Starbucks (SBUX) Reserve, Good or Bad?

Very gracious to write the first blog of 2017, a continuous chapter of my last Asia Coffee Tour. Meanwhile, I was at the 50th CES (Consumer Electronics Show) last week, also marked my 10+ years of attendance to this trade show witnessed the technology advancement in time. I guess I won't share in-depth details about the exhibition (because you get better coverages from the press media), but in general the show divided into six key themes this year: Smart Electronics (Appliance & TV), Autonomous Driving, VR/AR, Drones, and Augmented Intelligence (AI) like the AMZN Alexa connected devices. Last but not least, the important revolutionary 5G wireless connectivity. Not any surprise the Chinese manufactures took up to 1/4 of the space. The reason I didn't call AI as Artificial Intelligence is because to-date technologies are overrated but simply an extension of today's computing to aim our productivity and decision making process. In summary, the age of PC computing is gone, and the computing is gradually submerged into every part of our daily living but not kept inside a 'Pandora's Box' anymore. Years ago, I had foreseen and highlighted the computing model would evolve & transcend into Mobile/Cloud/Green/Touch archetype in my TWTR account, and grateful that vision turned out to be right. Stepping toward into a new era, I see those directions furthermore extended, and again I'll save that topic for another time.

Let's get back and talk about SBUX Reserve Roastery experience I had in Taiwan and China. According to Starbucks, the idea of their Reserve was to brought you the small-batch, rarest exotic coffee roasted from its famous Seattle HQ, introducing a premium coffee experience, to worldwide customers. Now, proceed to examine whether they deliver their commitment or yet another marketing 'slogan'?

In Taipei City, you very often read national news about employees complained their "NT $22K" low salary income is very difficult to make a living. Contrarily, their leasing property is ridiculously expensive (unaffordable for any startup) because of limited residential real estate's available for development. Therefore, their local specialty cafe and roastery tends to be very cozy (actually, 'Tiny') in space. Typically, allow seating no more than 15 persons unless their location also serves for different venues like concert or else. SBUX is no exception; Their store's average footprint only designs fitting around 30 customers at a time (Hong Kong's is even smaller in cuban feet). Of course, that limited capacity also sets by commercial laws, fire regulations and so forth. Locally, Starbucks brand is franchised out to one of the largest Taiwan corporations, Uni-President Enterprise. They also own many other businesses, including the 7-11 franchise (BTW, I love the Asian convenience store. It's a candy store to adults.); therefore, they are very experienced in food and service industry. Many youngsters are attracted to work there for their better benefits, trainings and career advancement. Once your step sets into a Starbucks, you can momentarily detect their high morale and well trained professionalism. When I asked for a Reserve menu, the cashier gently engaged to understand my taste preference and make her recommendation. Like every other Reserve drink ordered, the Barista supposedly brews your drink right in front of you as part of the premium experience. Mine is no different, but more. The Barista's facial expression can tell he's very delicately pouring over the seasonal mix for me. Before settling the coffee down as final, he consulted me if the brew fit my taste. If wasn't, he could fix me another one. I was pleased and that's what I referred as a premium customer service even I had better in my previous life. Besides that, the cheesecake was definitely a delight to me, perfectly matched with the cup of dark, strong "Christmas 2016" ordered. Moreover, the barista is very knowledgable about his products and coffee techniques but not only robotically followed the SOP.

On the other side of Taiwan Strait, at the heart of Beijing City, Chaoyang District, where resided with many foreign embassies, financial institutions and the CCTV HQ, the Starbucks Reserve inside the Kerry Centre has opened my eyes wisely. This franchise was a two floors store capable of easily seating more than 300 customers together. Practically, I would like to rather call this an art gallery because every corner stored with art-pieces created by local celebrity artists. The name and description are engraved beneath every piece, along with the artist's autography. You'll absolutely feel like walking into an art museum and be fascinated to stare at every piece for hours and hours. On the 1st floor, the cashier and drink bar are separated on two sides to take orders and pick up pastries, and serve coffees for avoiding long waiting-line during rush hours. Unfortunate that chaos does happen under this unsymmetric setup. First, when I tried ordering a Reserve drink, the Cashier impatiently told that's not available at the moment because store was short of staffs where the Reserve lounge bar is at the 2nd floor. In that case, I gave up the idea of tasting a cup of Reserve but to order a regular seasonal drink, Eggnog Latte. After then, I moved myself to the bar for waiting the coffee. The amazing art sculptured on wooden bar table totally distracted me; I was taking photos and studying the craftsmanship. Whilst, my drink was ready at the bar sitting cold. Suddenly, I recognized the Barista called the drink's Chinese name three times, which I, as a foreigner, was very unfamiliar with (even though Mandarin is my native tongue). When I picked up my drink, the Barista gave me a rude, dirty look like I was guilty of something. Did you notice a missing link here? My name. Since the beginning of the order process, I was never being asked by the Cashier for name to put on the drink's cup for personalization and ease of process. If the Barista called me in name, I would have heard and all these misunderstandings would have prevented. That's also the chaos I stated in earlier. Although the store looks stunningly gorgeous, but the service was poor which defeated the purpose of building a beautiful garden to add more presence into the customer experience. After all, customers were there for their quality of products & services, not the eye candy. By the end, I left with flawed memory of Starbucks Reserve in Beijing.

Obviously, as a premium spinoff of Starbucks brand, the Reserve has more legworks to do for gaining customers' mind share, or say, market share. How can it improve the consistency among different franchises? Bottom line is customers don't care whether the store is franchise or not. They do mind if "Starbucks" logo ain't deliver consistent quality above their expectation. This is also a dilemma corporations have to face and consider when expanding globally: direct distribution model or franchise model.

Starbucks Reserve | Kerry Hotel, Beijing Products Score: 85 Service Score: 50 Store Score: 95

Final {verdict}: ⭐️⭐️⭐️ 3/5

Starbucks Reserve | Taipei, Taiwan Products Score: 90 Service Score: 90 Store Score: 75

Final {verdict}: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 4/5

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