Is Starbucks An Outdated Status Symbol?

Starbucks stores are ubiquitous in most cities, and, in my opinion, their coffee is both mediocre and overpriced. So why is everyone so obsessed with posting pictures of their #Starbucks drinks all over social media?

By Ella Carroll-Smith3 min read
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I want to start off by saying that, while I do think there are better coffee places out there, I’m not here to simply hate on Starbucks. I typically make my coffee at home, but if I’m out and about and in need of a caffeine fix, I’m happy to stop at Starbucks. I consider myself pretty neutral on the Starbucks front, but I do recognize that it’s a luxury purchase and I could easily make the same drink at home for half the price. 

While I don’t necessarily see Starbucks as a status symbol, some people definitely do. That’s why folks are far more likely to post a selfie of themselves with a cup of Starbucks than with a cup of coffee from McDonald’s, especially when Starbucks is touting a fancy new seasonal drink or cup design.  

What Makes Starbucks a Status Symbol?

A status symbol is something that’s meant to signify the owner’s (or purchaser’s) high social standing. It’s why rich people drive Teslas, live in mansions on Cape Cod, and carry around Birkin bags. Status symbols are a way of showing you have the means to purchase things you want, but do not need. The wealthier you are, the larger your purchases are likely to become because you have more disposable income to play with. 

While a cup of coffee is not quite on par with a mansion in Cape Cod, there are many people who cannot afford to spend $5 on a latte – especially in this economy. There’s a reason that, when you read any article about how to budget or save money, one of the very first things they’ll mention is cutting back on (or eliminating) stops at Starbucks. 

Starbucks is not a necessary purchase, it’s a luxury purchase – something you’re buying simply to “treat yourself.” Status symbols are a mark of exclusivity because they’re difficult to acquire. But now that there’s basically a Starbucks on every corner, their coffee is more accessible than ever before. 

The reason Starbucks is even more coveted than usual during the holidays is because their festive cups and drinks like Pumpkin Spice and Gingerbread lattes are only available for a limited period of time. Those red Starbucks holiday cups are a symbol of exclusivity. Outside the holiday season though, Starbucks coffee isn’t hard to come by at all, so as far as status symbols go, Starbucks is losing its luster – especially when you consider that their coffee really isn’t even all that good. 

Has Starbucks Gone Downhill?

Depending on where you live and what you order, a Starbucks coffee could run you anywhere from about $3-$6 dollars a cup. Sometimes more if you order a specialty drink or request additions like an extra shot of espresso. The cheapest thing on the menu is usually plain black coffee, but most people rarely order plain coffee from Starbucks because their regular coffee is kind of gross. 

Now I understand that this all comes down to individual taste so you might not agree with me, but I’ve talked to a number of different people about this over the years and most of them agree that Starbucks coffee is way too bitter. I don’t know why Starbucks insists on burning their beans during the roasting process or when exactly their regular coffee started going downhill, but there seems to be widespread agreement on this subject. If you go to Starbucks, you’re probably not ordering plain black coffee, so you’re likely paying more than $3 per drink. 

Why Not Go Local?

Here’s another thing to consider: If you’re going to spend $5 on a cup of coffee anyway, why not support a local business instead of a giant corporation? That way, your money is going to someone in your community as opposed to the pockets of a global corporation with arguably controversial business practices.

Aside from supporting your fellow community members, the coffee at your local shop is likely to be better than what you’ll find at Starbucks anyway because they’ll source higher-quality coffee beans. Plus, local places are more unique and harder to come by, so there’s an argument to be made that the perceived exclusivity of a cup of coffee from your local coffee shop makes it more of a status symbol than a cup of Starbucks!

Closing Thoughts

If you genuinely enjoy your Starbucks latte and can afford it, then by all means, continue to get your fix! Just don’t feel obligated to if you only think of it as a status symbol, because you’re honestly better off making your coffee at home and saving the $5. And the next time you’re jonesing for a cup of joe while you’re on the go, consider trying a local shop instead. Who knows? Maybe you’ll find your new favorite spot! 

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