75 thoughts on “Why Starbucks Annoys Me”

  1. There’s always Caribou. Not sure if it’s in the Valley, but it’s big here in the Midwest. [Not Starbucks big, but maybe 20% of Starbucks locations.]

  2. Om,

    This is why I never give Starbucks my patronage. I always prefer to go to independent coffee houses. Why? The wireless is usually free, it’s quieter, less hurried, and the coffee is better. I can get work done in small independent coffee shops that realize how to give a customer a quiet place to work and a good cup of coffee.

  3. Wait till the plan backfires and instead of driving away customers, the loud music attracts roudy teenagers.

    Starbucks could be the next cool place to hang out and listen to free Satellite radio.

  4. I once knew a Barista at a non-starbucks who would use music to attenuate the number of people in the cafe. Loud music if there were too many people and quiter music when numbers became more reasonable. I’ve also seen many cafes effectively turn off their heating in the winter. Great way to save on energy bills and increase throughput.

    Intentional or not, these sorts of measures are essentially variations on the sort of brand cannibalization that many manufacturers employ when they leverage their brands to help move lower-quality versions of their existing product lines. Given the ubiquity of coffee shops that now exists, consumers have many choices, and will ultimately shy away from poorly controlled environments.

  5. I’m at the first step in a 12 step program – “Hi, my name’s Rob and I’m addicted to Starbucks Hear Music label”….see, I can admit it. It’s true! Every other time I’m in there (which isn’t that often since I prefer Dunkin Donuts coffee) I seem to have to buy one of their CD’s. You can’t deny that they turn out some good stuff – starting with the Ray Charles duet’s album.


  6. You’re not the only one Om, now that you mention the music I noticed the same thing working out of Starbucks on recent trip to NYC.

    Could be worse though, I live on Bainbridge Island, off Seattle, where the city does not allow franchises. So we have no WiFi coffee houses, pay or no pay, in city of $25,000. I have to take a ferry to get WiFi or drive off a bridge to the north to get away from my office.

    Was just thinking yesterday I’d give anything for a WiFi coffee shop.

  7. Starbucks strikes me as a brand that’s about to jump the shark. I like their coffee. I like their stores and their comfy chairs. I like the wifi even if it costs me. I don’t mind the sound level. What’s falling is the overall quality of the experience.

    Same thing happened to McDonald’s. Stellar quality for years and then one too many times I went and got a crappy burger. Now you go into McDonald’s expecting a crappy burger but it wasn’t always like that. Starbucks is now becoming crappy quality. I order a simple coffee but I have to watch over them with hawkeyes because 50% of the time they screw it up. Sometimes the shots aren’t pulled correctly and they use them anyway. Sometimes the stores are a mess. Sometimes the employees are less than friendly.

    With McD’s, I only visit them in the suburbs where reasonably polite, enthusiastic high school kids take some pride in their job before becoming jaded. I have a feeling I’ll only visit Starbucks in the suburbs pretty soon.

  8. Some clarifications from a person in a position to know: While the overhead music has an XM satellite radio ID every so often, the programming in all but the ‘media bar’ stores is delivered from a proprietary player (with a volume control) in the back room. The programming generally reflects whatever CDs are for sale during a given time period, though baristas can and do change to other programming as they wish. Speaker placement is about the last thing the contractors do when they build out a store, and they usually end up at some remove from the main counter. Considering the baristas usually want to hear the music while they work, and that their workplace is pretty noisy, the volume tends to get jacked up, often to the dismay of a customer seated just beneath a speaker. It can be done a lot better.

  9. Four words: Bose Noise-Canceling Headphones.

    With the right playlist, they’re the best productivity tool ever. You’ll look a bit geeky, but it’s the best way to turn off the Starbucks distractions.

  10. It’s been my experience the volumes vary by store and who’s working. On several occasions when it’s been uncomfortably loud I’ve asked if they could lower it a tad, and they always have.

  11. Valid point, but Starbucks can make quite a few bucks out of selling CD’s in their stores. Recently read ‘Pour your heart into it’ where Schulz talks about music playing in Starbucks, and how they sold tons of CD’s by request.

    But, yes, I agree with Larry. The small independent coffee houses are much nicer. At least here in London 🙂

  12. The only thing I use in Starbucks is their toilet facilities – I’d much rather give my money to a small independent space at least here in San Fran.

    Have to admit when I’m the road S ucks is a known quantity but I hate the way they killed all the independent coffee shops in Manhattan…

  13. Having a hard time working up the nerve to ask the barista to turn down the volume, Om? Works every time.

    This is one of the human aspects of a large chain. Not some kind of chainwide malicious profit-seekiing tacticl;.

    Get real.

    Drink the decaf, Om, and get on with some of your substantive commentary.


  14. I go to Starbuck several days a week. What I find is they play the few boring CDs over and over again. The repetition drive me nuts and it forces me to put on my iPod at all times. Unfortunately I’m held hostage by Starbuck because it is they only place that have wifi around my office. Otherwise I always go to local cafe over Starbuck when I have a choice.

  15. wai,

    i feel your pain. even though i would like to partonize small and indie coffee shops, i don’t have many options in downtown san francisco. there are some great wifi enabled coffee shops in san francisco, but they are just too far away.

  16. Most independent coffee shops I visit are just as bad with the music. The best music is music you don’t think about or even notice for that matter. Highly percussive music with lots of modulation disturbs thought patterns and interrupts conversations. Discomfort translates into lost sales opportunities and creates a barrier to building customer loyalty or erodes it. Duh, Starbucks.

    I’m surprised there hasn’t been more innovation in creating a “business coffee shop”. Maybe an “open-source” like environment for on-the-fly collaboration or undisturbed work.

  17. Wifi is their core business? I think all coffee retailers go through this problem. People that use starbucks as an office need to pay a premium for that service. They are in the business of selling coffee not providing you office space.

  18. That very well be the case, but it also means lost sales. I can do two meetings with 3 people each, and that’s about 8 file milky drinks. works out to 5132 or go, that’s lost revenues in my books!

  19. True enough-but it is their hangout office-type facility that makes them a viable destination! Otherwise why would I go there for a $12 drip? I think the whole experience of what made Starbucks work!

  20. TST-Decaff doesn’t work forms. Also you ask a few times and trees you give up. And you notice it at many different outlets, you see a pattern. Of course looking for a new Spot now!

  21. Judging by the reaction here maybe we all need to effectively ask the managers to turn the music down so we can read, think, and converse sanely.

    If everyone does it and they refuse, then Starbucks will loose our patronage.

    I for one drive 10 minutes to a place in San Diego called It’s A Grind. Free WiFi and better coffee.

    I once called Starbucks Conference Room S. It was a great place to hold meetings. Now it’s so noisy that meetings at Starbucks are shouting matches.

    The second thing is the temperature in the summer. They crank the A/C up to cool the places off to the point of freezing you out.

    Are these intentional moves? Since they can be corrected so simply and this blogs replies clearly indicates an amazing amount of similar concerns that the have lost the allure they built up early on.

    I just wish they would comment to you Om, but that’s not their style…

  22. In the UK, 3G is coming down in price quite rapidly.

    A 250mb/month card costs about the same as a wifi account. And of course, you get the convenience of being able to use it without being tied to a hotspot.

    Unlimited cards are still a lot more, but I think we’ll see a dwindling of hotspots in the next 2-3 years.

  23. call me old fashioned but focusing on your core business, and keeping the customers happy with things that brought them into the store in the first place is more important than making money from music.

    Om, do you remember Starbuck’s JOE Magazine from the late 1990’s? You would think that Howard should have learned the stray-from-the-core lesson back then.

  24. if you ask the baristas, they will usually turn down the music for you. usually, it’s only loud because the baristas can’t hear it over the machines otherwise. no corporate conspiracy there…

  25. Thanks for noticing and writing this up. I have been experiencing the same. It simply sucks!
    Since there is more than one “gunman” uh…customer validating the story, can we say it must be a conspiracy on the part of the corporation.

  26. well said Om, you’re not alone. Starbucks seems to be going down the drain even here in Florida.

    I’ll opt for any other coffee shop with WIFI 🙂

  27. Well, don’t forget that urban legend that made the rounds several years ago: that Starbucks deliberately made their chairbacks the size they were so that they would cut into your lower back, driving people from the store more quickly; and that the counters were specifically designed to be a few inches shorter than a piece of paper, so that your documents would keep sliding off, also prompting you to leave earlier. It wouldn’t surprise me at all, frankly, if Starbucks was deliberately playing their music loud for the same purpose. (Please note, by the way, that I have absolutely no idea if that urban legend is true or not; I sure would love to know, though!)

  28. Why must everything be a conspiracy?
    Frankly it is very hard to get a particular mandate across to every single store and every single employee because there are just so many. That’s why Sbux is having so much trouble with the fair trade challenge thing, because they can’t get the information to all of the stores.

    Do you SERIOUSLY think that Starbucks would be TRYING to make customers unhappy. That is ridiculous.

    Don’t you think an easier explanation would be that the baristas don’t notice how loud it is because of how the speakers are situated?

    If you don’t even have the balls to ask them to turn the music down, I don’t know how you can even think about conducting business meetings.

  29. tired barista,

    first of all if it was at one store I think i would not have even bothered. read the comments up there – many different people are experiencing the same issue.

    unhappy is not the word – hurry them out of the store might be at work.

    talking about not having balls, well I am just tired of asking again and again.

  30. Deaf Dog Coffee, in Petaluma, California. The best location to work at is at 701 Sonoma Mountain Parkway Suite E1. Next best is 134 Petaluma Boulevard North.

  31. “Tired Barista:” Yes, as a matter of fact, I DO seriously think that Starbucks would be deliberately trying to make customers unhappy. Starbucks makes more money by having customers simply order their drinks and then leave, then they do when customers sit around eating up resources (electricity, barista time, the mess they create, etc). In fact, if Starbucks could get away with it, I bet they’d love a situation where they provided no customer seating at all; but since this is an inherent part of the definition of ‘neighborhood coffeehouse,’ they’re sort of forced to do it themselves. So yeah, I’d be willing to bet money, in fact, that the corporate executives of Starbucks actually have had conversations about this – about how to make their in-store environment just as miserable an experience as possible, but without anyone realizing that Starbucks is purposely making this environment as miserable as possible. I’ll bet you $100 right this second that such conversations have actually taken place at the Starbucks headquarters.

  32. Jason Pettus-
    Well Mr. Conspiracy Theorist, I’ll never be able to convince you otherwise, but I will tell you that as baristas we have the opposite policy drummed into us at every opportunity. We must do everything we posdsibly can to make Starbucks a “third-place.”

    Starbucks is a big greedy corporation. That I do not deny, but I also don’t think they are as evil as people seem to think.

    They have no reason to make their cafes uncomfortable. They can pull in money from drive-through stores while leaving the cafe setting comfortable.

    The music being too loud is simply because barista like me want to be able to hear it while we work, and it doesn’t occur to us that it is too loud over in the cafe unless someone brings it to our attention.

    Om – If you write a comment card about the stores you’ve been to having their music consistently too loud, corporate will get involved and make sure they always keep it low enough. Comment cards do wonderful things.

  33. Jason Pettus — are you for real? What motive does Starbucks have at all for hurrying people out of their cafes? That’s the STUPIDEST thing I’ve ever heard. The squatters drink coffee and nibble pastries all.day.long.

    Music is controlled by the baristas currently working, period. They pick the tape, CD or station they want to listen to. They turn the volume up or down. It’s not even uniform in their music distribution — some stores still rock the tapes and some have hard-disks burned with current promos.

    Seriously, stop whining people. If you don’t like Starbucks, don’t go there. Go to McDonalds, 7-11, Peet’s, Caribou, Deidrichs, Coffee Bean or the other hundred million places there are on the planet to get coffee. Better yet, make coffee at home – you don’t even have to buy Starbucks’ sub-par over-caffeinated grinds!

    Tired Barista is RIGHT ON. We CAN’T HEAR the music while we’re working unless it’s turned up. There is no conspiracy behind it. I second the suggestion to buy headphones if it bothers you that terribly…just let us do our job.

  34. Wow, I would have never thought so many baristas read your blog, Om. (I guess this is why blogs exist, among other reasons.)

    Are there any hardcore coders out there who can work productively at a cafe?

    I know the Delicious Monster guys seem to… but they seem like more of an exception than a rule.

    Noise + screen resolution would seem to be a limiting factor in productivity. (pimp laptop required, I take it?)

    Soon I’ll be working from home full-time… and can’t imagine giving up my dual 20″ LCD flatscreens, hooked up to a Mac Mini and Win32 Dell (shared keyboard-mouse via Synergy, w00t).

  35. Starbucks in Athens, Greece are pretty neat and a nice place to chill 🙂 You can have a conversation more of the times, unless a bunch of greeks gets together (we like making noise).

    What i hate is that some Starbucks in Athens, Greece have a special area for smokers!! Can you believe that!?!?

  36. if one thing brings customers in more than anything, its a busy environment. no one wants to go where people arent. if no one is in your cafe, people would assume that either your coffee sucks, youre too expensive, the partners are bitchy, etc. having people in the cafe attracts more people making starbucks money. i work near a campus so there are many students trying to study. they rarely complain about music being too loud. in fact, we have lots of caribou people come in because they feel they study better at starbucks. forget your theories, im sorry, but they are wrong

  37. Here is an interesting concept…ask themm to turn down the music. With the blenders going, beans grinding, customers talking, yelling and the phone ringing…it is hard for baristas to know just how loud the music is. Just for your info Starbucks actually has a standard for their music level. It clearly says it isn’t supposed to be loud. Its supposed to be background music. If you can’t hear yourself think, its too loud. Just ask it be lowered. Problem solved. No conspiracies here. Move along now.

  38. Just ask them to turn it down. There is no conspiracy. With the blenders going, beans grinding, customers yelling, phones ringing and all the other ten sounds going on around a barista…sometimes they just don’t realize how loud the music is. All a person has to do is request it be lowered. And viola you are back to your quiet, relaxing office away from the office.

  39. Wow, ignorant article.

    Starbucks baristas do not care if you sit there for a long time nor do we care if you use our wireless, because you’re paying for it.

    The music is not as loud behind the counter as it is in the front of the house, so I can guarentee that if the music is too loud, the barista’s aren’t even aware.

    Instead of citing some flase conspiracy theory, simply ask the bsaristas politely to turn it down. We will.

  40. weeeeelll. I was going to say it. But. Everyone in your comments already did. But. Yeah. I didn’t get very high on the comments list HOWEVER starbucks might want you out of their quick but I’d like it if you stayed : ) I love my regulars sticking around.

  41. OM next time–smile at the Barista and ask them to turn it down. EX:I met a friend at Starbucks–and he complained immediately that the music IS ALWAYS too loud.
    “well, have you asked them to turn it down?”
    he insisted it was a corporate program.
    i disagreed–as a seasoned retail person.
    i simply asked the barista to do me a favor–my friend had an ear-ache, could she turn the volume down?
    immediate results.

    i guess he forgot girls do things differently.

  42. the most annoying part of starbucks for me is that their brews aren’t hot enough. Being born and raised in India, I am used to hot coffee and tea. When I mean’t hot, it’s piping hot.. so that you can enjoy the flavor slowly n smoothly. Starbucks brews = elegant waste of money. As for enjoying it? ha! no wonder i rarely go to StarMoneySuckingBucks. Enjoy!

  43. As a Starbucks barista, I’ve never had a problem turning down the music if a customer asks. As stated above, behind the counter it’s difficult to hear the music at all, let alone how loud it is with all the other noise from customers, espresso machines, blenders, etc.

    As a person that frequents independant coffee shops, I’d say I’ve had to ask those baristas to turn the music just as often as customers ask us Starbucks baristas to do so.

  44. jd – the coffee is 200 degrees. how much hotter can you drink it? and the milk based beverages can be made to any temperature you ask for. so find another reason to be cool and hate starbucks. that one isn’t cutting it.

  45. WOW… Has anyone thought that maybe telling the manager in charge of the store?? I can assure you that Starbucks is involved in no conspiracy that involves weeding out the numbers in the cafe or making it difficult to work in the cafes … Some people will find something to complain about no matter what. What I really want to know is when did everyone decide that it was cool to be the angry not happy guy that doesnt ask for what he wants but complains loudly to everyone else that he couldnt get it??

  46. I know that it’s pretty much been done to death but I’ll pipe in anyways, I myself am a barista like many others that have commented…

    There is no directive from the company to have the music loud… in fact, many stores have a sitckers posted that they shouldn’t go louder than because of past complaints… Plus what you hear when you’re behind the counter is way different from what you hear sitting in the cafe.

    Also not all of our music is even Hear Music… and most of the albums that the songs played are from aren’t even in the store… it’s just a bunch of “programs” on a Hard Drive based Music Player…

    Oh and the loud music is completely antithetical to one of the more important concepts that Starbucks uses… and that is creating the Third Place experience… first place being home, 2nd being work or school… so Starbucks is then the 3rd most comfortable place for you where you can feel comfortable, valued and appreciated… So if you were to ever get trouble when asking a barista to turn down the music… just ask them how loud music helps to create the third place experience and if that doesn’t work just remind them of our wonderful (though oft abused) Just Say Yes policy and Legendary Service Expectations.

  47. i’m a starbucks manager and i find it quite funny how you all choose to exert your energy into bitching on the internet about a topic so low in importance as volume level, when you could save yourself much stress by simply asking the baristas to turn it down.
    um duh?

  48. In my store i’m always willing to adjust the music for whoever asks. We’ll even adjust the lighting to make it easier for people to study. I’ve been in some independent coffee shops in my day and witnessed owners lowering lights and raising music to keep people from staying to long. (JavaMonkey ATL GA for one)Starbucks works hard to create a community environment for people to come and enjoy good coffee and good music just because they do it on a national level doesn’t make it wrong. If you want proof about what they do for the community look up information on their Corporate Social Responsibility program and about Fair Traid and Organic Blend coffees it might make you change your mind.

  49. I’m a Starbucks licensed store GM. I agree: the music sucks, plays endlessly in quick loops, and I refuse to play it. My store is quiet; you can work all day, have a business meeting; we don’t care. No we do–we want you to hang out. And we actually like our customers (except for a few that we have “special” names for). But my Starbucks is a rogue element. We hate the whole corporate Starbucks doublespeak, the cultlike corporate atmosphere, the endless control over anything that smacks of individuality. We wear jeans on Fridays. We stopped wearing the stupid hats. And we make the best drinks; some of which Starbucks has never even heard of.

    To the workers:

    You’re not “partners,” you’re employees. “Partners” is a euphemism created to disempower you, like WalMart “associates” or Whole Foods “team members”. There is nothing new under the sun; you’re simply employees in a symbiotic and adversarial financial relationship with your employer. Find your worth and get what you can. Be free.

    Peace Out

  50. What’s wrong with a smoke free environment or an area for people wanting to smoke. Starbucks has always been smoke free, you’re lucky if you find a starbucks that has a smoking area. Who cares anyways, people who don’t smoke have rights too. They’re just trying to make it comfortable for everyone. Some people really get sick by cigarettes and they shouldn’t have to feel horrible about this or intimidated by people who smoke, or comments such as if you don’t like it stay home. I believe in smoking areas, but I don’t believe in banning smoking from the premisis either. With proper ventilation systems both smokers and non-smokers can enjoy a nice meal or coffee out. I have a non-bias opinion on smoking or not smoking. What I hate is when people call people smokers or look rude at them. Areas are better not banning.

  51. Plus for the price of ADSL today, alot of places especially STARBUCKS should offer free WIFI.. I mean it just takes an adsl connection and a NETGEAR wireless router and a monthly fee, which to a large company is just peanuts.. what a better way to attract clientel. But everyone is too greedy today and that is why alot of businesses are not doing so well.

  52. One only has to look at how Starbucks stores used to be designed and how they are designed to get what’s going on. Howard Schultz wants you to take that cup to go. The stores are getting away from ceiling tiles, which makes them louder, the number of chairs per new store is much less than the older stores. The “third place” thing is a facade, a failed concept as far as they are concerned, as a bunch of salespeople use the place for their all day office, and many of them don’t even have the common courtesy to buy a cup of joe.
    They aren’t producing revenue for the company, and they take up space. Much better to have a place that is so noisy that you drink your coffee and go.
    Go to the Starbucks in Dobbin’s Center in Columbia, MD, and you’ll see just what I’m talking about. An older store, it’s just rows and rows of unprofitable laptop users.
    Go down the street to the new Starbucks, and it is purposely as noisy as a Who concert.
    I’ve got a verizon wireless card, I don’t need to be around this crap. I can work in my car, or in a hotel lobby.

  53. I can honestly agree with you, I have to do work and sometimes I have to Starbucks to use the internet, but the HEAR Music thing is reaaaaally annoying honestly I don’t want to hear this s**t I just wanna drink coffee and work.

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  55. I just happened to fall across this blog and decided I would reply to it. I am a current barista at Starbucks and can tell you that my store at least does not increase music to drive people out. Our music in our store tends to stick around the mellow side and most people enjoy it. We keep it at good levels where you can hear it well but can still hear another person you may be speaking with. Starbucks is meant to be an enjoyable, relaxing place where you can enjoy quality coffee and teas and drift away from the world with a sense of zen. At least, that is how I see it.

  56. i agree the music is really loud. i meet with a study group there reguarly and i have found we cant get any studying done also we can’t hear each other talk. i have asked if they could turn it down, but it doesn’t help its still annoying especally if your by a speaker. also there speakers are outside too. i don’t know whats really going on. but i agree with that comment that said try an independent coffe house.

  57. Hahahahhahaa, this is one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever heard! I mean, I know the world and media today are full of conspiracy theories, but seriously?? I think Starbucks could get a little more creative if they wanted people to not stick around. It’s just much harder to hear the music from behind the counter because there are no speakers back there, and music makes work go by faster for everyone, so the baristas crank it sometimes. All you have to do is ask for it to be turned down. Ask and you shall recieve, Om.

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