January 23, 2012

Burger King home delivery and Starbucks pub

In a move that recalls the anti-social drive-in culture of the mid-century, Burger King has begun testing a home delivery service.

There's virtually nothing to be saved in terms of time or money. You have to live within 10 minutes of the restaurant, and they only aim to get your food to you within 30 minutes. So on your own, less than 10 minutes there and back, plus the time to get your food inside or via the drive-thru, and you get it faster. There's a $2 charge for the delivery, and you won't be spending that much on gas to do it yourself. What they're selling is the "luxury" to stay locked indoors all day.

You can't really fault the company, since they're only trying to keep up with consumer tastes, and people these days don't want to be out in the open. They've had to reverse their self-conception from a place that offers an experience special enough to leave the house for, to a stripped-down catering / outsource service.

I usually drop in a couple times a week, eating there, and it's not as enjoyable as it used to be because all of the windows are blotted out with ads. It's on a busy corner, and would make a greater spot for people-watching, but it's too inefficient to have the windows open up to the outside world for the handful of dining room customers, when they could be used to push the latest deals to the penny-pinching drive-thru majority.

One good thing, though, is the music. You can't expect good music in public, but Burger King's is usually listenable and unobtrusive. If they're not going to go for an exciting atmosphere inside, they should just play '80s adult contemporary hits. Something soothing and uplifting. I did hear "Mad About You" by Belinda Carlisle once -- I don't know who could hear that song in public and not break a smile.

Unfortunately you can't say the same about Starbucks music. It's always so cerebral (bebop) and self-conscious (folk) that it wakes you right up from the dream that you'd like to settle into when you're lounging around out of the house. It's not toe-curling, but it would be such an easy thing to fix to make the experience more satisfying.

Still it is my go-to hang-out since it's the closest thing to a neighborhood meeting place that you can find nowadays. They may begin to focus even more on that communal aspect by offering more food and booze. They're starting with beer and wine; hopefully they'll sell Irish coffee. In any case, it'll help mellow everyone out. I do like the direction the store's experience has taken, where it used to be a lek for attention-whoring professionals, and has slowly become a more chill, all-ages hang-out.

The one big misstep they've made is offering free WiFi. That just invites the parasites and cocooners. Reading newspapers, books, writing with your hand, etc., is all fine. But once you're hunched over a laptop, you might as well bring portable cubicle walls as well. It's off-putting and depressing to walk into a coffeehouse and behold a computer lab.

Once the society shifts away from cocooning, I'll bet it will start at a place like Starbucks, similar to the use of diners as young people came out of hibernation in the late '50s. They weren't as carnivalesque as the food court at a mall would later become, but they were at least keeping the embers of sociability burning in a withdrawn era, compared to the drive-ins and strip malls.

The last period of falling crime and cocooning lasted 25 years, and we're already about 20 years into this one. So hopefully around the end of the decade we'll begin to see signs of life again.


  1. Could you make a useful list of cocooning and non-cocooning behaviors, maybe ranked by order of importance?

  2. I agree with free WiFi; if you use a computer stay home. It's not like you need a Frappuccino while you're working.

    Btw, just curious, but seeing you dislike Asians, whence 'aki no kure'? Or did you dig Japanese pop culture until you met some?

  3. Once the society shifts away from cocooning...

    Will that happen again? I'm not sure white people actually want to cocoon. Maybe a lot would go out but don't because the diversities are so vile.

  4. Regarding the all-ages aspect of Starbucks, that's a great observation...I've definitely noticed it but hadn't consciously thought about it. I think that's something special...as introverted and fragmented our society is becoming, it's pretty cool that we can all publicly enjoy a place where there's caffeine, internet, and just a bit of low-level background noise.

    Personally I go to my local B&N Starbucks to read and study, so I prefer less noise and I put on headphones. But, getting out of the apartment is really important.

    I think we really need more pure "destination" coffee shops, where people go and stay there a while. This could be an emerging industry...once people stop buying the overpriced crap at bookstores the companies will realize that they should just sell coffee and a place to sit.

    Maybe they could do monthly memberships or something, and there would be a range in stores from pure-library atmosphere to pure-hang out.


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