Saturday, January 2, 2010

Why are there no Starbucks in Italy?

Let me come clean right off and inform you that I have never liked Starbucks. It's not a regional thing, either. I dislike Dunkin Donuts even more. Yes, I do like coffee. I'm having a cup even as I write. A cup of Folgers, which unlike the pretentiously-named Seattle business (after the most sympathetic character in Moby Dick, first mate Starbuck- a real Nantucket surname still found on the island), really does have Nantucket roots. But I'm at home. In bed, to be precise.
I was introduced to this chain back in 1996 when I returned to the States from Europe after a fourteen-year absence. Imagine my surprise when I read that the inspiration for the coffee shops were Italian bars. The resemblance had escaped me and continues to escape me. This is due to the fact that there is no real similarity.

So why do the Italians have McDonald's and Burger King but not The Chain That Goes By The Name Of Ahab's First Mate? Because the hamburger chains are not competing with Italian restaurants. They have never claimed to be like Italian restaurants. But Starbucks in Italy would show how out of place it is, and inferior in every way to the bar (which is not like our American bar, as I explained in this post.) Starbucks is big business, homogeneous, sterile, with mediocre coffee and pastries which sell because of marketing. It is not socially vital: it has (mostly) people who rush in to get their take-away coffee in the branded containers, and others who sit with their laptops in isolation.

This does not mean that there are no Italians who would go for it. There is even an Italian Facebook group of those who want to see it in Italy. But then again, there is an opposing group called "Italian coffee only- no Starbucks." It offers an amusing but unflattering comparison of the two experiences.

Oh, there are no Starbucks on Nantucket either (they've banned chains.)