Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts: Coffee and Concietedness: How Your Cup of Coffee Has Come to Mean So Much

Living in a New York suburb all of my life, I have come to know the typical stereotypes associated with New Yorkers. It is clear, however, that some of these stereotypes such as arrogance and aggressiveness are pervasive characterizations of New Yorkers because, well, there is a ring of truth to it. New York serves as the outgrowth of the rest of the world; a representative of the business and cultural rhythms of the international community. I myself am a very aggressive, competitive person, fitting the mold of the typical New Yorker very well (though I still retain a modicum of humanity). New Yorkers are always trying to be very fashionable, even treating non-accessorial items as viable accessories to an image. What began many decades ago and was once a unique characteristic of Manhattan and other cities has expanded to the suburbs and stretched across the entire planet with an avaricious temperament. As the world has become more competitive and more materialistic, these characteristics have served as the bedrock for modern advertisement. Consequently, this kind of competitive nature can manifest in the oddest of circumstances, such as coffee. Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts (with McDonald’s sprawling line of McCafe’s a close third) have clearly distinguished themselves as the titans of the coffee industry. In both instances, there are varying kinds of romanticism imprinted on these brands. They lure consumers with witty commercials, fashionable carvings that pass for company symbols along with idealism all packaged into a neat, tangible product.


The origins and business strategies employed by these companies exposes certain paradigms of the product; in particular its appeal and whether it creates a false sense of exclusivity in the process. Starbucks’ origin is from Seattle, Washington from the late 1970’s. Howard Schultz, a salesman, had noticed coffee supplies being shipped in inordinate amounts to Seattle. He discovered a prevalent coffee scene and, through tireless negotiations, bought the Starbucks in Seattle. Having read his book Pour Your Heart Into It , I can further delve into the background of this operation. Schultz envisioned Starbucks as a place to go between home and work; where people could converse and share intellectual ideas. Part of this inspiration was when he took a trip to Italy (Once again, being 100% Italian, I could go on how coffee is a staple of Italy’s culture) and saw how densely packed coffee houses were. Shipping the European concept back to the United States, he imposed a revolutionary vision on consumers. Rather than walking out of a coffee shop after getting a cup, why not stay? Of course, coffee houses like these were notorious in places such as Seattle, but they were not widespread across the nation like in other European countries. Schultz, through horizontal integration, subsumed local coffee shops, which helped him expand his consumer base. Through vertical integration, Schultz invested in coffee production and distribution tightening his grip over production and fortifying the company’s consumer strength. He consolidated his business scheme by having complete control over his coffee, from where it was raised to how it was treated and subsequently produced as delectable coffee.


Starbucks separates itself from other elaborate coffee shops like Gloria Jean by selling a concept rather than a product. The unique designs, artwork, and (in New York) readily available copies of the New York Times evoke a level of sophistication not experienced in most libraries, colleges, or other places of intellectualism and exploration. Starbucks’ transcends the typical definition of coffee house by becoming a very cerebral one, as its icon has been associated with luxury and wealth. A phenomenon discussed by many economists cites that people may place more value on items and accessories that are more expensive than similar variation, sometimes irrespective of quality. I personally frequent Starbucks about once a week and have pretty much memorized a portion of the menu. It is not uncommon for the prices of its coffee blends, derivation and food to hover around $4 each. For instance, my personal favorite is a Venti (Large) Iced Café Latte (no syrup/sugar added), which costs $3.92. If that doesn’t accentuate the blatant price gouging that occurs there, some of the coffees there are as much as $5.50! That’s the cost of a value meal at some restaurants! Nevertheless, the coffee is excellent, though exceptionally strong, which is one of its greatest appeals and detractors. People are willing to pay more because they feel they are investing and maintaining a particular image about themselves.


Possessing a cup of Starbucks Coffee in your hand, with the black and white siren prominently shown on the cup along with an intuitive quote on the other side, gives an unduly sense of accomplishment and, tantamount to an animalistic growl or dance, demonstrates to others your self-worth. For some, it may carry the significance of graduating college or attaining a job promotion; hyperbole notwithstanding. I noticed that, during the last political campaign cycle, certain politicians such as Barack Obama drank Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks, depending on where the campaign was at a given time. Obama bought Dunkin’ Donuts for volunteers in Chicago and, while Starbucks simply doesn’t sell donuts in that amount, Obama was also seen drinking Starbucks when meeting with other, more affluent constituents. His opponent, John McCain, strictly drank Starbucks, which may have been the result of an internalized conflict in worrying about how to reach out to particular demographics (though his stalwart and admirable war record more than makes up for many of short-comings. If you‘re wondering, I voted for McCain) may have required a couple of photos with a cup of Starbucks coffee in hand to demonstrate his underlying poise and perceptive political skills to unfamiliar constituents. Still others, such as Democrat-turned-Independent Joe Lieberman has typically been seen with a cup of Dunkin’ Donuts, helping to hammer out and solidify his commitment as a proponent and advocate to the average citizen.


Is there a sense of exclusivity at Starbucks? While Starbucks will never kick you out based on your career or what you wear, a case can be made that its outlandish prices for coffee and foods alienates a great proportion of the lower socio-economic class. It becomes easier, then, to understand why Starbucks had to close several stores in places such as Harlem, NY and even more depressed areas because the consumer base had come to rely so heavily on the reasonably priced Dunkin’ Donuts.

There is also an impression of individuality and creativity blended in with the addictive aromas within the shop, as every Starbucks, while similar in many aspects, usually affixes different kinds of artwork to the walls. Furniture usually varies, too, along with community boards and other noticeable dimensions, giving it a true-community feel. It’s no coincidence that Starbucks has aligned itself with Barnes and Noble and Itunes, a division of Apple, in order to accentuate its driving marketing philosophy: that Starbucks should be the place between home and work, a mecca for stimulating intellectual conversation. Books are readily available for purchase based on the New York Times Best-Seller List. In addition, the amiable ambiance of the jazz, classical and soft rock music genres that emanate from its seductive décor strike a chord within most people. I’ve even gone home and purchased several songs from Itunes after hearing them at Starbucks. The main demographic that continues to populate coffee houses are college students and young professionals, with many adults still loyal to Dunkin’ Donuts (although this has decidedly changed over the past decade with more adults coming in and staying at Starbucks). Starbucks’ ability to wed itself to concepts of education, debate and college is one of its sources of superiority over other coffee competitors such as Dunkin Donuts, a coffee company that has attained a blue-collar feel to it but continues to be the largest supplier of coffee in the world.

Dunkin Donuts was begun in 1951 in Quincy, Massachusetts, just outside of Boston, by William Rosenberg. After his sixth shop opened, he decided to franchise the stores, allowing him to manage his burgeoning company. However, Rosenberg was inspired to venture into this industry through his successful Industrial Luncheon Services, which targeted weary factory workers looking for a snack or cup of coffee. Even today, Dunkin’ Donuts continues to maintain its industrial undertones, as there is no unique design to the franchises.

The old-school coffee behemoth has advanced its message of simplicity, toughness and, recently, patriotism (America Runs on Dunkin’ has morphed into a ubiquitous slogan) very successfully for the past half century. I can recall my grandparents strictly drinking Dunkin’ Donuts and McDonald’s coffee, nostalgic impulses navigating their consumer habits. However, not even Captain Ahab could have anticipated the sharp deviation many adults have taken to Starbucks, the more youthful and accommodating shop. The only way in which Dunkin’ Donuts makes any attempt to compartmentalize its stores is by adjoining Baskin Robbins or, until recently, Taco Bell franchises in order to broaden consumer bases. Although newer Dunkin’ Donuts franchises have taken a page from Starbucks and spruced up the décor and altered color schemes (have you ever seen so much pink, orange and yellow?!), they still pale in comparison to the amount of interest Starbucks devotes to its franchises. Of course, there may be an implicit trade-off, with Dunkin’ Donuts able to spend more time on its food and increasing products in other areas (such as pizza). Conceivably, Dunkin’ Donuts larger menu may be an offshoot of this discrepancy in business principles and methodology. Dunkin’ Donuts represents the run-of-the-mill coffee shop, as it offers coffee without any bells or whistles or fancy distractions. For those who are straight-forward and are uninterested in unnecessary props aimed to add false levels of sophistication (like most straight-forward blue collar workers), Dunkin’ Donuts is able to accommodate those very easily.

As previously stated, the food menus differ quite substantially, as Dunkin’ Donuts is willing to sell non-traditional coffee foods such as pizza while Starbucks has so far never ventured towards that direction. Instead, Starbucks is more focused on its small array of food choices, ensuring that these foods compliment the types of coffees they offer. Although I don’t think certain foods are being marginalized or excluded from consideration at Starbucks, it’s clear that their focus on being an upper-echelon coffee-chain requires them not to sell certain foods. Similar to a 5-Star Manhattan Restaurant, simple though widely-popular foods such as cheeseburgers and pizza may not be served in order to solidify an atmosphere of unparalleled etiquette. Of course, these levels of exclusion and admission are not confined to the food industry.

By and large, both brands of coffee have become increasing similar in an attempt to fill every coffee niche possible, ranging from cappuccinos to espressos to iced coffees to lattes and everything in between. Personally, I find myself as a stalwart disciple of the Starbucks mantra and culinary philosophy. Admittedly, I was once swept away by its romanticism and indulged in its intellectual aroma. Still, if one strips down Starbucks to the core, all it consists of is overpriced coffee, available newspapers and somewhat comfortable chairs. Perhaps the greatest accomplishment of Starbucks is being able to disguise what it really is to the general public, pushing customers to infer and extrapolate unfounded notions of the popular coffee house. Dunkin' Donuts, on the other hand, has cultivated an even bigger fan base because it is devoid of arrogance, elitism and embraces the common man. Speaking of political subsections, Starbucks recently offered a free cup of coffee to anyone who voted in the presidential election this past year. As advertisement leads begin to dry up, and these coffee mavens look elsewhere to expand, do not be surprised if they engage in even more non-traditional behavior. Starbucks has already fervently hugged the environment and other global issues; Dunkin' Donuts will not be far behind. Is it possible for Starbucks to subliminally support a particular candidate or viewpoint? It has already been criticized as being a left-leaning coffee house by some. Alas, from politics to fashion, the brand of coffee you possess will clearly say more about you than you may intend or want. In an age of overexposure from advertisements, brand names ranging from college institutions to even the trivial cup of coffee you consume mark your identity without the opportunity for rebuttal.

So who are you? The cerebral, globally-aware individual who boasts theories and ideas almost as complex as the particular coffee of choice (Non-Fat Triple-Skim Iced Latte, anyone?), Or are you the rugged, individual who opts to lead a simpler life and doesn't need to be deluded by concepts of what is vogue or has more romantic prowess to be happy (Medium Coffee, Light and Sweet). Who'd ever thought grabbing a cup of coffee would evolve into such a complex decision?



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Comments 4 comments

Teresa McGurk profile image

Teresa McGurk 7 years ago from The Other Bangor

Excellent analysis of social perspectives. I used to drink coffee at Starbucks. Now, however, I buy a cup of joe at the local gas station for a third of the price. I'm on a pension, and can't afford to be intellectual anymore (*grins*).


anthony31587 profile image

anthony31587 7 years ago Author

Thank you! I'm a HUGE fan of Starbucks, but have had coffee at both places. There is a certain unmatched ambiance that Starbucks carries that few other places do.


heckstallmaffei profile image

heckstallmaffei 6 years ago from Leeds, UK

I was always a regualar starbucks goer before i switched to decaf.


crassnsilly profile image

crassnsilly 2 years ago from leigh-on-sea

Did you know you can actually make coffee in your OWN HOME? And, get this, there are other places. Even outside America. It's true, just Google it.

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