Sure, Starbucks has taken over the world. The 17 Starbucks I pass by during my 10-minute walk to work validates this. But, believe it or


Starbucks Attempting to Class Things Up in Europe

Sure, Starbucks has taken over the world. The 17 Starbucks I pass by during my 10-minute walk to work validates this. But, believe it or not, there are places on god's green earth where Starbucks has yet to turn a profit ... like France, for instance.

As The New York Times detailed Saturday, in an effort to rebound in Europe after ten years of lukewarm progress on the continent, Howard Schultz's Starbucks is, "embarking on a multimillion-dollar campaign to win over more of Europe's coffee aficionados -- with an upscale makeover of hundreds of stores to cater to an ingrained cafe culture, and adjusting beverages and blends to suit fickle regional palates."

Noting that Starbucks' European sales and profit growth are far behind results in America and Asia, the article points out that in the quarter that ended last December, sales in European Starbucks locations open at least 13 months rose by merely 2 percent - well below the 9-percent growth in the Americas and 20-percent growth in Asia.

What does it all mean? It depends on where in Europe you are, it seems. While there are some European locations - like London or Amsterdam - where the traditional American Starbucks experience goes over well, there are still other locations -- most notably the traditionally coffee shop-heavy France, according to the NYT piece - where the Starbucks experience Yankees have come to know and love leaves much to be desired.

In an attempt to combat this, Starbucks' European upgrades include making chain locations more inviting, tweaking the menu to be more reflective of European taste buds and even going as far as to ask the baristas to be friendlier.

On ambiance:

While a New Yorker might grab a coffee to go -- carryout orders are one of the company's biggest money makers -- French friends tend to sit when they sip. So Starbucks is having to invest huge amounts to give its stores in France additional seating space, along with other renovations.

Some of these renovations and upgrades have come in the form of "concept stores" - designed to, "make a Starbucks feel more like a trendy neighborhood shop." Starbucks recently gave these "concept store" upgrades to locations near the Paris Opera and the Louvre.

On taste:

... Britons like lattes, although many consider the Starbucks version too watery. So baristas in Britain recently began adding a free extra shot of espresso.

Across the channel, however, 60 percent of French people prefer espresso, while only 20 percent can stomach an "Americano." And yet, many find that Starbucks espresso tastes too charred, even by French cafe standards. So just two weeks ago in Paris, the company introduced a lighter "blonde" espresso roast.

Finally, on service:

To humanize its chain-store reputation, earlier this month Starbucks had its baristas throughout Europe start wearing nametags.

In London, an experiment is under way to take customers' names with their orders and then address them by name when filling it. Participating patrons get a free coffee, but many others have lit up Twitter with complaints about bogus, American-style chumminess.

Complaints about American-style chumminess aside (I take my chumminess Grande with extra whip), Schultz and the rest of Starbucks' decision makers can take heart in the fact that, despite difficulties in places like Paris, tiny slices of Americana are still enough to make the cash register ring in many locations.

As the NYT piece notes:

To be sure, Starbucks has plenty of European fans. Whether in Amsterdam, Berlin or London, or even among subsets of Parisians, Starbucks stores are often packed with urbanites, tourists and laptop-wielding young people who embrace the coffee chain as an avatar of American popular culture.

"We see stars like Kim Kardashian in all the magazines walking around with a Starbucks," Daphka Monteiro, a 19-year-old Parisian and aspiring fashion designer, as she licked the cream off a 5-euro ($6.50) Frappuccino, across from Ms. Bayod's preferred cafe. "My friends and I come because it's hip."

America = Frappuccinos and Kim Kardashian. Sounds about right.

What's not to like?

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