As you may know, McDonald’s is trying to beat Starbucks at its own game — or at least steal some market share. According to The Wall Street Journal, the fast food giant is now hiring baristas and, starting this year, they’ll begin putting coffee bars in some 14,000 U.S. locations.
This isn’t the dumbest thing they’ve done lately, but it’s weird.
Starbucks, meanwhile, also hopes to emulate Starbucks — as it once was, anyway — now that Howard Shultz has returned as CEO, renewing his vows with customers. Considering that they’ve been the McDonald’s of coffee since at least 2000, when Shultz last held the position, this oddball battle of the brands is already the height of corporate irony.
Sure, this may seem like a good time for McDonald’s to get into the game (their share price went up 31% last year while Starbucks dropped 41%). And yes, there are a lot of great reasons to compete with Starbucks from the two-dimensional comforts of a spreadsheet. But do they really want trained baristas?
Besides, isn’t the current Starbucks mess thanks to the company’s over-caffeinated growth — the very growth that Shultz pioneered — and not because they abandoned their mythical, shade-grown je-ne-sais-quoi?
The bagel shop near my apartment has some of the best bagels in Brooklyn. They also have a cappuccino machine, if not a barista. You can order a “half-caff french vanilla iced latte” if you want, but I don’t recommend it. The guys behind the counter will sneer at you, as will fellow customers as you hold up the line. But there’s something nice about that. It’s honest. Terrace Bagels doesn’t want to be Starbucks, and neither it seems should McDonald’s.
Starbucks, on the other hand — yeah, they might wanna look into that.
Brand Autopsy‘s John Moore, who wrote the book on Starbucks’ marketing, compares Shultz’s return with that of Michael Dell. It’s too early to say what will and won’t work for these two (*gulp*) cafe chains, but Moore has some good advice from the Starbucks playbook in the meantime.
UPDATE: Not sure how I missed this from the WSJ article, but here’s a video of the machine the McDonald’s “baristas” will be operating: