STARBUCKS is a worldwide phenomenon. While traveling in Thailand and Malaysia, I was amazed at the number of Starbuck cafes in these Southeast Asian countries. In particular- Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur, the capitals of Thailand and Malaysia respectively, are top heavy with Starbucks cafés. It seemed that everywhere I turned – across my hotel in KL and Bangkok (Ancasa Hotel and President Park), in fancy shopping centers and on the ground floor of large high-rise office buildings - there was a Starbucks. I really wasn’t shocked to find a Starbucks in downtown Tanah Ratah, a small tourist town in the Cameron Highlands, Malaysia. It even had a mock fireplace and an upstairs coffee-drinking gallery to boot.
Out of curiosity I checked online as to how many Starbuck outlets are in these countries. According to a 2007 census, Thailand had 132 Starbuck cafes, with Bangkok having the lion’s share at 72. In the meantime, according to the Starbucks Malaysia site, there are a total of 108 cafes in Malaysian with Kuala Lumpur leading the pack with 41. While Black Canyon is major competitor to Starbucks in Thailand; in Malaysia, Starbucks controls 45-50% of gourmet coffee business with Coffee Bean and Tea Leaves a distant second.
In Malaysia, I found the service at the local Starbucks to be excellent (better than the USA) and the employees well versed in English; in Thailand, the service was very friendly but most of the Starbuck employees had limited facility with English. I must give props to Starbucks (and all the coffee retailers) in Malaysia, because they offered free WIFI, no strings attached. In Thailand, getting WIFI access at Starbucks was a real hassle as you received a complimentary 1-hour (thereafter you had to pay a nominal sum for continued use), but you had to jump through all sorts of hoops in the online signup process, fuggetabout it! I wish STARBUCKS in USA would take a cue from their colleagues in Malaysia and offer free WIFI and eliminate the gimmicky Starbucks card.
From what I observed in both of these countries, the clientele at a typical Starbucks café was a mix of local business executives and white-collar workers, the young University crowd with deep pockets along with tourists and expats. For Thais and Malaysians, having a Cappuccino, an Iced Caramel Macchiato or any one those fancy designer coffee drinks represents a real splurge as the prices are almost the same as in the United States. Please consider that the standard of living and the average salary is considerably higher in the USA, and the cost of one large cappuccino ($3.00 -3.40USD) will buy you a decent dinner at a local restaurant in both Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur. Apparently, having coffee at Starbucks confers a measure of status with the locals. Yes, Starbucks is Huge in Thailand and Malaysia - such is the way of the World.
Coming up, the Starbucks Index.