I met a friend and colleague for coffee today. This is something that I do pretty much weekly. It could probably be more. Every time I go, I see many others discussing all manner of businesses from the comfort of a plush coffee-house chair. It’s something that, these days, is normal course and there are more and more people for whom the coffee shop is the office. But when did this happen? There was a time, not too long ago, when the only place you might find a cup of coffee and a chair was a corner diner like Rick and Alice’s. While you could probably get a 7-11 coffee or a Timmy’s, the “fast food” ambiance was just not conducive to a business meeting or a day’s work. I think, and this is certainly the premise of Onward by Howard Schultz, that it was the introduction of Starbucks that made this shift in our daily lives.
Love it or hate it, Starbucks basically invented the concept of the_ third place_. There’s home. There’s work. There’s the third place you go where life happens. Think about the last time you wanted to meet someone to discuss something. Anything. You know, that thing that’s not quite lunch worthy. Certainly not a dinner affair. But coffee. My coffee today started by running into this friend on a lonely highway in the midst of a 100km bike ride. Now that’s a tough place to catch up. But coffee (or water in his case) was perfect.
While I hope no one I know is living at a coffee shop, it’s interesting how, for many, the second place, work, has migrated to the coffee shop too. I’ve done it. Find your favorite brew, sit next to a convenient wall plug and spend the day working immersed in the soft bustle of other people. Those of us that don’t have an _office _to go to often miss the hum that comes from being amidst other humans. The bustle of people and the constant flow of caffeine are a great for getting in the flow.
Still, I find that my routines are best served by the familiar. Where the Starbucks effect is the most important is in the people. Connecting face to face is still the best way to do business, and for good or ill, the coffee shop is the place to go. Mr. Schultz was inspired by the European lifestyle he encountered in Italy and I truly hope that that culture of getting out, into your community and the third place is still as prevalent today. And whether you subscribe to their socially responsible business practices or not, in a world of likes, follows and pins, Starbucks has given us back ourselves.