Ethnography of Starbucks

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The Status of Starbucks

For my ethnography project, I decided to observe the Starbucks on Rockside Road in Independence, Ohio. My plan was to observe the subculture of Starbucks’ customers. A subculture is defined as a “structured social inequality or, more specifically, systematic inequalities between groups of people that arise as intended or unintended consequences of social processes and relationships.” My question was twofold. Does Starbucks appeal to certain social statuses? And if so, does Starbucks serve as another example of social inequality? The City of Independence has approximately 7,000 residents. The City is a hub for business, the majority of which are primarily based on Rockside Road. There are a variety of businesses, many of which include law firms, medical offices, and accounting firms. These busy professionals are just the type of clientele that I observed patronize Starbucks. The Starbucks on Rockside Road is located in a mid-size strip mall. The mall itself is very clean and has ample parking. Starbucks is flanked by other restaurants including Heidi’s, Zoup, Chipotle, Winking Lizard, Quiznos, and Thai Gourmet. All of the surrounding restaurants also cater to working professionals who have limited time available for food in their hectic days. The strip mall also contains non-food businesses that complete the full-service atmosphere. The additional stores include a large Kinko’s, Verizon Wireless, AT&T, a second printing shop, and a nail salon. The Starbucks is located right next to Kinko’s. It announces its presence with a large, tripod chalkboard that subtly invites passersby to reminisce of childhood. Indeed, the chalkboard notices offer some form of comfort in an otherwise hectic life. I first walked past the chalkboard on October 30th, a crisp Saturday in Northern Ohio. The chalkboard sign confirmed that it was in fact fall. The sign was decorated with orange and brown ribbons and offers of “Toffee Mocha” or a “Pumpkin Spiced Latte” along with a “homemade” glazed donut. As I pushed open the glass door, with the immediately recognizable green and white Starbuck’s logo, I was met with a warm breeze. The scent of chocolate and coffee beans filled the store. The sound of Wilco and grinding coffee beans invaded my ears. The store was about 500 sq. ft. in size. It contained a long, dark green counter behind which had two smiling twenty-something “baristas” who were ready and waiting to take my order. Several Espresso machines were situated along the counter. There was also a large display case which contained what appeared to be delicious donuts, cookies, and various pastries. The store also offered “Ethos” water which informs potential purchasers that a portion of the money goes to ensure clean drinking water in less fortunate countries. Patrons could also purchase organic non-coffee drinks, coffee mugs, ground Starbucks coffee, and iTunes music downloads. The store had an interior designed for comfort. Sixteen wooden tables filed the area. The floor was a deep cherry faux wood. There were multiple pictures on the walls, some of which depicted the different countries that Starbucks gets its coffee. The store was decorated for fall. Two sequenced pumpkins sat on the counter---one at the register and one at the pickup station. The pumpkins matched the pumpkin chalk on the outside display. The color orange was splashed around the store. There were already other patrons when I arrived. One table was occupied by a twenty-something male, typing away on his Macintosh laptop. A young couple occupied another table. The remainder of the store contained a scattered group of males and females, all with laptops, who appeared to be working on some kind of project. I chose a table situated near the middle of the store and began gathering my observations. Over the span of two weekends (the weekends of October 23rd and October 30th) I had an opportunity to observe the type of people who purchased the...
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