggest push Starbucks has made to expand its appeal past the hours when coffee is typically consumed and laptops are typically used. Having worked on the marketing of fast food giants, we understood exactly what was going on here as soon as we heard a Starbucks person use the term “daypart”: they’re looking at all this real estate that goes dead around 7 p.m., and thinking, how could we use it during dinner time to make even more money?
But there are a whole lot of questions about this, ranging from the bureaucratic (can they get tavern licenses for existing stores?) to the aesthetic (can Starbucks really compete with Chicago’s manic beer scene, where every bar in town seems to be fighting to fill their list with exotic brews?) to the atmospheric (if you’ve been on your laptop sucking cappucino in the same chair all day, don’t you want to get the hell out of Starbucks and go somewhere, anywhere else for a beer?) Apparently it all worked in the northwest well enough to be worth a shot here, but it will be interesting to see if Chicago embraces Starbucks After Dark or can’t get away fast enough from what is, after all, the office for a lot of people.