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Participant Observation: Starbucks, Research Paper Example

Pages: 9

Words: 2378

Research Paper

Introduction

This discourse will present an observation detail of the traffic and interactions of patrons of the Starbucks located at 14061 Jeffrey Road in Irvine, California.  The business hours of this particular location is from 5:30 AM-9:00 PM and I arrived at the location at 7:00 AM.  Starbucks is a coffee shop and they serve a limited array of pastries and deli sandwiches as well as their signature blend of coffees, teas, and various soft drinks.  This location also offers lunch, oven-warmed food, Starbucks Card Mobile, and Wireless Hotspot internet access.  The atmosphere is in keeping with the trend of the chain and offers limited seating in an informal first-come-first-serve basis.  Soft music plays from the CDs offered for sale in a nearby display and patrons have the option to walk up to the counter, order, and wait for their order at the counter or take a seat, if available, and wait for their order. 

Setting

It was very quiet in the shop except for the sounds of the coffee machines and I was the only patron in the shop at the moment.  However, this quickly changed as a female jogger entered the shop seconds after my arrival and stood in line behind me to await their turn at the counter.  The store was decorated in neutral shades, mostly browns and tans with splashes of taupe and soft greens in the furniture.  When combined with the muted lighting and soft music, the effect was a mellow atmosphere that encouraged speech in calm quiet tones.  The Starbucks had the atmosphere of a library without the clutter of the books.  As I placed my order for a Venti double chocolaty chip frappuccino with whipped cream and caramel sauce and a chicken sausage breakfast wrap, three more patrons entered the Starbucks.

Types of Customers

Two were males and seemed to be on their way to work since they were wearing professional attire and the third was a female that I think was a student, since she was carrying a knapsack.  As I took my order to a nearby table, the female jogger placed her order for an iced Tazo green tea latte and some other item and I noticed several other patrons enter the shop.  They appeared to be more students and people on their way to work and the noise of the male server preparing the drinks being ordered quickly drowned out the feeble voices of the patrons as they ordered from my vantage point several feet from the counter.  However, I was able to watch as food was prepared, beverages were made to order, and customers were promptly serviced by the two employees.  A third employee, another female, came from the back area and manned the second register adjacent to the first to help with the flow of customers that were steadily trickling in for their morning libations by twos and threes.  Starbucks has a membership rewards programs and some of the patrons were members, handing the cashier a card which was scanned to keep track of their purchases and accumulation of their points towards rewards.

The jogger had taken a seat at a table across from mine and was enjoying her Tazo tea and what appeared to be a breakfast sandwich.  She was listening to music through headphones and was engrossed in some activity being accessed through her device, courtesy of the free WiFi.  As each patron was served, they took their orders to go and the jogger and I remained the only customers dining in for a while.  The space is open with the only boundaries created by the counter, which separates the employee space from the customer space and the tables that create aisles and alcoves.  Some of the tables have limited seating, making the space accessible to someone in a wheelchair or mobility device.  The restroom is unisex and large enough to be handicap accessible.

Occupational Presence

There were two employees behind the counter, one male, one female, and the female was taking the orders while the male prepared them.  After about half an hour, the traffic began to lull and I noticed that the jogger had gone.  It was during this reprieve that one of the female employees came out from behind the counter to bus the tables and tidied the store.  The male was washing dishes and the other female was replenishing the food display beneath the counter.  Each employee moved swiftly through their tasks and I quickly saw why.  The lag in customers was short lived and within ten minutes there were about a dozen customers in line and as quickly as they were served and left, new customers came in.  Students, professionals, and mothers taking their children to school all stopped in for breakfast and a beverage.

The employees handled the customers efficiently as drinks and foods were ordered, related, and prepared with few errors.  Some customers also stopped in to purchase bags of coffee grounds, reusable travel coffee cups, gift cards, CDs, and a variety of other items offered in the displays placed strategically by the counter so customers can’t help but notice the items as they wait for their orders.  However, I noticed that the store never seemed cluttered or crowded, even when there was a long line at each register.  Other than the few displays, the countertop displays of candies and other delectable’s, and the seating, the store did not boast much in the way of décor.  The store was filled with natural lighting that emanated through the store windows and the registers were concealed behind the high counters.  Essentially, all objects in the store are functional items placed to maximize store profits.

The employees all wore uniforms that made them easily recognizable to customers and seemed to function as a well-oiled machine.  Their professionalism was an asset to the easy ambiance of the store and the pleasantness of the staff was best reflected in the obvious abundance of repeat customers.  Many of the customers that frequented the location were members of the rewards program and the employees were familiar with them and their typical selections.  The servers would greet these customers with a smile and ask them if they would like their usual, citing each preferred item by name.  If the customer usually arrived with a companion that was not present, the employee would ask after the absent party and there was a definite camaraderie between the servers and their regular customers.

Temporal and Other Patterns

Some of the customers would arrive in groups or carpools and the groups would share greetings with the staff, as though this stop were part of their regular routine.  I also noticed that the servers were polite, friendly, and welcoming to all their customers and they seemed to take pride in making sure each order was correct and to the customer’s specifications.  Each customer was serviced within a few minutes of their arrival and received their order within a few minutes of placing it.  The customers seemed to arrive in a steady ebb and flow pattern with rushes of new people about every fifteen minutes or so.  Despite the small size of the Starbucks and the constant influx of new customers, the store never seemed to get crowded, thanks to the efficient work of the service associates.

As my time observing rounded the hour mark, more of the patrons seemed to be in groups and a few of the groups took their food and beverages to an available table to chat while they ate.  One group consisted of three females and one male, all of which I took for college students due to their attire and knapsacks.  They had all ordered caffeinated beverages and my assumption was confirmed as they began to discuss their classes and instructors.  Their conversation quickly turned to extracurricular activities and the parties and entertainment that would be available during the upcoming weekend and throughout the week.  The females laughed a lot and one particular female seemed to be flirting with the male in the group.  Although he seemed oblivious to her gestures, the two other females in the group were not and soon began teasing her about it, which the male companion also did not notice.  The group continued to study for their upcoming exam by volleying questions, mostly directing them at the guy in their group.  He got most of the answers wrong and continually complained to his companions that he was afraid he would flunk the test.  The girls continued to encourage him, but he seemed skeptical as he continued their study session.

The second group consisted of a trio of males.  They were businessmen, well-dressed, and I assumed they had a 9:00 AM beginning to their workday since they were in the Starbucks at 8:00 AM.  One of the males expressed his nervousness about an upcoming meeting of great importance and his companions tried to encourage him.  Apparently, their words did not help because the nervous one rushed the other two through their meals and back into their vehicle, stressing that he did not want to be late for his meeting.  His companions grumbled and protested, but hurried with their food and left.  One of them was still stuffing the last bites of his breakfast sandwich into his mouth as he exited with his drink still clutched in his other hand.  As they left, I could hear the nervous one telling the one still eating to finish all of it because he did not allow food in his car.  They bickered about it over the car, but the nervous one won and the eater discarded his remaining drink before getting into the car as he had finished his sandwich at the door.

The third group was two females and their babies.  Their babies looked to be between one and two years of age and the women looked to be in their early twenties.  One woman had a breakfast wrap, the other a breakfast sandwich, and they had both ordered a coffee drink and bowls of oatmeal for their babies.  They gossiped about mundane matters, like common friends, the children of these friends, and the state of the romantic lives of these friends while they fed their children the oatmeal bowls and pretended to eat their own sandwiches.  They drank three cups of coffee each as they sat and chatted, since this location offers free refills, and their children made a mess of the oatmeal and themselves.  The mothers continued to chat as they each produced travel packs of baby wipes and cleaned the sticky, messy remains of breakfast from their children, anted up on their fourth free refill, dumped their uneaten food, and all four piled into the restroom at once before they left the Starbucks.  No doubt the three Venti refills had caught up with them.

The students had left while my attention was diverted with the mothers and children and a couple had taken their place at the table in front of me.  Their hushed tones and intimate gestures gave the impression that they were romantically involved.  The female was dressed in business casual attire and the male was dressed in jeans, although I think they were both on their way to work because the male had some sort of ID badge attached to the waistband of his jeans.  They sat across from each other at the small table, holding hands atop the table as they enjoyed their iced coffee and croissants before work.  They must have made plans to meet after work because the female stressed that her companion should make sure he was on time.  He promised he would do so and they continued with their muted conversation for several more minutes, their hushed tones broken only by the occasional burst of laughter from the woman.

It was now about 8:15 AM and another rush of customers entered the store.  There were nine people in this crowd, three of which had come in together and took their food to the table adjacent to the couple.  It was another trio of males, this time students, and they were in a boisterous mood.  Their conversation was loud enough to drown out the music and obviously disturbed the couple, so much so that they left a few minutes after the students had settled at their table.  Although one of the female employees came to clean the area the couple had just vacated, she did not comment on the noise the trio were making at their table as they laughingly flung spoonfuls of oatmeal at each other across the table.  This unruly display facilitated a response from the male employee, who was also the Assistant Manager, and he politely informed the guys that they would have to quiet down and stop throwing food or they would be asked to leave.  Even though the Assistant Manager looked to be about the same age as the unruly guests, the authoritative manner in which he spoke left no room for argument and the boys came to order.  They remained at the table about five more minutes before leaving the Starbucks for more tolerant pastures.

As they were exiting, another group of patrons were entering the store, a total of six people in this bunch.  There were no groups in this pack, but one customer did collect their order and settle at the table adjacent to mine.  She was dressed casually and had a shoulder bag that housed a laptop she pulled out and began working on.  She also pulled out a Blackberry, searched for a few seconds, and dialed the selected number.  Speaking quietly into the Bluetooth device discreetly attached to her ear, she typed as she spoke, ending the conversation with a promise to e-mail the person requested documents right away.  Pushing a button on the Bluetooth to disconnect the call, she continued to type for several more minutes and then used the touchpad on her laptop to, I surmise, send the promised e-mail before picking up her Blackberry, finding, and dialing another number.  This call she handled more aggressively, demanding the person on the other end capitulate to her demands, which they seemed to do before she disconnected this call as well.  I left at this point, as it was 9:00 AM and my observation period had expired.

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