Friday, February 25, 2005

Round tables at Starbucks

This might seem like an unusual rant, but justified. Why must the tables at Starbucks be round?

A round table is great if you're a silly k-nig-it sitting at Camelot, or maybe if you're just sitting and sipping a cappuwhatchoo, but if you're trying to get any serious work done, they're extremely inefficient. Try positioning a laptop computer, some notes or papers, and your cappuwhatchoo, and you'll find that something has to hang over the edge. Which isn't good. If Starbucks insists on courting the business crowd (which they do), then why make it so difficult to fashion a usable workspace? There simply isn't room on the small round Starbucks table for everything a businessperson or student needs to work with. Just a laptop, maybe, or just a book or notes, but not both. Not enough room.

Although there would be enough room if the round tables were square. Take the diameter of a round table and make that the length and width of a square table, and all of a sudden you have lots of space. By cutting off the corners to round the table, a good third of the usable surface is sacrificed. A square table would fit in the same amount of floor space yet serve as a much more usable workspace. Anybody ever think of that?

Granted, square tables would give the appearance of taking up more space; all square tables would make your typical Starbucks look a little more cluttered. But why not have some square tables, especially in the larger stores -- and especially along the perimeter, where a curved table next to a flat wall is particularly inefficient? If Starbucks really wants to court business users (who happily pony up for that uber-expensive T-Mobile wireless access -- and drink more fancy drinks, as well), why not engage in some ergonomic studies to maximize the workspace? As it is, the only comfortable workspace in a typical Starbucks store is the handicapped table -- and, while I'm sure there are few if any penalties for usurping this particular handicap space, there needs to be more.

Fortunately, the local coffeehouse I prefer to use is an independent joint with nicely squared tables. Unfortunately, they don't offer WiFi. Life sucks.

But that's just my opinion; you're free to disagree.


Anonymous said...

You may need a remedial lesson in geometry. A square table whose sides are the same as the diameter of a round table not only has significantly more surface area, it takes up more space as well. Round tables are simply more efficient. The corner space of a square table can be used for the chair space of a round table (so, a round table with chairs takes up about the same space as a square table without chairs. Maybe you could convince your local Starbucks to add square tables but remove all the chairs, however, I doubt that's the solution you're looking for). Starbucks is all about efficiency. They are also about appearing inviting and relaxing, and smooth rounded edges have a soothing and relaxing effect--look at the other curves in the design of a Starbuck's space.

However, you make a couple of good points: the space along the walls and wooing the business clientele. Maybe it's just your local Starbucks, but mine has square tables along the wall. That seems to be efficient where the walls are straight (and they are not in many Starbucks), although I live in London (England) and space is at a huge premium. Or it could simply be that my local Starbucks got a good price on some square and rectangular tables (yes, rectangles! maybe we'll eventually even have trapezoids). And to the second good point, if the goal is to attract business people to stay and do a little work (and have that second or even third cup of caffe-tia-latte-coco-decaf-light), then maybe round tables are not the best way to go. Or maybe your local Starbucks just needs to mix it up a bit. Or maybe you need longer arms.

The Curmudgeon said...

While a round table might be more efficient for placing multiple chairs, it's definitely less efficient as a single-person workspace. And based on my observations, the majority of tables at the average Starbucks are occupied by just one or two people -- so all that extra chairspace really isn't necessary.

I agree that one of the reasons behind Starbucks' round-table decision is appearances; rounded edges do look more inviting. I also think that Starbucks uses them because they provide more flexibility in arranging their floorspace. Square tables dictate a kind of grid across the middle of the floor; round tables can be arranged in more fluid designs.

All that said, Starbucks seems to be in the minority (but with a majority of locations) in the round/square debate. Most of the independent coffeehouses I've visited use square or rectangular tables to some degree, as do competing chains such as Caribou Coffee. Along similar lines, most casual restaurants and fast food joints also use rectangular/square tables, and these guys really know the efficiency game. So Starbucks is odd man out, here.

As to the square tables in U.K. Starbucks, this only demonstrates the continued superiority of British culture over us upstart Americans. The Brits have obviously learned a thing or two over the years...

Anonymous said...

Trust me, you are giving the Brits way too much credit.

Anonymous said...

Trust me, you are giving the Brits way too much credit.

Anonymous said...

way too much credit.knob