I realize it's in vogue lately for quick-service restaurants to be all things to everybody. Breakfast at Yum! Brands' Taco Bell. Wings at McDonald's (NYSE:MCD). Pizza at Subway. And now burgers at Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX)? Okay, I realize it's just at its smaller La Boulange chain but the thought is giving the bakery goods image a bad taste in my mouth.
La Boulange chain
Starbucks purchased the La Boulange breakfast and lunch bakery cafe back in 2012. The chain will now add "build-your-own" burgers and open for dinner while serving cocktails. Starbucks plans to have its coffee chain roll out wine, beer, and fancy appetizers during dinner at certain locations around the nation.
Starbucks has not announced nor hinted at an extension of burgers to the coffee chain, but it seems hard to imagine at La Boulange either. Maybe what I really smell is my own fear of it happening. Don't get me wrong: I love a good burger. And even a bad burger. You could catch me gnawing on a quarter-pounder with cheese at McDonald's at least once a month. However, I've noticed the wait times steadily getting longer as McDonald's menu steadily grows.
Starbucks, in short, please don't kill the La Boulange experience by over-complicating your business model with a complex kitchen. Your same-store sales are continually climbing while McDonald's same-store sales in the U.S. continue to lose traction. Don't fix what ain't broken. In other words -- please don't pull a McDonald's.
The Starbucks speed
There are probably two themes that come to mind when I think of Starbucks -- quick coffee drinks and and a relaxing atmosphere. No matter how many times I pop into one, I never quite learn.
As part of my ritual, I get in the back of a long line while silently debating in my head if this line is even worth it and wondering how long it will be. Next thing you know it I'm awoken from my daze to the words, "Can I help you?"
Starbucks is fast. And efficient. It's always a pleasure to watch the magic behind the counter as it delivers order after order with amazing speed no matter how complicated and customized the drink request. Its simple food offerings rarely hold up the lines.
Speed is an important part of the experience. Lord knows it's getting harder to come by at McDonald's.
The Starbucks experience
Starbucks, you've got me sold on the whole third place thing. Starbucks has mentioned on its conference calls and elsewhere that its goal is to become a third place for people between home and work. At this place people can relax, meet up, socialize, catch up on email, and surf the Internet. Us fans expect similar at La Boulange. If Starbucks starts flooding calm, classy La Boulange atmosphere with burger patrons chomping away, we may lose our appetites for the rest of the La Boulange food.
Maybe save the burgers to go with the cocktails at Starbucks for dinner though. Some burger sliders may pair well with the bacon-wrapped dates you're serving. The crowds are thin and the lines are usually almost nonexistent for the evening crowd. La Boulange so far is a great concept as is and its food is a hit, as evidenced by the 50% spike in food sales traditional Starbucks locations are seeing that serve it. Simple is good. And it sells. Just ask McDonald's which is learning that the hard way.
It's probably premature to sound the alarm bells, but it's important for successful brands like McDonald's and Starbucks to keep their brand identities in mind and not lose sight of them. McDonald's seems to be starting to catch on and has recently introduced a gourmet-looking Bacon Clubhouse burger to its menu instead of other weird additions. For McDonald's, I applaud the move. For investors in Starbucks, just keep an eye out to see that the company stays on course and continues to successfully resonate with its core customers and keeps off the burger battlefield.
Nickey Friedman has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends McDonald's and Starbucks. The Motley Fool owns shares of Starbucks. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.