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Starbucks’s New Concept Takes ‘Don’t Talk to Me Before I’ve Had My Coffee’ to a New Extreme

Starbucks will soon open a store in New York City serving only takeout coffees ordered through the app

A “Starbucks Coffee” sign hanging in front of a window. Photo: haireena/Shutterstock

Starbucks has long touted itself as a “third place” away from home and work, where people can sit, relax, and use the restroom, regardless of whether or not they’ve made a purchase. But the future of the chain may be “to go,” if CEO Kevin Johnson’s plans are any indication. In an interview with Bloomberg, Johnson revealed that the company is developing a pick-up-only store in Manhattan, for customers who patronize Starbucks for just its java, hold the ambiance.

The coffee giant first tested a similar concept earlier this summer in China with the launch of a Starbucks Now store, which allows customers to place mobile orders in advance and pick up their food and drinks at an “express” shop without any wait. “What we’re using Starbucks Now for, and what will be Starbucks pick-up stores in the U.S., is to blend them in where we have dense urban areas where we have a lot of Starbucks third-place cafes,” Johnson told Bloomberg.

The Manhattan pick-up cafe is set to open this fall. Depending on its success, the model could then expand to other urban areas like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, and Boston, Johnson said.

While pick-up locations apparently won’t be replacing full-service “third place” Starbucks cafes so much as supplementing them, streamlining takeaway orders makes sense from a purely optimization perspective: minimize real estate and labor, maximize output. Employees won’t have to expend precious working minutes on cleaning restrooms, tidying tables and chairs, or waiting for indecisive customers to slo-o-owly place their orders at the cash register. The model effectively combines the most efficient parts of both vending machines and coffee carts for maximum productivity and, if Starbucks gets its way, scale.

Speculatively, the pick-up-only stores could also become hubs for delivery, which Starbucks is looking to as an area for growth. In July, the chain expanded its delivery service nationwide with an Uber Eats partnership, but as the Verge pointed out: “because orders must be made through the Uber Eats app, Starbucks customers can’t yet earn reward points. If they want reward points, they’ll have to order through Starbucks’ own app for pickup.”

Should Starbucks’ pick-up cafe concept work in Manhattan — and, knowing New Yorkers’ fondness for app ordering and speed, it probably will — there’s a potential future in which Starbucks pick-up and delivery all filter through the same app and the same pocket-sized, empty store, free of the ubiquitous public space — and the caffeine-clamoring crowds — that have come to define an in-store Starbucks experience.