Starbucks has been testing wine, beer and an evening menu for years in a small but growing number of U.S. locations. It’s an effort to fix a persistent problem for the coffee-centric chain: Customers want their caffeinated drinks and pastries in the morning, but not so much at night.
After formally launching last summer its Starbucks Evenings program, which offers alcohol and a small menu of hot meals and appetizers after 4 p.m., the world’s largest coffee roaster announced recently that it’s taking the concept to locations in Britain and Canada. Meanwhile, it continues to expand the number of U.S. stores offering alcohol and hot food items from the current 32, which are clustered mostly in Chicago, Seattle and Atlanta. It eventually will have 1,000 of these enhanced cafes in the U.S., the company has said, a sign that its 4-year-old experiment has been a success where it’s been tested.
If turning Starbucks cafes into evening wine bars proves to fill empty chairs after 4 p.m., the company will have women to thank.
“They found that women make up the majority of their customers for evenings,” Sara Senatore, senior equity analyst at Sanford Bernstein, said by phone on Friday. “Starbucks doesn’t do a lot of marketing, but if you go to the Starbucks Evenings Web page, you see a photo of three women sitting together enjoying alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages, and the text below refers to dropping in ‘after yoga,’ which tends to be a more woman-centric activity.”
Starbucks seems to be going after the market of women seeking refuge from the noisy nightclub pickup scene at establishments that exclusively serve alcohol. Senatore says the company will seek a niche in places wthere the going-out options are few between pricier sit-down restaurants and loud, booze-only bars.
This is all part of Starbucks' larger strategy as it faces stiff competition in the coffee-brewing business from Dunkin Donuts, McDonald's and independent cafes. Coffee sales are flat for the 44-year-old company. In 2013 the company bought San Francisco baker La Boulange and has been working to expand its menu offers to draw the lunch crowd. It’s also experimenting with delivery service, tea, carbonated drinks and expanded menu items.