London, Sep 29 (ANI): Starbucks and the ambience of its outlets have killed community life, says an academic who conducted a study of the world's biggest coffee chain.
Bryant Simon claimed that its small and widely spaced tables, free wireless internet access and a preference for take-away customers act as conversation-killing factors that have encouraged patrons to cut themselves off from Starbucks.
In his book 'Everything but the Coffee: Learning about America from Starbucks', he says that the seemingly ubiquitous Starbucks, which has 16,000 outlets worldwide and last year earned nearly 10.4 billion dollars, had made great play of how it encourages people to come together.
Many outlets had community message boards and - borrowing from sociology - the company marketed itself as a "third place" between work and home.
However, says Simon, the communal feel was an "illusion".
"People immediately create their own little private, gated communities. You come in, set up your laptop and put on your headphones. You couldn't be more alone in public if you wanted to be," the Telegraph quoted him as saying.
For his research, Simon visited 425 Starbucks branches in nine countries, including Britain, over a year and talked to customers and confessed of witnessing few spontaneous discussions or interactions.
He said that the rise of Starbucks and its rivals was a far cry from the British coffee houses of the 18th and 19th centuries "which were the cornerstone of democracy with a small 'd'".
In the book, Simon also pointed out that the company's sense of community was very narrow.
It ensured its prices were high, with a latte costing around 3 pounds, and opened only in upmarket areas in order to maintain an aura of exclusivity, he said.
Simon concluded that Starbucks' success had little to do with the coffee and everything to do with image and identity.
"Time and again customers told me they would look at someone carrying a Starbucks cup and assume they were successful and moderately hip," he said.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for Starbucks said that it welcomed all customer feedback. (ANI)