Starbucks is a company always ready to experiment with new sales concepts, and that’s probably the reason why they are doing so good as a brand. They’ve rethought their global design strategy, which resulted in differently designed stores such as the one in Paris and Dazaifu, Japan, and expanded market to energy drinks and fresh juices, all being widely accepted by consumers.

Now, yet another expansion is on the way – beer and wine, combined with small plate food. The new offerings have already proven themselves under the “Starbucks Evenings” concept, which was tested in seven Starbucks cafes in the Pacific Northwest – all of which recorded double digit sales increases after 4 p.m. – the official time when the cafes start serving alcohol.

Photo: usatoday.com

The first city outside the Pacific Northwest to get a glimpse of the concept will be Chicago, with initially a single location to feature the concept, and eventually seven locations at the end of the year, followed by Southern California and Atlanta.

Rachel Antalek, director of new concept development at Starbucks, said that the idea was to create the “no-stress book club” kind of atmosphere in the stores, but without any substantial changes to the stores’ way of operating. Customers will still have to order at the counter, with the only difference of waiters coming at a certain point of time to ask them if they would like something else to drink (from the wine and beer chart, of course), and the introduction of live music and poetry nights.

“This concept is trying to deliver the same atmosphere and the same service that everybody’s grown to love and expect from Starbucks… We’re constantly innovating and trying new things, and this is something our customers have asked us for that in a lot of ways hearkens back to European coffeehouse heritage.” Mrs. Antalek added.

The brand’s new concept won’t be advertised much, though. Sings will be posted outside of stores, and waiters will occasionally make morning customers familiar with the special offerings in the evening period. Awareness of the new concept will be raised through social media, too.

According to Bonnie Riggs, NPD Group’s restaurant industry analyst, wine and women/specialty coffee fans go together pretty well. And we all know the connection between men and beer. So if it is to judge by these facts, and the recent expansions into fresh juices and energy drinks markets, it’s pretty obvious what Starbucks is aiming at here – covering as much of the population’s needs as possible. Some experts are concerned that the brand is diverging from its initial coffee serving  function at a pace that is too fast. Whether their concerns are justified, only time will tell. But to me, it seems like Starbucks knows exactly what they are doing, and why they are doing it for.