Coffee and Cigarettes, Minus the Cigarettes

Coffee and cigarettes are hand-in-hand products, almost perfect complements to each other; both providing their users with deflated wallets and horrible breath. Walk around any city or town in the early morning and you will undoubtedly observe multiple people enjoying both vices concurrently. There have even be major films entitled ‘Coffee and Cigarettes’. In popular culture, the pair is like Ben and Jerry, Beef & Broccoli, Shoes and socks. Unlike those other relationships, coffee and cigarettes are not a unanimously accepted pair. There are definitely many coffee drinkers who find cigarette smokers repulsive, and perhaps vice versa. Still, with such an inherent blend in product culture, one would assume most coffee shops would welcome cigarette smokers to their establishment without limits. If a company really wanted to thrive, maybe they’d pursue a pack-and-mug combination, giving the fiends their fix in an orderly fashion. Yet Starbucks has recently implemented a polar opposite plan…

On June 1, 2013, Starbucks initiated their ban of smoking on premises. This policy, which prohibits patrons from smoking within 25 feet of a Starbucks establishment, will take affect company-wide immediately. According to the Wall Street Journal, “roughly 7,000 company-operated cafes in the US” have adopted this policy. This does not include “licensed stores” which are those locations found in larger establishments such as Barnes & Noble or Target. Many Starbucks locations contain outdoor seating areas, which provide space for customers to sprawl out, enjoy their coffee, the weather, and finish any pending work. These areas will officially be off-limits to cigarette smoke.

From an organizational standpoint this decision comes as quite a surprise. Although Starbucks consumers, and coffee drinkers for that matter, are primarily mobile customers; many enjoy the comforts of the establishment. As a company, Starbucks promotes itself as inviting and welcoming, allowing customers to make use of their Wi-Fi and use their stores as work sites. One should not presume that all coffee drinkers are cigarette smokers, yet it is a fairly safe assumption that those who consume both make up a rather significant portion of Starbucks’ client base. Starbucks is essentially alienating this faction of their customers through the implementation of this new policy. Many customers may suddenly feel unwelcomed at a place they once visited frequently. This policy states, on the surface, that those customers can take their business elsewhere, or buy their coffee and take it on the road. A Starbucks spokeswoman stated, “we take pride in providing a comfortable environment at our stores where customers and members of the community gather.” In an attempt to appease the community at large, (which is most commonly against smokers) the company has distanced itself from this portion of their customers. It is probably safe to assume that a corporation as prominent as Starbucks did the necessary market research prior to making such a bold decision, but that does not eliminate the chance that this choice could come with major backlash.

12 thoughts on “Coffee and Cigarettes, Minus the Cigarettes

  1. This is definitely an interesting move by Starbucks. However, I feel like it goes with their overall aesthetic of being an eco-friendly and socially conscious company. And while coffee and cigarettes are such a culturally-synonymous combination and this move somewhat alienates smokers, I doubt this decision will affect Starbucks’ sales or open the door to any sort of backlash. They are such a mammoth in the world of business so to put it frankly, they can do almost anything and get away with it, and if anything, this could potentially give them more clout as being a eco-conscious and customer-friendly. Also, when you think about the average Starbucks customer, they typically just grab their drink and go, so it’s not very likely most people would want to stick around to have a cigarette.

    1. I do believe that there is a loose connection between cigarettes and coffee; however, I think one needs to consider the example of Chicago. In Chicago a pack of cigarettes is like 10 bucks then add in a cup of Starbucks coffee around 4 bucks, plus another 10% sales tax for Rahm; we are talking a whooping $15 dollars spent on “cigarettes and coffee.” Believe this would be a much bigger story if Denny’s was outlawing smoking outside its diners. See people that smoke cigarettes probably do not have the desire to fork out even more green for an overpriced cup of coffee. I would think that a cigarette smoker would be more prone to purchase Dunkin Dougnuts cheap coffee or a Denny’s free refill cup.

    2. For another class, I read a case study on Starbucks. According to the case, Starbucks branding strategy has 3 key components:
      1) The coffee itself
      2) Service or “customer intimacy”
      3) Atmosphere
      To me, this blog post addresses the “atmosphere” piece of their overall branding strategy.

      In the case, Christine Day (senior VP) stated “People come for the coffee, but the ambience is what makes them want to stay.” If Starbucks hopes to provide an “upscale yet inviting environment” with universal appeal, the smoking ban will only help their cause.

      I agree with the other comments on this post. Although there can be a lose connection between the two vices, coffee is socially acceptable and can even be seen as high end if it is bought from Starbucks. Coffee consumption does not impact those around consumer, whereas the odor of cigarette smoke is forced upon those around the smoker and is often times very unappealing to those that do not partake.

      The core Starbucks customer will welcome the ban, and those that choose to smoke can easily take their coffee and cigarettes to go. Even now, smoking is not allowed inside Starbucks so the shift should not have significant, negative implications on Starbucks profitability.

      Moon, Youngme; Quelch, John, “Starbucks: Delivering Customer Service,” Harvard Business School, July 10, 2006.

    3. I am not exactly sure that Starbucks can actually uphold that ruling. Their decision is unconstitutional since they do not own the majority of their establishments and especially the surrounding property. Also. I heard about their decision to go smoke free earlier in the week from a co-worker who’s comment was, well I guess we’re not going to be able to smoke outside at all since there is a Starbucks within 25 feet of one another. Thought that was clever. But as a smoker, and one that loves nothing more than a good cup of coffee with my cigarette, I am a little upset about their decision. Just to test limits and see if this new initiative will actually be implemented, I will enjoy a long cigarette with my Starbucks coffee first thing tomorrow morning. I have a gut feeling that this is just another publicity stunt. I will update post coffee and cigarette tomorrow!

  2. I could see the point that this would cause an inconvenience for smokers. On the other hand as Starbucks says the majority are opposed to smelling and being around smoke. If smokers are real Starbucks customers I don’t think this will detour them from their usual cup of coffee but just make them have to step away to drink and smoke as they please. Often people bring their children to Starbucks to enjoy yogurt while they get their daily dose of caffeine and those parents aren’t given a choice if smokers were free to smoke right outside where they are sitting. Although I can see this being a smart move for Starbucks I can also see the side where smokers would be upset but they have to do what’s best for the majority and I think this may cause others to feel comfortable in a smoke free environment and visit more frequently then before.

  3. A smoke-free environment is a growing trend, with many cities around the country making legislation to support this. Personally, I think this is a great move for Starbucks, that most companies should follow. No company should put their customers in a position of harm, such as second hand smoke. Whether this move hurts Starbucks bottom line or not, they are still doing the right thing

  4. Good read here. I don’t feel that Starbuck’s decision will effect their sales at all. While some coffee drinkers are heavy smokers, a great portion of them are not. For smokers, I am sure its great to have a cig and a cup of coffee but lets be real…smoking is not healthy and most certainly not healthy for those of us who do not smoke. I love the smoking ban that has been implemented because simply put I don’t wish to be subjected it. The smoking ban makes for a healthier environment for us all.

  5. I’ve actually never heard this combination used so seriously. Yes I know some people who love the combination of both smoking and coffee but I do not agree that this is a huge trend or even a majority of the customers. Yeah ketchup and hotdogs but coffee and cigarettes? Idk if its a really a huge consideration Starbucks should think about. I agree with other commenters that this is a growing trend and its a general rule now that you should be 25 feet from any establishment when smoking in Chicago. Now Starbucks can enforce it all over the country. I don’t think it will hurt Starbucks and this should be required. It’s disrespectful to smoke around a bunch of non-smokers. They don’t want to smell or inhale the smoke. They should not have to worry about it. If you have a nasty habit then you need to make sure your not affecting anyone else. This decision from Starbucks seems necessary and normal – nothing out of the ordinary.

  6. I understand the position Starbucks is taking. Smoking is only associated with negative stereotypes and side effects, both of which are images that I’m sure brand experts at Starbucks want to stay as far away from as possible. While this might discourage smokers from “hanging out” at Starbucks locations, it does provide more of a healthy, family friendly environment for all other customers. I don’t think this is a bad move by Starbucks as the majority of businesses today are striving to be more sustainable organizations.

  7. I find this article very interesting. It will be interesting to see how Starbucks sales will be affected. Also if stores will actually implement it. Since there are so many Starbucks across the nation, it will be hard to make sure each and every store will put the new plan in action. Even though there is a sign that says no smoking within 25 feet, I personally do no think people will follow it. A perfect example would be in front of the DePaul Center. There are so many people smoking right in front of the door, especially during the winter time. Even though it says no smoking within 15 feet, people do not listen. It will be interesting to see how Starbucks will implement this rule.

  8. I think this is a great idea for Starbucks to ban smoking on there property. I drink a lot of coffee but I do not smoke. I hate having to walk by the smoke. When I want to have coffee outside I have to deal with that smell. Now the people who do not smoke will be much happier because they dont have to deal with this.

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