StarbucksStarbucks (SBUX) is renowned for its caffeinated drinks, but it isn't above spiking its beverage menu here and there. The coffee giant is adding wine and beer at up to a dozen cafes in the Southern California and Atlanta markets.

While this might sound like big breaking news, dabbling in adult beverages isn't actually a new concept for Starbucks. The company has been slowly building its tolerance to alcohol for a while.

Trial Run at Tipplers

Starbucks has been testing the spiked waters in Seattle since fall 2010. As of now, five Seattle stores and one Starbucks in Portland, Ore., serve beer and wine. It also plans to open up to another six in Chicago.

Starbucks says that customers in its small sampling thus far have received the added items positively.

The timing here is essential: Beer and wine won't be available at the select cafes until the afternoon. That's because, like any coffee shop, demand for coffee jolts wanes as the day wears on, with the slowest sales time of day being the evening. After a certain hour and in certain markets, Starbucks wants to be the destination for customers seeking out that "third place" between home and work.

Do Coffee and Booze Mix Well?

There are clear risks involved with serving alcohol, not least of which are potential legal liabilities related to minors and intoxicated drivers. Furthermore, depending on what kinds of crowds these cafes draw, Starbucks' reputation for being a family-friendly venue could fade. There's also the possibility of overly caffeinated drunks.

Those worries might be allayed by the fact that the Starbucks cafes slated to serve alcohol will also sell higher-end fare like fruit and cheese plates, hot flatbreads, and focaccia with olive oil. Starbucks has also revealed that it never intends to offer beer and wine in all of its cafes -- a sign that this is a pretty controlled experiment, and hardly aimed at the binge-drinking crowd.

That's probably good; alcohol can be a social lubricant, but a little bit can go a long way for a higher-end brand like Starbucks. Plus, Starbucks' heart and soul resides firmly in the coffee bean.

Motley Fool analyst Alyce Lomax owns shares of Starbucks.



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drichfatcat

Beer as potent as their coffee? Sign me up.

January 26 2012 at 12:12 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
jjaytdad

Overpriced wine to go along with overpriced coffee? What a concept. Wow.

January 25 2012 at 10:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Cathy

The wine bar should be separate from the coffee bar so that there isn't the chance of minors being exposed to it. Card anyone who doesn't look 21 to keep them out.

January 25 2012 at 10:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Religious Education

With the number of bars, taverns and pubs in New York, don't see $tarbuck$ making a dent here.

January 25 2012 at 9:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
hgeorgech

So, does this mean that in such locations where wine and beer are served, patrons < the legal drinking age (in those states) will NOT be allowed to enter the establishment .. for a coffee?

In some states, persons < 21 are not allowd to go into a bar (even if accompanied by someone of legal drinking age).

Advice to Starbucks: Stick to what you know best - serving grossly overpriced, bitter coffee ....

Nix the alcohol!

January 25 2012 at 1:58 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
daffhouse

WIth Starbucks recent endorcement of Gay marriage, what they put on the menu will not matter to those who think corporations should stay out of policitcs and social issue endorcements.

January 25 2012 at 1:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
LOUIS MASI

COOL... ANOTHER REASON FOR THE IDIOTS TO SIT IN STARBUCKS ALL DAY AND DO NOTHING AFTER BUYING ONE ITEM...GREAT MARKETING PLOY

January 25 2012 at 12:30 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
mmmgoblue

I see a clash of cultures on the horizon. What little Starbucks will gain in beer/wine sales will be offset by what they lose in loyal late afternoon and night time customers. Beer drinkers get louder and prefer subdued lighting. Coffee drinkers prefer a quieter atmosphere and more light to see what they're typing. And, there are other downsides like cost of liquor license, dram shop insurance costs, permanent loss of loyal customers. When I want to share a glass of wine or drink a beer Starbucks is the last place that comes to mind.

January 25 2012 at 10:58 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
Jennifer Teates

Unfortunately, as of now anyway, this will not work in MD either. Our govt. only just changed alcohol policy to allow for residential shipments of wine. MD has kept its hands in alcohol sales for as long as I can remember, controlling all of the when, where, and hows for revenue purposes. Even if MD finally drops its iron fist someday, I'm not sure Starbucks would become my local watering hole. Though I wouldn't turn my nose up at a Bordeaux if offered, whether alongside coffee or not.

January 25 2012 at 10:24 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
vallontina

This will never happen in NJ. They are very strict about liquor licenses and I don't think anyone can actually leave the serving place with an open beverage. Good luck with that Starbucks. No Irish coffees to go.

January 25 2012 at 9:47 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply