Starbucks vs. McDonald’s

While Matthew Yglesias’ predictions regarding taxation discussed in the previous post are reasonable, he sure does not understand the life style of affluent liberals.  He reviewed a study from the Pew Research Center which looked at whether Americans “would rather live in a neighborhood with more McDonald’s or more Starbucks.” The results:

Americans manage to typecast themselves by just about every demographic and ideological characteristic under the sun; overall, more Americans choose McDonalds (43%) over Starbucks (35%), but the split is more pronounced — and rather predictable — when analyzed demographically. Liberals want coffee; conservatives choose burgers. Younger Americans vote for caffeine; older Americans decidedly pick the value menu. When one controls for all the factors tested, the variables that do the most to explain whether someone chooses Starbucks over McDonalds are: having a college degree, having a high income, being a liberal, being a Westerner and being a woman.

Matthew responds:

But as someone who fits firmly into the Starbucks demographic, I can’t help but wonder what people are thinking. At the end of the day, if you want some coffee and there’s a McDonald’s nearby but no Starbucks, you can go to the McDonald’s and get some coffee. It’s not the same range of selection, and I do like Starbucks coffee more, but McDonald’s is a reasonably close substitute. By contrast, there’s no french fries at Starbucks. There’s no burger at Starbucks. No nuggets. No ice cream. And nothing that even vaguely resembles any of that stuff. It’s an assymetrical relationship where McDonald’s can imperfectly substitute for Starbucks but Starbucks can’t substitute for McDonald’s at all. And these days they both have WiFi. But McDonald’s has delicious Diet Coke and other sodas.

Long story short, the yuppies of America need to get real.

He fails to understand the tremendous differences between the Starbucks and McDonald’s experience. I ran this by a sample which was small but readily available–my wife and daughter. Both quickly voted for Starbucks. Actually my daughter’s reaction was the typical reaction of teenagers who think that adults don’t know what they are talking about. She thought the very question was ridiculous with only one plausible answer.

Of course this is a very biased sample. I suspect that my wife and daughter are responsible for the bulk of the profits at the nearest Starbucks. Ever since my daughter got her own car it has become common for one to go to Starbucks and be told by the baristas (who all know them both) that the other had just passed through.

Sure McDonald’s has more food choices, but I would very rarely actually eat at a McDonald’s. Some afluent liberals might eat there from time to time out of convenience but they could easily live without the McDonald’s. My wife will even drive through McDonald’s occasionally for a diet coke (which she does believe is better than that available elsewhere) but she would never give up a Starbucks for a McDonald’s coke. We would not use either Starbucks or McDonald’s as a primary place to get food, but have relied upon the limited food selection at Starbucks far more often than going to a McDonald’s.

People go to Starbucks for the experience, not just the coffee. We will go with other couples to a Starbucks after having dinner out with friends, but would never go to a McDonald’s for coffee after dinner. My wife will meet friends at Starbucks but would never do this at a McDonald’s. My daughter will even sit with friends and do homework at Starbucks but I can guarantee she would not be caught dead hanging out at a McDonald’s.

Incidentally, Matthew’s post is not the first time I’ve encountered people on line who did not understand the importance of the experience. While Starbucks is far preferable to McDonald’s, often I prefer to go to local coffee places which often have both better coffee and a better ambiance.

Last year while in South Beach (Miami Beach) we quickly found that coffee was available in the lobby at our resort and found a nearby Starbucks. While there were also many nearby restaurants and bars, we were unable to find any places we would like to go for coffee other than our lobby or the Starbucks. I did what I will usually do when wandering around a strange city–ask ChaCha.

ChaCha is a free service which researches questions submitted by cell phone and sends a text message with the answer. Generally they are very helpful, but this time I did not receive a response until the next day. They totally struck out on this one. I asked for coffee places near Lowe’s resort in South Beach other than Starbucks, hoping for a cozy place we could go at breakfast time or in the evening. The answer received was a Dunkin’ Donuts in Fort Lauderdale–hardly what we had in mind. Apparently people in South Beach hang out on the beach during the day and then at the clubs at night with far less interest in coffee places than we have in the colder midwestern cities.

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2 Comments

  1. 1
    b-psycho says:

    Meh…My preference is towards Hardee’s or the occasional Steak ‘n’ Shake for burgers, & the grind-it-my-damn-self kind so fragrantly displayed at decent grocery stores for coffee. 
    Starbucks is both too expensive & too strong, rather have coffee at home.

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    If is a matter purely of drinking coffee, I’d stick with drinking coffee I make at home in my Tassimo. It is both cheaper and generally tastes better (along with being as strong as coffee from Starbucks when I desire strong coffee). There are uses for a Starbucks for me as a place to go while I have little use for McDonald’s.

    The nearest Steak ‘n’ Shake is about a half hour from me, but if there was one nearer I’m sure I’d go there more often than the local McDonald’s. My favorite place around here for hamburgers is a local restaurant, not a chain. Of the chains which are available here, the one I’d most likely go to for a hamburger is Red Robin.

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