Starbucks Proves a Hit in Vienna, Even With Smoking Banned


VIENNA, Austria - It takes some hubris to bring an American coffee shop to Vienna, the city of cafes, and then to ban smoking in it. But no one has ever considered Starbucks humble. And the move, a keystone of Starbucks' rapid expansion in Europe, appears to have paid off. Since the Karntnerstrasse coffeehouse opened in December in the smoky, beating heart of Vienna, near the Opera House, it has been a resounding success. Now there are three others in Vienna. Dire predictions that Starbucks had finally overreached have proved wrong.

The smoking issue loomed large. Holzschuh, a heavy smoker, originally argued that no Austrian coffee shop could possibly ban cigarettes. "Some 40 percent of Europeans smoke and 60 percent of Italians," he said. "That's half your market!"

Starbucks' American bosses were unfazed. "They said that we have 3,000 nonsmoking stores and the 3,001st will be nonsmoking, too." Holzschuh conceded, but kept thinking, "OK, friends, let's wait and see." The Vienna store opened, and "in the first two months we had 100,000 guests," Holzschuh said.

Many Viennese believe that their culture has been infected, that Viennese use their 1,900 or so coffee shops to linger and meet, smoke and drink, savor the wonders of pastries with cream and marzipan, ponder the world, write books and read free newspapers. They drink from china cups and order from a waiter, usually in a stained black dinner jacket.

In Austria, there is a coffeehouse for every 530 people, and Austrians drink 1,000 cups of coffee a year outside homes and offices. This is, quite simply, the densest coffee market in the world. One of the most competitive, too. "Austrians love their coffee," Holzschuh said. "We go three or four times a day to a coffeehouse to meet friends or do business."

But reactions to the nonsmoking policy have been only positive, Holzschuh insisted. Signs in Starbucks read: "Aroma-Schutz durch rauchfreien Raum" aroma protection through a smoke-free space and then thank the customers for their understanding. "We looked for a sentence that said, 'Dear guest, it's not about your health, it's about the coffee,'" he said.

With four stores in Vienna now, Starbucks plans to open about a store a month in Austria for the next five years. German plans are even bigger: five to 10 stores in the next 12 to 18 months and some 200 stores by 2004, with a total of perhaps 1,500.

Starbucks started its international push in 1996 in Tokyo, where there are now more than 320 stores, which Maslen says are Starbucks' most profitable anywhere. It later went to Singapore, Bangkok and other Asian spots.

Starbucks opened in Switzerland in March 2001, then Austria and this year, in Spain and now Germany. By the latest count, Maslen said, Starbucks has 5,405 stores worldwide, 1,153 of them outside the United States. "The whole international expansion is important to us," he said.

Saturday, June 1, 2002
Source: New York Times News Service