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Private phone booths and coffee aplenty: This new Starbucks looks an awful lot like WeWork

But without the monthly rent.

Private phone booths and coffee aplenty: This new Starbucks looks an awful lot like WeWork
[Photo: iStock]

The default cup for a Starbucks coffee—whether you order a tall or venti, cappuccino or the dreaded pumpkin spice latte—is a paper to-go cup. That’s because Starbucks really wants all those coffee lovers to head out by the time the espresso machine stops steaming. It’s not an office after all, though many people make it one. But at least one Starbucks Japan store has a new concept that says “When you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” It invites customers to stay.

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Starbucks Japan collaborated with ThinkLab, a design consultancy, to develop the coworking space concept. The store, in Tokyo’s Ginza neighborhood, has a typical Starbucks to-go model on the first floor. On the second floor, however, the store has introduced private phone booths with videoconferencing ability, which customers can reserve in advance. It’s like a WeWork with more drink options and without the monthly rent.

It’s a surprising move, considering Starbucks has wholeheartedly embraced the grab-and-go nature of its service for years now—with plans to continue in that direction. Some 60% of new stores will have drive-throughs, and the global purveyor of our caffeine addiction has fast-tracked its digital ordering and delivery strategy in response to COVID-19, Fast Company reported back in June. The Starbucks in Ginza is only one store, after all. But there are also a lot of newly remote, flexible workers, looking for a fresh setting between 9 and 5. (Time will tell if that remains the case—a record number of COVID-19 cases were reported in Tokyo at the end of the July, leading the governor to urge people to stay home.)

Customers pick up their caffeine fuel on the first floor, which also offers Starbucks’s Mobile Order & Pay, allowing you to complete orders in advance. But if you want to stick around and get some work done or take a call, you can book one of four booths in a semiprivate room upstairs. Booths can be booked in 40-minute increments. Customers can also book seating around tables for small group discussions (if we ever have conversations in close proximity again). There’s additionally a solo working space called “ThinkLab” that will give you “the highest concentration environment” and can be reserved in 15-minute increments via an app. Just like the Starbucks mobile app, this is all in one: you can make reservations, pay, and unlock the space with it.

A Starbucks spokesperson tells us that no similar cafés exist in the United States, and the company does not currently have plans to expand the model. In any case, with coronavirus cases in the U.S. still setting world records, it’s safe to say it’ll be a while before we venture to a second—let alone a third—place outside our own coworking space, at home.

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About the author

Lilly Smith is an associate editor of Co.Design. She was previously the editor of Design Observer, and a contributing writer to AIGA Eye on Design.

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