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Starwich Salads & Sandwiches


rosie11211
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I'm a bit surprised at the negativity of the reactions. Maybe tasting some food at Starwich or experiencing the amenities and services will add some perspective, but it seems to me that an ambitious sandwich operation should be right up most eGulleters' alleys. It will be interesting to see how this all evolves, now that so many early negative predictions are on file. I suppose the safe bet is always that any restaurant will fail, since most do, but to be in Starwich yesterday you wouldn't in a million years have thought you were in a place that needed to worry.

Maybe I'm an anomaly, but am I the only person who has ever gone to a sandwich chain and said, "You know, for a couple of bucks more and without being geniuses they could easily make delicious sandwiches instead of the crap they're serving here"? Since I've had that internal dialog about a million times, I welcome the opportunity to pay $9 for a delicious sandwich instead of $6-$7 for a mediocre sandwich.

Cosi has already shown that it's possible to be successful in 12 states selling sandwiches in this price range, and Starwich simply serves better sandwiches -- with more choices -- than Cosi. Early in the history of Starbuck's plenty of people said the prices were too high and there were too many choices for the average moron to comprehend, yet today the average moron is spending $4 a day at Starbuck's and speaking a whole language purpose-built for ordering coffee drinks.

And while you can't go into Starbuck's and order "just coffee" without being asked a ton of follow-up questions, you can go into Starwich and order any sandwich from the menu without dealing with any technology or special language -- you just order the sandwich, pay, and they make it fresh and give it to you. Three of us went yesterday and two of us ordered from the regular menu. It took as long as ordering a Big Mac value meal at McDonald's. Our friend, who had been before, created her own sandwich with the hanging-chad-punch-card-type thing and was a couple of minutes behind us in ordering. But for that extra investment of time she got exactly what she wanted: braised boneless short ribs on toasted multigrain bread with port salut cheese and I can't remember what veggies and condiments. It's outside my frame of reference to be able to complain about that.

Presumably any normal "general menu" restaurant keeps 100+ ingredients on hand, and presumably a sandwich place does much higher volume than a sit-down restaurant so can accommodate a similar inventory at a lower price point. Maybe no. I'm not a restaurant industry professional. The owners of Starwich are, though.

Michael Ryan has been in the restaurant business since age 16 when he took his first job: baking pizzas at a local pizzeria in Glen Ellyn, IL. He made pizzas there for 7 years, paying his way through college in pursuit of a degree in advertising. He later joined a small team of entrepreneurs to start up a fine dining dinner cruise ship company called Odyssey Cruises in Chicago. This 800 passenger vessel was extremely successful in its first year with sales over $13 million (Odyssey is now operating in Boston and Washington, DC as well). He then became Regional Operations Director at Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, the company founded by industry legend Rich Melman, who built restaurants such as Shaw's Crab House and Mity Nice Grill, which together generate more than $25 million annually. Before starting Starwich, he was Director of Operations for BR Guest, whose restaurants such as Blue Water Grill, Isabella's, and Fiamma collectively gross more than $100 million a year.

Spiro Baltas is also a BR Guest alumnus (that's where he and Ryan met) and has been a sought-after consultant in the restaurant industry. His background includes Four Seasons hotels, the Sbarro restaurant group (which in addition to the shopping-mall Italian eateries it operates worldwide also runs several more upscale restaurants), and a stint as restaurant and wine director at Tavern On The Green. He also spearheaded the expansion of the La Familia restaurant in Boston into a five-restaurant group generating $20 million in sales annually.

In other words, we're not dealing with idiots here. Of course, you need more than just industry experience to operate a successful restaurant business, but it's a start.

I'll be back at Starwich late next week to taste more stuff. I'll report back then.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I'm a bit surprised at the negativity of the reactions.

Me too.

Maybe tasting some food at Starwich or experiencing the amenities and services will add some perspective, but it seems to me that an ambitious sandwich operation should be right up most eGulleters' alleys. It will be interesting to see how this all evolves, now that so many early negative predictions are on file. I suppose the safe bet is always that any restaurant will fail, since most do, but to be in Starwich yesterday you wouldn't in a million years have thought you were in a place that needed to worry.

Maybe I'm an anomaly, but am I the only person who has ever gone to a sandwich chain and said, "You know, for a couple of bucks more and without being geniuses they could easily make delicious sandwiches instead of the crap they're serving here"? Since I've had that internal dialog about a million times, I welcome the opportunity to pay $9 for a delicious sandwich instead of $6-$7 for a mediocre sandwich.

Exactly the reason we are looking forward to trying it. Order lunch in every day for months and you'd be too. I've had more than my share of crappy $7-8 sandwiches and lunch specials.

It figures that we'd finally get a great lunch place in the neighborhood just as we pick up and move to Astoria :rolleyes:

Edited by Blondie (log)

Sometimes When You Are Right, You Can Still Be Wrong. ~De La Vega

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I don't think we're reacting negatively to a restaurant trying to do better. I think that we're worried they've put so much into all the doo-dads that it may scare off customers, which may lead to a decline in quality or service over time. I wish them luck and wish I lived close enough to try it out. However, I don't think you should call a sandwich where the first ingredient listed is Virginia Ham, a "Grilled Cheese."

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The smart card may be questionable, but the 130 ingredients? That sounds outright stupid.

I realize that 130 choices may seem like an unmanageable number, but here's a comparison that helps to put it in perspective. There's a sandwich chain in San Francisco, not upscale at all, that does a booming lunch business. They make everything to order, and all told, I'd say there are at least 60 or 70 "choices" the customer has. But what it comes down to is 10 or so choices of bread (more if you count bagels); 6 or 8 choices of vegetables (some free, some with a surcharge); 5 or 6 choices of cheese; 4 or 5 condiments; and probably 20 choices of meats/other fillings. Plus a list of hot sandwiches.

And you know? I really wish there were more cheese selections, and I can think of several fairly mainstream vegetable selections they don't have (roasted peppers, for example, or sauteed onions).

My point is, when you break the choices down into component lists (breads, condiments,, etc.), it's not overwhelming in the least to have that many. Granted, 130 is almost double that, but my sandwich shop doesn't do made-to-order salads, so I can see the larger number being entirely manageable.

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And while you can't go into Starbuck's and order "just coffee" without being asked a ton of follow-up questions...

Eh, I do it every day. "Large coffee please." (I refuse to say "venti.") They always get my order right, too, even without the faux-Italian. :smile:

Speaking of Starbucks, and thinking of Jason's comment that he's never yet seen a successful smart-card implementation:

I am pretty sure that Starbucks has achieved at least a modest success with their "Duetto" card. Cleverly, it's a Visa credit card everywhere but Starbucks, where it can be used as a stored value/smart card. I seem to see quite a few people using these at the local Starbucks in the morning.

I will reserve judgment on Starwich until I've had a few sandwiches there. I do not think that they are pricing themselves out of their market, necessarily - in a world (Midtown) where a plain cheese slice and a fountain Coke sets you back $4-5, a really well-made sandwich for $9-10 is not unreasonable.

From a quick look at their menu, it looks as if they're going to have some quite decent breakfast options as well.

Ghastly web site, though.

Edited by enrevanche (log)

enrevanche <http://enrevanche.blogspot.com>

Greenwich Village, NYC

The only way to keep your health is to eat what you don't want, drink what you don't like, and do what you'd rather not.

- Mark Twain

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Presumably any normal "general menu" restaurant keeps 100+ ingredients on hand, and presumably a sandwich place does much higher volume than a sit-down restaurant so can accommodate a similar inventory at a lower price point. Maybe no. I'm not a restaurant industry professional. The owners of Starwich are, though.

On hand? Sure. In a mise-en-place? No. I don't even think a place like ADNY keeps 100+ ingredients in a mise-en-place on a particular night. Your average 3-star or 2-star certainly doesn't. Maybe Per Se does, but they aren't trying to mass produce everything in a 3 to 5 minute order window.

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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Oh and another thing, their online ordering system requires Internet Explorer.

Also doesn't work on any browser on the Mac. I can't think of anything involved in ordering a frickin' sandwich online that would require potential customers to use one specific OS/Browser platform. These people are largely building their entire business around creative use of technology, and they can't create a simple, customer-focused experience.

Doesn't matter how good the sandwiches or ingredients are if I can't order one.

-j

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Judging by their website, the 'story' seems to be weighted toward Choice and Technology. Or at least one gets the sense that in developing the site these were top priority site goals, which presumably should serve the company's goals and overall mission. These are fine components to advertise among a handful of others, but should they be leading the Starwich story that way? They can craft the story any way they like, and you'd think they'd want to let the more challenging parts (challenging to the customer, that is - choice and technology) sit as background killers, not leaders.

Doesn't really appeal to the hankering we all have lingering somewhere in our minds which FG expressed above ("You know, for a couple bucks more..."). You want those bucks to go to a unique food quality, right? Something unusual and above par, or fresher than most, or evocative of a foreign destination's food experience or signature treat. At least that's how I look at it. And granted, I'm basing this on a website experience only as I don't yet have the location experience, but I'm suggesting that maybe some of the early negativity is informed by this perception of Starwich's positioning choices.

I believe the SF place JAZ refers to is Specialty's - an excellent little word-of-mouth chain whose 'story' is the bread. The full name of the place is Specialty's Cafe & Bakery, so this makes sense, but what's most impressive and compelling is the bread oven, cooling racks, and intense smell that hits you the moment you walk in (or by). I'm sure Starwich will be great when I try it, but right now my expectations are geared toward the 130 ingredients and lots of technology and I'd rather be anticipating my extra bucks going to either my food or an overall unique food experience.

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I'm a bit surprised at the negativity of the reactions.

Anytime somebody attempts to change a familiar paradigm, they can expect to be greeted with considerable skepticism. And Starwich is attempting to change not just one, but several things at once: the number and type of ingredients offered, the "hanging chad" ordering forms, the smart cards, the price.

In other words, we're not dealing with idiots here.

True enough, but it's well known that most restaurants fail, and I presume that it's not because most are opened by idiots. It's because it's just damned hard to succeed at this, even when you're competent. And when you're attempting to change so many of the settled expectations of the genre — which in this case is a sandwich joint — the odds against you just get steeper.

Mind you, I'm not hoping for failure. A Starwich is planned for the neighborhood where I work, and I'm always happy to have another alternative. The food options sound terrific. But at lunchtime, I'm usually not looking for a leisurely dining experience. The service and traffic flow had better be efficient, and certainly there's a point when a restaurant is offering too many options for it's own good. It remains to be seen whether Starwich has crossed that line.

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I guess since I live in the neighborhood I'm more interested in their potential as a neighborhood place that I can drop into for a meal or a snack, and not as a place to order lunch from during work hours. (I know, I'm selfish.) And since this neighborhood is quite residential, I imagine a lot of other people are looking to see how they function in that regard as well. Anyway, on my way up to the subway earlier I noticed they have a "temporary hours" sign on their window, and in the meantime they're open until 9 pm on weekdays and they're open on Saturdays til 6 pm (didn't have the time to stop in since I was on my way to the Union Square greenmarket, where I bought ... oops, wrong thread.)

The place is huge, with half of it being the food part and the other half having small tables and chairs, and also a huge black leather couch and some nice easy chairs. It does actually look very inviting. (" ... but not in the living room!.") But it is very empty. Well it's early times yet. I am looking forward to seeing if they know what to do with a vegetable beside slap it on a piece of yukky bread and call it a sandwich.

Yes, I guess we all are being quite negative. I don't know why. But I do hope it's successful (although I thought it was an independent place; is it not a chain just because their other branches haven't opened yet, even though they're planning to?)

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I kinda agree with Blondie that this place shouldn't just be written off...

I work (during summers) on Wall St., and the lunch choices there pretty much suck. Your options are 90-minute gourmet lunches in great places that only IB people have time to patronize, fast food (that's ANYTHING but fast -- McDonald's took me 15 minutes the one time I went there and Quizno's is at least a 20-minute commitment), or -- what everyone who cares about food seems to choose -- carts, which once you've found your 4 or 5 favorites, offer decent quality, great tasting food in about 5 minutes.

If this place can get their whole operation to take 15 minutes or so -- and if they really are significantly better than Quizno's -- I think there will be a market for the food-conscious employee who hasn't found any permanent store that's as quick and good as what he can get from a cart.

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I don't post much (more of a constant, and I mean constant! lurker), but there is something about starwich that bothers me. (Although I'm sure the food is great) A while back someone (maybe their PR people, It was quite obvious) posted on food related websites (Chowhound and Roadfood and even here I think) with these "hey look what I found, check this out, it's opening in march" messages that seemed planted. In fact on roadfood, the 2 messages about starwich were all that person ever posted . This in itself was a turnoff to me, If you want to send out a press release, that's fine.

Edited by ppace (log)
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There's a sandwich chain in San Francisco, not upscale at all, that does a booming lunch business. They make everything to order, and all told, I'd say there are at least 60 or 70 "choices" the customer has. But what it comes down to is 10 or so choices of bread (more if you count bagels); 6 or 8 choices of vegetables (some free, some with a surcharge); 5 or 6 choices of cheese; 4 or 5 condiments; and probably 20 choices of meats/other fillings. Plus a list of hot sandwiches.

On the Starwich punch card I have here, the breakdown is:

Breads: 7

Meats: 16

Seafood: 7

Cheeses: 14

Vegetables: 27

Dressings/Sauces: 25

Fruits: 11

Nuts/Other: 8

That's a total of 115. There also seem to be some ingredients that are on the menu-sandwiches but not on the examination form, like the pimento-rosemary aioli on the soft shell crab BLT. Obviously the vegetable and dressings/sauces categories need to be somewhat more engorged in order to accommodate a serious salad-making operation than they'd have to be if they only served as sandwich toppings or if Starwich treated salads as an afterthought.

There are really two questions surrounding the 130 ingredients: 1) can customers handle it; and 2) can the restaurant handle it.

With respect to number 1, I just don't see the problem. Customers can completely and utterly opt out of the choice system by ordering any of 18 predetermined sandwiches and salads from a menu board. Those who want more choice can have it. And the nice thing is that if you create a sandwich you like the smart card system allows you to do it only once and have it remembered for all time thereafter -- meanwhile I don't know of any other establishments that are doing anything with cards beyond using them as debit and point-accumulation devices. Ordering and paying in advance via Web, phone, or fax allows you to pick up or have your sandwiches delivered, effectively reducing the transaction time to zero.

In terms of number 2, there's an empirical record that can be established by looking at how many ingredients various types of restaurants need to deal with. Here's a standard New York City diner menu. Would anybody like to count the number of ingredients that need to be kept on hand to accommodate a diner's customers?

But hey, I'm not Starwich's lawyer, so it's not my job to defend the place ad infinitum against increasingly theoretical objections. I'll be back with more comments when I've eaten more stuff!

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Yes, but a diner of that type works from the perspective that it's not quite fast food. If you order the meat loaf, for example, it's going to take considerable time to serve it to you. And people will expect that.

A sandwich shop in Manhattan seems like it would have to work on the model that they want to get people in and out fairly quickly. So I don't think you can quite compare these two.

Besides that... the problem with the number of ingredients seems more complicated in the sandwich shop. The diner can keep many of these items tucked well away in deep freeze and only take them out occasionally. It seems to me that most mass-production sandwich shops are going to have the ingredients pre-portioned out and in little containers all lined up next to each other. So they've got to fit all of those ingredients on some central counter for quick assemblage. Remember that most of these franchise operations gear things so that some pimply faced teenager can come off the street, strap on an apron, and after a few day's "training" start working independantly.

Also, the diner is probably run by a tight-knit group (a family maybe even) and there will probably only be 1 or 2 people ever actually MAKING the food. They don't have to craft a system that will work--that will be intuitive--to anyone.

The diner probably doesn't have formal portion control. The diner doesn't have to worry about shipping those ingredients in some standard form to multiple locations. There are any number of things the diner can "fudge" that the franchise sandwich shop can't. The diner can substitute items easier, I'd bet.

I'm not saying it won't be workable. I'm just wondering how efficient--both cost-wise and labor-wise--it will be. And the diner is probably owned by the same people cooking the food, so even if it's operation is just as inefficient, it won't have to justify that to venture capitalists and stockholders.

Jon Lurie, aka "jhlurie"

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If they're going to be charging $9 a sandwich or per salad, you can probably bet the portions are going to be slightly more if not just as comparable to that of a deli or a Quiznos.

I can just imagine an irate customer waving a sandwich in front of a Starwich manager saying "you're charging me $9 for a skimpy little sandwich? how dare you!?!?"

Or perhaps not.

As for the smart cards, there's one really glaring issue that just screams out "trouble" to me, and it's not technology or compatibility, but privacy issues.

The Starwich smart card remembers your name, your three favorite sandwich combinations (right down to special requests like "extra mayo"), and your last ten orders. Customers can also soon access their profiles online at http://www.starwich.com, where they can add money to a virtual account that lets them pay for sandwiches with the smart card.

What if you don't want a smart card? What if you want to order a sandwich the traditional way? There should be an option for this in place, especially in these days of identity theft and online scams.

Soba

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Cosi's certainly has no problem getting people to line up for $8 - $11 sandwiches. I can't see why Starwich should be any different - especially if the quality and selection are a bit better.

Yes, but a diner of that type works from the perspective that it's not quite fast food. If you order the meat loaf, for example, it's going to take considerable time to serve it to you. And people will expect that.

Are you kidding? The meatloaf is pre-made at diners - they may heat the slices for you in an oven rather than in a microwave depending on what diner you're in but "made to order" it ain't. Not sure why it takes awhile in the diners you've frequented but it should take no longer than an omelet.

That said.... I think I need an open faced meatloaf sandwich with gravy and home fries now :biggrin:

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Yeah, I was thinking that was a bad example as well, Jon. How about a sauteed dish? Or heck, even a grilled cheese! A real grilled cheese, not one that's really a grilled ham & cheese. :wink:

Hell, a hamburger at a diner will take a while.

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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Try ordering your home fries browned and extra crispy - it may be lunch time before you get your breakfast :angry:

Unlike Starbucks, which seems to work nearly anywhere provided there's enough pedestrian or vehicular traffic, I can't see Starwich succeeding outside the more affluent major and mid sized metro markets. In central NY state where I'm presently based, a $9 sandwich is about $3 - $4 higher than what the market will typically bear. Sure, we have a few people who will pay that much on occasion for the right type of sandwich and wouldn't blink an eye at paying that much if they were visiting NYC but regular repeat customers in this town (and many like it) are looking for a complete lunch that's $6 - $10 total including a soft drink and perhaps chips or fries.

I'll be curious to see if the technology helps them in terms of efficiency. Someone has to try it first and it seems like the right time.

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On the Starwich punch card I have here, the breakdown is:

Breads: 7

Meats: 16

Seafood: 7

Cheeses: 14

Vegetables: 27

Dressings/Sauces: 25

Fruits: 11

Nuts/Other: 8

That's a total of 115.

In terms of the actual sandwiches, I don't think that's an outlandish number of ingredients. Let me compare it just off the top of my head to the deli where I get my sandwiches during the work week:

Breads: white, wheat, 7 grain, rye, roll, hero, wrap, "panini," bagel (9 breads -- 11 if you cound rolls and heros with seeds and without).

Meats: way more than 16 -- I've had at least 4 different kinds of turkey, 3 different kinds of ham, prosciutto, corned beef, pastrami, brisket, 4 different kinds of salami, liverwurst, chicken cutlets, meatballs, bacon, usually 4 different kinds of chicken salad (22, but I think there are at least another 10 meat offerings, so let's call it 30). Most decent-sized delis will have at least 20 different meat offerings just using the Boars' Head offerings.

Seafood: Usually 4 different kinds of tuna salad, shrimp salad, "crab" salad, salmon salad, lox (8 seafood)

Cheeses: American, Swiss, Alpine Lace, provolone, mozzarella, muenster, cheddar, etc. They have a lot of cheeses, but I don't usually order cheese so I am less familiar. Let's call it 15, conservatively. Well over 20 if the different kinds of cream cheese were included. (15 cheeses)

Vegetables: lettuce, white and red onion, tomato, avocado, alfalpha sprouts, cucumber, pickle, roasted red pepper, maybe a few others (10 vegetables)

Dressings: around 4 different kinds of mustard, mayonnaise, vinaigrette, catsup, "Russian" dressing, maybe a few others (10 dressings)

Fruits/nuts/other: uh... no.

That's 82 ingredients to choose from, and if my memory were better I'm quite certain I could get this list up to 100. So we're talking the same ballpark in terms of numbers of ingredients. What makes Starwich different is that their meats aren't "turkey, honey roasted turkey, peppered turkey, etc." It's "Pomegranate Chicken, Citrus Duck, Filet Mignon, Genoa Salami, Virginia Ham, Kobe Beef, Pork Loin, etc." Likewise, their toppings include things like "Fig Reduction, Garlic Horseradish Aioli, Garlic Mayo, Hoisin-Chinese Mustard, Orange-Cherry Vinaigrette, Port Wine Reduction, Pumpkin Seed Oil, Raisin-Cranberry Puree, etc." It's the same exact model as a decent midtown deli in terms of combinations and numbers of ingredients (most delis also have several preconfigured sandwiches for those who don't want to build their own). The difference is that they've gone way upscale in terms of the ingredients and the technology. The other difference, of course, is that a copiously stuffed hero at a regular midtown deli will run you around 5 bucks, and Starwich is charging 9. So, Starwich isn't likely to appeal to the guys at the loading docks, but a significant percentage of the people I see in my local deli around 1:00 on weekdays are technology-savvy businesspeople who will appreciate the ability to have a citrus duck sandwich with fig redution, endive, pears and caramelized onions on a ciabatta -- and won't mind spending 9 bucks for it.

--

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(I've added a couple of images of the Starwich interior to my first post on this thread)

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Speaking of Starbucks, and thinking of Jason's comment that he's never yet seen a successful smart-card implementation:

I am pretty sure that Starbucks has achieved at least a modest success with their "Duetto" card. Cleverly, it's a Visa credit card everywhere but Starbucks, where it can be used as a stored value/smart card. I seem to see quite a few people using these at the local Starbucks in the morning.

if your stabucks is anything like my starbucks, most of the people are using either (a) their starbucks card, which is simply a prepaid stored value card.. no memory in it, other than serial number which allows starbucks to track your usage and cancel out the card, should you register it with them prior to losing it; and (b) credit cards- they're genius in that they allow you to use your credit/debit card on any purchase, no matter how small, and thus separate a large number of their consumers from the actual cost of the coffee..

genius marketing and responding to their consumer base, yes.. smart card technology remembering your coffee order (a la starwich's plan) not yet..

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