Starbucks is accelerating its plans to shift many of its stores to a takeout-only format, according to an article today from the Wall Street Journal. The coffee mega-chain will “close, renovate, or move” 400 traditional cafes in the U.S. and Canada over the next 18 months and open 40 to 50 pickup-only stores over the next year and a half.
While the pandemic has accelerated the pace towards this to-go model, the shift itself isn’t new for Starbucks. In 2019, the chain opened its first Starbucks Now stores featuring very limited seating, an automated pickup system, and a focus on digital orders. And in a letter from the end of May, company CEO Kevin Johnson said the company would be reformatting many stores to cater to off-premises orders as part of its “Bridge to the Future” reopening plan.
Starbucks has also claimed that 80 percent of its orders were to-go before the pandemic, hence plans to shift its model towards off-premises formats. As the WSJ said, Starbucks “expects that portion to grow as the pandemic changes commutes and routines.”
The company is focusing on New York City, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, and other “dense urban areas” for the shift to pickup-only locations.
Starbucks is also probably leading what will be a widespread trend in the restaurant industry. Dining rooms may be reopening, but they’re doing so at reduced capacity, and many consumers are still wary about actually sitting down in a restaurant. As well, a study released this week by Washington State University’s Carson College of Business found that a number of consumers won’t go out to eat until there are improvements in testing and tracing COVID-19 cases. Others are skipping the dine-in experience until a vaccine is found.
All those factors make to-go ordering a more important strategy than ever for many restaurants. Yes, the jury is still out on how much off-premises orders can make up in lost sales. And no, not every restaurant has the money and resources to completely re-outfit their stores to be more to-go friendly. But Starbucks helped create the coffeeshop culture that, up until a few months ago, was as commonplace as the grocery store. Now it’s leading the rest of us towards a to-go culture that will soon be as much a part of daily life as its cafes once were.