Americans take it for granted that they can sit in most coffee shops or Panera-like establishments and work for hours, after buying one token item of food or drink. If the place is busy enough or you don’t plan to be there very long, you don’t even have to buy anything.
Starbucks staff, I feel, are trained not to come up and accost customers who haven’t purchased. This is probably due in part to Howard Schulz’s “third place” philosophy, in which he aims to create an additional place of comfort that isn’t work or home that people wish to go to in order to relax, meet friends, or work (for more on Schulz and his underrated ways of thinking or management, read the worth-your-time Pour Your Heart Into It).
Why is Starbucks a valuable resource for the practical European traveler (who doesn’t carry the angst characterized by “I would never go into a Starbucks in any country” hubris of the wannabee coffee snob or aspiring hipster)? Three simple reasons:
1) They are everywhere. You’ll find them in Berne, Switzerland, a little gem of a town, or in the heart of bustling Paris.
2) They will let you sit down, charge your devices, use the wifi, and go to the bathroom, all without necessarily making a purchase. The last particular point in a city famous for its lack of available toilets is an “amenity” truly worth the price of admission.
3) You can sit and work, or chat with friends, uninterrupted, for as long as you need. This has been a big part of why my Paris Chess Meetup meets at Starbucks (and why I have a book club event there next month). Sometimes the staff comes over to watch us play, even, but we are always made to feel welcome. The majority of us buy food and drink, of course, but that’s more about wanting to, not feeling obliged to.
This is to say nothing of the dozens of students that camp out at the huge Bux locations on Rue de Rivoli or near St. Paul in the Marais. Laptops and books splayed out among study groups – these students are doing what they CAN’T do in a traditional Parisian cafe: study and work together. Parisian cafes are great for writing (I’m writing this piece in one of my favorite ones right now, Le Poncelet in the 17th), but for student work and collaboration, when you likely live in a closet like my first apartments in Paris, you really can’t beat the Bux.
Every now and then the New World teaches the Old World a thing or two. Even if the Old World doesn’t listen, or as in the famous case of the Montmartre Starbucks, fights back, it doesn’t mean you can’t leverage the secret.