New seating at Starbucks: A place for Intimacy Boy to get his comfort on.
New seating at Starbucks: A place for Intimacy Boy to get his comfort on.

Loud music and uncomfortable chairs are two of the ways — two among many? — that Jack-in-the-Box, Taco Bell and others of their ilk optimize flow-through. Ride ’em in, ride ’em out.

Starbucks, though … Starbucks used to be different. A huge corporation, yes. Cookie cutter interiors, yes. Baristas happy-jacked to a fare thee well, lord yes. But different enough to make it possible to accept them on their own “place to find connection” terms.

Visit Starbucks online and you’ll find references to “comfortable atmosphere” and “ options to relax … in the evenings” in a place “ specifically designed to be cosy and intimate, while at the same time providing people with their own personal space to use as they wish.

Visit an actual Starbucks, however, and you might get a different message.

Here in Greenville, upholstered chairs and intimate seating arrangements are being replaced with steel stools and high school cafeteria-style floorplans. Not cosy. Not intimate. Not relaxing, either, when the music is so loud that a person has to go outside to take a telephone call.

When I showed that “cosy and intimate” line to the ever-cheerful manager at Starbucks’ 2111 Augusta Street store this morning, he laughed. Whether with me or at me, I couldn’t tell.

Maybe this latest indignity in a line of big business indignities that stretches past the horizon shouldn’t seem so insidious, but it does. Not because Starbucks is honoring its fiduciary duty to stockholders, which it’s entitled to do, but because its erstwhile amusing message of comfort and joy has become one more chorus of cognitive dissonance.