Why Wait In Line For Starbucks?

This morning I stopped at an extremely busy Starbucks. Eight people awaited drinks as I entered, 4 people in line, and about 10 cars in the drive-thru. I calmly walked to the end of the line, and was out the door with my drink in about 8 minutes. On the way out, I held the door for the woman behind me and she joked “Ever wonder what they put in there that makes us wait that long for it?”. Why do we wait for Starbucks?

Starbucks Logo © by kevinix
  • Routine: Humans crave regularity and an overall sense of what will happen. Stopping at a certain place to get coffee is no different from eating a preferred breakfast or taking a preferred route to work. One does it because it is well known, minimizes the chance for surprise, and allows our brain to have an easier time parsing our crazy world. If you’ve ever felt tired after a particularly intense day in the office of thinking as opposed to physically moving, you know that heavy brain work can fatigue the entire body. Routine is one way to decrease that.
  • Preference: We actually like Starbucks (or any other brand for that matter) for a number of reasons. Mere-exposure dictates that simply having it around often enough will engender a liking, while the hardcore Starbucks haters will argue it’s all about cognitive dissonance (i.e. we really don’t like it, but we do it often enough that we convince ourselves we actually do). And if we don’t prefer the coffee, we may prefer the environment, or the location, or all of the above. Plus our preferences can be constructed on the fly, so small changes (i.e. an extra few minutes) can always tip a preference from “Nay” to “Yea” or vice versa.
  • Subjective Time Perception: Starbucks has made a good stab at trying to make a long wait at least seem shorter. The line to get a drink, at least in Shreveport, is usually never longer than 4 people. The wait for drinks may be longer, however you feel as though things are moving along, even if your drink is still in the ‘ticket yet to be printed and slapped on a cup’ stage. Plus there is always something to look at, always something to explore, or a product to consider buying. And they give away free iOS books, movies, and songs, which allow us to spend at least 30 seconds feeling rewarded simply for hanging out near the small freebie cards. After all, if they gave us our drink right when we ordered, we might not see those cards 😉
  • Lifestyle Aspiration: Let’s face it, some of us would love to hang out in a coffee shop all day (in theory at least, in practice this would probably be annoying). We like the idea of sipping strong coffee, brewing new ideas, and chortling at high-brow jokes. Starbucks fits this aspiration in ways that McDonalds and Dunkin’ just don’t (yet…).

Why do you wait for Starbucks? Or do you not wait and laugh at those of us who do?

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