Starbucks' store of the future bets on tech, luxury and alcohol
Starbucks stores are designed to feel welcoming and instantly familiar. In most locations, you know exactly what to do — a long bar sits against one of the walls and you slowly work your way down, explaining your order, paying and finally waiting for your chosen beverage(s) at the end. Not so in London’s Starbucks Reserve Bar. A first for Europe, this new establishment on Upper St. Martin’s Lane uses technology to radically change the in-store experience. For starters, there are only a couple of traditional cash registers — Starbucks has given tablets to a handful of staff instead, which they can use to take your order from anywhere inside the store. The company hopes this will reduce queue times and also create a more “open” atmosphere in the bar. If you’re an iPhone user, you can also use Mobile Order & Pay in the Starbucks app to complete an order at any time.
The Reserve Bar’s interior design is refreshingly different too. It’s split into two halves, with the bulk of the seating on the left-hand side and an open kitchen on the right. Food is freshly prepared in store and the baristas will talk you through Starbucks’ luxurious Reserve brews, which include the Piccino (a Ristretto double shot espresso) and Americano Con Crema (an espresso blended with orange Piloncillo syrup and finished with coffee spiced foam infused with cinnamon). The atmosphere inside is unlike most Starbucks stores, emphasising the discovery of new coffee and slower, relaxed conversations.
If you’re the type that jumps into Starbucks just to charge your phone or use the normally reliable WiFi, the Reserve Bar has got you covered too. The tables are littered with wireless charging points; just grab an appropriate connector from the stand, plug it into your phone and line up the circular handle. There are enough around the store that you shouldn’t find yourself tussling for specific seats, and they’re spread out so that you won’t see a huddle of smartphone addicts huddled in a corner of the room. The store also boasts “ultra-fast” WiFi with speeds of up to 100Mbps — a first for its European stores, Starbucks claims. The network certainly seemed snappy while I was browsing on my laptop, although in fairness there were only a handful of other journalists to really stress-test the network.
Look around and you’ll notice a few of the other technology-fuelled delights. There are no paintings or photographs on the walls — Starbucks uses a projector to cast a handful of different images above the bar. The large menu near the entrance is actually a screen, and it updates automatically depending on the time of day. None of these integrations are a world-first, but they’re done tastefully and give Starbucks an upmarket appearance.
The Reserve Bar is also the first licensed Starbucks store in London, meaning you can order wine and beer up until 9pm. Few people think of Starbucks as a place where you can stop and socialise for an evening — you might chat with a friend over coffee, but it’s not the sort of establishment where most people like to waste away an entire evening. But that’s the new image Starbucks seems to be shooting for here — the Reserve Bar can be a quick coffee stop, sure, but it’s also somewhere to grab lunch, dinner or casual drinks.
Technology is just one part of the pitch. The Reserve Bar is currently a concept store and the company is staying hush-hush about whether it’ll be replicated elsewhere. It’s certainly a departure from the established Starbucks formula, and it could be a glimpse into the company’s future — if it feels it needs to do more than sell grande cappuccinos.