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It was a sign of the times that the long-running US sitcom Friends saw the main characters socialising in a coffee shop rather than a bar. It began showing in 1994 and, since then, coffee shops have enjoyed exponential growth and become a standard feature of most British High Streets.
Personally, I have never seen the point, but their success is undeniable. I would say they have created their own market rather than taking existing trade from pubs – they come across as welcoming, unthreatening and, dare I say it, female-friendly. A coffee shop is basically a window on the world, whereas a pub is a refuge from it.
Now, the market-leading operator Starbucks have announced that they are going to roll out the sale of alcohol in some of their UK outlets, following successful trials in the US. It’s part of an “evening concept” that also includes serving more substantial meals. I can’t imagine that Tim Martin will be quaking in his boots, but it’s easy to see the appeal to tourists wanting a pre-theatre snack, or office workers enjoying a glass of Chardonnay after work before getting the train home.
It’s another example of how the on-licence scene is fragmenting and diversifying. We now have large numbers of bars in former shop premises, micropubs, bottle shops with in-house bars and fully-licensed “bar and restaurant” operations. It’s becoming less and less true that you need to go to a pub to have a drink outside the house. However, I would say that trying to ape coffee shops is about the worst thing pubs could do.
But, if you do want an Irish Coffee, you’ll be disappointed, as they’re not planning to serve spirits. But perhaps liqueur coffees would be a good sales tactic...


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